This week I was playing around a bit with the combination of the fat-sounding DiMarzio FS-1 (FS in fact stands for ‘fat Strat’) plus a ‘normal’ vintage-sound pickup. I have the DiMarzio in the middle and a MK61 – a reproduction of a 1961 Strat pickup, becoming available exclusively on mk-guitar.com soon – in the bridge position of one of my guitars. For more background information on what this has to do with the early Dire Straits sound see this blog post.
I am sure that Mark had this combo in one of his two red Fender Strats until October 1978 when he moved the DiMarzio to the neck position. You can hear the typical sound on many live bootleg recordings from that time (e.g. Chester 1978, Live at the BBC 1978, live at the Whistle Test, Revolver TV, or Barbarellas/Birmingham). However, he probably had two ‘normal’ pickups in his other Strat which makes it difficult to tell exactly if something we hear e.g. on album one is this combination or not.
The FS-1 is a hot pickup, with a DC of about 13 kOhms. When it is played together with a normal 6k-pickup, the resulting sound has more midrange but still clear treble, and is less ‘quacky’ than the middle & bridge combo normally is. Another nice feature: hum is reduced as the FS-1 has the opposite magnet polarity compared to a 60ies Fender pickup.
The guitar in the following video is ‘nothing special’ – a Part-o-caster with mainly Japanese Squier parts. I recorded directly into the mixing desk, and added an amp simulation plus some basic effects (reverb, some very subtle delay, and a limiter) in the recording software.
I recorded two versions of ‘Down to the Waterline’ (a song where I was wondering if it is with the FS-1 or not… ): one with the tone pot fully up, and another one where it is rolled back to about 7. Maybe I should use an amp to add that slight distortion, and spend more time with a/b comparing to find the ideal EQ and effects settings, this time it was just a quick shot.
I recently realized that I used to play the foghorn chord wrong (the very first notes in the intro of Down to the Waterline). I played those foghorn sound on only the two lowest strings – this way I explained it in a Youtube tutorial on Down to the Waterline. In fact it is played on three strings. Not a big deal, and I guess many of you were already aware of this, but for me it was again one of those little bits that make such a nice effect, and I simply did not think about it at all before. By the way, the same chord appears in the intro of Radio City Serenade on Mark’s Privateering album.
The chord consists of the notes B, F, and A. With B being the root nore, it is a B7b5 chord (the F is a semitone below the fifth note of a Bm chord – the F# – and thus denoted as b5, while the A is the 7th). It is mainly the b5 that makes the mysterious, misty foghorn association. The interval from the B to the F is a so-called tritone. It was called the ‘Diabolus in Musica’ (devil in music) centuiries ago, and was avoided, almost banned, as it was regarded as evil. Tritone means three whole notes. The tritone divides an octave in two identical intervals, in other words, B – F is a tritone, and so is F – B.
When I had the opportunity to play on Mark Knopfler’s sunburst Schecter Strat some weeks ago, I could also try out some other great guitars over there. Here is a video of a 1961 Fender Stratocaster in all original sonic blue that really impressed me. Some slab board Stratocasters from the very early sixties can have a rather dark or even muddy sound, that’s why some players prefer Strats after summer 1962 when the transition from the fat slab board of Brazilian rosewood to the thinner curved fingerboard was. Not so this 1961 Strat, it rang like a bell and sang like a bird (IMHO)! But listen and decide for yourself.
The guitar was played through an Ernie Ball volume pedal into a Tone King Metropolitan amp. The strings on the guitar were 09-42. Recorded with the mic of the camera, that’s why you hear that much compression (almost all cameras have a built in compressor to avoid distortion).