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    This time I am checking two great guitars, a Suhr MK-1 and a Pensa MK-1. The Suhr is the one that you could already see in this video. Both belong to the same person, a collector from Germany.

    Some background on the first MK1

    The Pensa-Suhr MK1 was built in 1988 by luthier John Suhr  at Rudy Pensa’s guitar shop in Manhattan. Suhr worked there before he built amps with Bob Bradshaw and became master builder at Fender’s Custom Shop. Later he started his own company – Suhr guitars. For this reason the first guitars were called Pensa-Suhr, and  after John  left simply Pensa. John Suhr also builds guitars similar to the MK-1 (although for legal issues he has to change some details) – if you want a MK-1 you basically have to decide if you want it from the same place or from the same builder.

    Pensa Custom MK-1

    This guitar is from 1993 and differs in some details from the original MK-1. The body top is not maple but koa, while the body itself is still from mahogany. The shape of the upper body horn is different – the horn is thinner and longer. It has a SPC mid boost but it is not activated with a push-pull poti. Instead, a third poti gradually blends between the normal and the boosted sound. See the pictures for more details:

    Two EMG SA and one EMG 85 pick-ups


    Suhr Custom Carve Top (MK-1)

    This wonderful guitar is from 2006. Note that apparently for legal reasons the official name of this guitar is not MK-1 – only Pensa are allowed to use this model name. It has a mahogany body with a 3/4″ quilted maple top, a maple neck with Indian rosewood fingerboard, Floyd Rose tremolo, abalone dots, EMG pick-ups etc. The top of the guitar is really astonishing – almost three dimensional. We found it sounds darker and warmer than the Pensa.


    In this youtube video you can see me playing both of them – including riffs from Money for Nothing, Heavy Fuel, No can do, …. The guitar goes directly into the amp, the distortion is from the amp – a Music Man RP112 65. The SPC mid-boost is enabled on both guitars.

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    The new Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock features Dire Straits – Money for Nothing from the Brothers In Arms CD (1985).

    We had a lot of fun and many valuable insights with Sultans of Swing from this game some months ago. This one is also a great listen for all of us MK-style guitar players since hearing the guitar(s) alone lets you hear so many details that are lost behind the other instruments in the mix. I especially love that rhythm riff Mark plays only in the verses, but also all those licks in the refrain are great. So buy yourself a game console like Playstation 3, Wii or Xbox, and this great new game.

    Here – as an appetizer – some short extracts from the the two riff guitars.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    Simply click on the blue progress bar to make the player play a different part of the song.

    Note that in the intro and the first verse there is only one guitar that is doubled with some delay. From the first refrain on, we have two separate guitar tracks. As these are panned left and right, you just need to set your monitors so that only one channel is played to hear these alone.

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    In this article I will cover a little chord progression that Mark Knopfler apparently discovered some day and – as he sees himself mainly as a songwriter – directly translated into a song. He often learned such little patterns and licks by accident – finding something when playing for hours – or learned them from one of his mates, people like the great Chet Atkins, pedal-steel player Paul Franklin, or Richard Bennet.

    Here is a little audio clip where Knopfler plays the particular riff I am going to talk about. Here he plays it in the key of G, one full note lower than in the Vic and Ray example below.

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    This pattern appears in the song Vic and Ray from Knopfler’s first solo album Golden Heart (1996). It starts with an A7 chord fragment, followed by a G chord with the B in the bass, and finally another A chord, with the C# in ths bass.

    First as a tab:

    vic and ray tab

    Here as pictures, showing each of the three shapes you have to play in red:

    Vic and Ray 2



    Note that from shape one to two, one note (the g on the d-string) remains the same and can be sustained, and that the third shape is the same as the second, just two frets higher which means you simply need to slide two frets higher. Check out my video below for left hand fingering (I found there are two ways that work for me).

    Adding a chromatic transition chord for Money for Nothing lick

    It was only recently when I realized that the funny chromatic licks that Knopfler played at the beginning of Money for nothing in Nimes on the On Every Street tour (1992) make use of the same pattern, you only have to add another shape – the chord between shape two and three in the pictured above:


    Then move it to the key of G (two frets lower), followed by the same pattern in C, next in D, and you have those chords for Money for nothing (see my video, at 5:10 it also contains a link that takes you directly to a clip showing Knopfler playing that thing in Money for Nothing).

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    In Guy Fletcher’s last recording diary he had a photo of Mark Knopfler’s old Marshall amp with the matching cabinet. This seems to be the same amp that was used on the original recording of both Money for Nothing and Brothers in Arms.

    Marshall’s first amps were basically copies of the tweed Fender Bassman. They had the same circuit and consequently the same controls, although they looked completely different. The Fender Bassman was a combo amp with four 10″ speakers, while the Marshall was just a head that was set on a cabinet with four 12″ speakers which Marshall originall intended to be used for bass.

