Pensa Suhr Mk 1 1988

The ultimate Mark Knopfler gear database: Pensa Suhr Mk1 1988

Manufacturer:Pensa Suhr
Model:Mk 1
Serial No.: 001
Colour:original two-tone sunburst
Woods:two-piece (see comments) mahogany body with one-piece flamed maple top / maple neck with bound Brazilian rosewood fingerboard
Pickups:EMG SA – SA – 85 (n-m-b)
Strings:009 – 042
First seen with MK:1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday concert at Wembley Stadium
Still in MK’s possession/Last seen:yes


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Info: This is the guitar that master luthier John Suhr built for Mark in 1988, when he was working at Rudy’s Music Stop in New York.

Suhr built another Pensa Suhr – similar to this one but in black with a flat top – before which Mark  played both in the studio and on stage a lot (e.g. live with Eric Clapton in 1987), but the new Mk1 one was meant to be even more to Mark’s wishes and requirements. However, Suhr left Pensa in March 1991 (Source. John Suhr himself, Wikipedia says March 1990), and after this there have been some arguments between Rudy Pensa and John Suhr concerning the rights to build a guitar to this specs. Consequently, the versions about the origins of the idea to this guitar are different. Rudy Pensa claimed that the guitar was designed together with Mark on a “napkin over coffee”. Suhr however stated that the guitar was basically designed by himself when Rudy Pensa suggested it as a new guitar for Mark. The following text is what Suhr said in the forum of

“Mark Knopflers was an interesting story, naturally I don’t remember it the way Rudy does, something about designing on a paper napkin LOL. I already had a good portion of it built before we decided it was for Mark. IN fact you can see the body as I was working on it in an old D’Addario add.
The first carved top I made was out of Alder, made a few, I think one of the first was for my dear buddy Eddie Martinez. Lots of sawdust flying around those days! They are all interesting stories for me buried in blood sweat and tears. Knopflers was the most challenging since I had less than one week to paint it and build it for the Mandela concert, I was scared it would stick to the case !”

“I already had begun the carve, it was just something I wanted to do. I had just finished one in Alder unbound. It was actually my first bound carved top and the lack of tools at my disposal made it a real challenge, I armed myself with a Die Grinder, some sanding disks and a router and let some dust fly. When I was in the carving process Rudy decided it would be a great guitar for MK for the Mandela Concert. They went out to lunch and talked about details like Pickup color etc but otherwise it was pretty much already set in stone. Mark had some extra ideas like tapering the headstock which I explained it was too late. He also didn’t like the rings not matching the pickup color and wanted Ivory color so I mounted the humbucker from the back so no ring was used. He decided the bridge should be locked to the body since he had no intention of using the trem really but enjoyed the stability of a locking setup. I used his normal 6105 fret wire and added the EMG SPC on the push pull pot, EMG SA, SA, 85, I also put a circuit in there to try and balance out the Bridge middle combo. Building it on the fly at the last minute I realized the body was too thin for the switch and have a control plate not hit it so I had to get creative by cutting down the back of the 5way switch. It was Mahogany Back, 1 Piece maple top Lacquer Colors and Polyester top coat even on the neck since it is the only top coat that would dry in 2 days. At that time Anderson was cutting our raw parts but this was not programmed yet. So basically I only had a perimeter Body and neck to work with, it was only 2D no neck shape, no body carves etc, so everything else including paint was done by me which was kind of rare since we didn’t really have a spray booth intended for that. Usually we had Pat Wilkins do the paint who also used to do Andersons paint since painting in NYC was sketchy. Eventually Mark grew less fond of the guitar as the neck was slim and he started to prefer larger necks. It always had a very unique tone though through his Jim Kelley amps.”

“Knopflers personal guitar was very roughed out parts from Anderson before he started making complete guitars, basically perimeter cut and that was it. I did all the carving of the top, Routing, complete neck shape and the Paint. There were only a few built like this. Sure you can find a great one of my old guitars but chances are there was something about the instrument I would have liked to change but it was not in my reach due to a lack of a real factory. They were all very different back then due to the varied sources that were used for parts. Personally if I could have a choice as to owning a guitar from what I did then as to now there is no comparison, I have learned a LOT in the past 25 years and what I do now is much more of a Suhr hand made instrument that I can be proud of than it ever was.”

“We cut, paint and build everything in our shop here in sunny CA for Suhr Guitars
With Pensa Suhr we relied on outside help from people like Anderson and Wilkins Paint. At Pensa-Suhr I did do all the neck carves, frets and some of the paint.
Rudy Pensa was the store owner and ran the business end, I did all repairs and building but I was only an employee there and we had no real factory.
I left in 91 and had nothing to do with any PensaSuhr guitars built after March of 91′
Reunion? Why? I actually offered to make the Pensa-Suhr MK models for Rudy like 15 years ago but that ship has long sailed.”


Related blog posts:

Suhr Custom MK-1 and Pensa Custom MK-1
Photoshopped MK1 in Official Pensa Ad



From the Pensa Days exhibition 2002 - Note the way the frets extend the fingerboard binding. This is the same method as it was done on 50ies Les Pauls.
From the Pensa Days exhibition 2002



The first gig with the guitar - Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert Wembley Stadium 1988
The first gig with the guitar – Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday concert Wembley Stadium 1988

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5 thoughts on “Pensa Suhr Mk 1 1988

  1. Hi Ingo,

    The body from this guitar is 2 piece Mahogany, not 1 piece. John Suhr told me by chat a few months ago.

    Kind regards

    1. Thanks for the info. The guitar styles book says that it is a one-piece mahogany body but I guess Suhr himself is the more reliable source 🙂 so I will correct it.

  2. To be more accurate, the first gig with this guitar was in fact the 1st warm up gig for mandela concert, at Hammersmith odeon (8th june 88), just few days before the “real” mandela’s 70 birthday gig (11th june 88)

  3. Hi there,

    Was wondering about the wiring on this guitar. I understand it is 85/SA/SA with volume pot and a push-pull tone pot the kicks the SPC into gear when pulled. Would you happen to have an actual diagram of this or similar? I was trying to do something similar on a strat of mine.

    Thanks – love this guitar – just fantastic.


  4. What is the color of the guitar?

    On Shur models one look like and it s called “Translucent caramel” Is that one?

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