    This first model was the JTM 45. JTM is said to stand for Jim + Terry Marshall (I have sources that say Terry was Jim’s wife and another that says it was his son), while 45 stands for 45 watts. This power came from two 5881 tubes (a military version of the 6L6 used in most Fender amps) , which was later replaced with the KT66, and again with the EL34. Generally these first amps went through many minor changes, it seems Marshall bought parts in small supplies, and when the next time a component was not available at the same value, they simply took a similar one. The first amps had a rectangle metall or plastic plate with the Marshall logo, as Knopfler’s amp has the later white plastic Marshall script, it seems to be from not before 1965.

    The controls were (from left to right): presence, bass middle, treble, volume bright channel, volume normal channel.

    The cabinet might be from the same period.  On stage Knopfler often used Electro Voice 12L speakers in his 4×12″ cabinets, and Guy Fletcher added in his forum that he believes that there are also EVs in this cabinet (he seems not to be 100% sure). On the other hand, it might be possible that Knopfler left the original Celestion 20w speakers in this vintage cabinet, at least this is what I would have done. The EV12L has more treble than the Celestions, however, the Celestion are softer but have a distinctive presence peak. And the EVs weigh a lot more, a roady’s nightmare.

    The combination of Marshall amps and 4×12″ cabinets with Celestions is what made the British rock sound famous, a warm and soft distortion with natural compression from the amp.

    Note the little patch cable that connects the second input of the right channel with the input of the left channel. This trick allows you to use both channels at the same time which results in a fatter sound.

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    This time I will start with some very basic stuff: major and minor chords.

    Every guitar beginner soon learns that there is e.g. an A major chord, and an A minor chord. Obviously they are similar, they just differ in one single note (in case of the first position chords, in the example it is either the 2nd (A) or 1st (Am) fret on the b string).


    The minor and major chords only differ in one note, this is the third note of the corresponding scale.

    You need to understand that both a major and a minor chord consists of three different notes: the first, the third, and the fifth note of the corresponding scale.

    Example: Take the C major scale (C D E F G A B C), notes number 1,3 & 5 are: C E G
    These are the notes a  C major chord consists of

    The C minor scale is C D Eb F G Ab Bb C, notes 1,3 & 5 are: C Eb G

    Since a guitar has 6 strings, any guitar chord can consist of up to six notes, but in case of a simple major or minor chord, there are only three DIFFERENT notes (e.g. the first position A major chords has the notes – low to high – E A E A C# E  = three different notes.

    Let’s leave the basics now. Besides major and minor, there is another possibility: Any major or minor chord can be played in such a way that there is no third (=the third note of the scale) at all, e.g. play a normal open position A chord, but dampen (or do not hit) the b and the high e string, or press down the d and g string on the 2nd fret (with your index finger), and the b and high e string on the 5th fret (with the pinky).

    Whenever a chord only consists of the root note and the fifth note of the scale, it does not ponly sound better with heavy distortion, it also allows you to play lead licks both with major or minor scale licks

    Whenever a chord only consists of the root note and the fifth note of the scale, it does not only sound better with heavy distortion, it also allows you to play lead licks both with major or minor scale licks

    In both cases the chord will consist of only TWO different notes (E and A), which are 1 & 5 of the scale, but no third. Since it was the third that determines whether the chord is major or minor, these chords are neutral so to say – they are neither major nor minor. Often these chords are called power chords.

    So, why this name, and what are they good for? Especially in combination with a lot of distortion, the third often adds some weird sounding harmonic effects, in other words, power chords sound better for heavy stuff. For this reason they often replace both major or minor chords in all kinds of music that rely on distortion. Mark Knopfler also uses them a lot, e.g. most chords in Money for Nothing are power chords.

    Another aspect is that – as the chord itself is “neutral” – you can play lead with major scale or minor scale licks, as you want, both will match the chord nicely – but of course sound completely different. This is something that happens in the Dire Straits song Calling Elvis quite a lot. The key of the song is B (major or minor would indeed be a valid question here). The third note of the scale can be a D# (major) or a D (minor). Note that in fact both appear at differents parts of the song, e.g. the verse makes use of the D (just listen to the vocals melody), or the guitar run at the stop in the middle of the song also contains the D, while that fast, repeating pedal steel lick between the verses has the D#, but no D. We can say the song moves from minor to major, and back.

    Similarly, it is really a question whether Money for Nothing is G major or G minor. Most other chords in this song are a hint towards minor, but the E chord at the end of the refrain points toward major. It is important to be aware that nobody in the band plays the third of the G chord*, be aware that a Gm on the rhythm guitar would really spoil this effect. The G is rather neutral here.

    *The riff itself however contains the minor third – a Bb note – and is thus an indication for minor, but the minor third can also be played over major chords in blues style music, where it is called a “blue note”

    I remember reading somewhere that Mark used to direct the band shouting “no thirds, no thirds” on a recording session. It is really helpful to be aware of this often neglected aspect of song writing, and of some new possibilities resulting from it.

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