Bridge on the Dire Straits Stratocaster: Japanese or Original?

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Guitars

You probably know the discussion started by John Suhr about the originality of Mark Knopfler red Dire Straits Stratocaster (the one with the maple neck, not the 1961 Strat with the rosewood fingerboard). John Suhr worked on Mark’s guitars in the early 80ies and stated that this guitar was not an original vintage Fender but a ‘fake’, probably a Japanese copy.

I always used to be a bit uncertain what to think about this. John Suhr is of course a great guitar expert who makes wonderful guitars but this does not automatically imply to be an expert on vintage Fenders, especially not back then when information was generally harder to get than it is now, it was of course pre-internet era, and even books on this topic were rare or simply non existent yet. And mind that of course Mark’s guitar was – if it was a vintage Fender – not in an original state: new body finish, new neck finish, new fender decal, new fingerboard, new pickguard,…

In this blog post I will show you a part of the guitar which – to my knowledge – cannot be a copy: the tremolo bridge.

80470-bridge-2

In the picture (from early 1978, Mark got the guitar in 1977) you can see a few details that in my opinion are not possible for any Japanese copy parts from the 70ies. Let’s start with the red arrows: here you can see a part of two of the three screws that hold the tremolo block to the bridge plate on any Fender vintage style tremolo. Well, this does not sound like any spectacular detail but I’d say most Japanese bridges were die-cast one-piece tremolos, similar to the Fender tremolos from the 70ies. All the ones by Tokai or Greco at least were.

There were a few two-piece constructions, I have one on a crappy Japanese copy myself. But on all of these that I found so far, the string spacing is different, almost three millimeters (1/8 “) less (52 mm compared to 55mm). If this was the case on Mark’s guitar, the strings would run differently (blue arrows) across the pole pieces of the bridge pickup (this is Mark’s original 1961 pickguard from his 1961 Stratocaster, with the original pickups). Also the base plates of the Japanese bridges are not as wide, due to the narrower string spacing. There would be a bigger gap between the bridge and the pickguard (green arrow).

These is enough reason for me to claim that this bridge is not a Japanese copy! Before you say, well, maybe it is a Chinese, Corean or European copy part… forget it, in the 70ies there were no copies from other Asian countries except Japan, and the few European copies of this time were not even close to a Fender bridge. They did not have the vintage-style bent string saddles etc. And what about American replacement parts? – Well, these were the 70ies, you could not buy any replacement parts except the ones by Schecter, and possibly Mighty Mite. These however were not close Fender copies but ‘improved designs’ with the more solid saddles, typically of brass, and hard to get in England about that time (Schecter’s first English distributor Chandler Guitars started in 1979).

I still might be wrong but I doubt it: show me a non-Fender bridge like this to prove me wrong!

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A few remarks on the Tracker film by Henrik Hansen

Posted on 13 CommentsPosted in Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear

The deluxe box set of Mark’s new Tracker album features a short film by the Danish director Henrik Hansen. It is already available on Youtube:

I think it is a nice film which shows Mark at work, developing songs for the new record, and at leisure, walking his dogs. I am sure you will enjoy the film very much.

With this blog post, I want to discuss a few guitar details seen in this film – well, this is a guitar site 🙂 . At the beginning of the film we see Mark in a side house of his home at the English south coast,  sitting at a table with a beautiful look on the ocean (which in fact is just 20 meters away). He plays Basil on an acoustic guitar, his vintage Martin D18 (this should be the one pictured in this blog post). On the table we see stuff like a variety of bottlenecks – both brass and glass-, a guitar cable, two books about guitars (Gibson Electrics by A. R. Duchossoir, and the ‘bible’ about National resonator guitars by Bob Brozman), a Mac notebook, and more. I should be a good guess to say that it is here where Mark composes some of his songs.

At 0:37 we see the same place from outside the window. Here we can see the peghead of a Strat, it seems Mark does not only use acoustic guitars at home but also electrics. Apparently it is his white 1964 Strat, the one used on e.g. Sailing to Philadelphia (we can see it at 1:54 or around 2:49, played in the same room). I wondered if he has certain guitars which he always keeps at home, as it seems most of the electrics are located in the room over his British Grove studio in London, a nearly two hours drive away.

Well, we can see him playing the same guitar at British Grove studio, around 2:24. The song seems to be Lights of Taormina. (I say it seems as I have not heard the album yet, although the first download links have apparently appeared in the web – I ordered my copy of the box set so that I have something to look forward to in March 🙂 ). The condition of this vintage guitar is amazing! Note that Mark put strings with a wound g-string on it – it seems to be Mark’s favourite for slide now (he played Gator Blood with bottleneck on it on the last tour).

white-1964-strat
The white 1964 Strat – note the Money for Nothing bottleneck 🙂
white-1964-strat-2
Here you can see the pickups height adjustement nicely – also note wound g-string

 

 

The next guitar that appears in the film is the 1958 Les Paul. Here is a picture that shows some setup details, like the height of the stop tailpiece, the pickups, or strings. Note that the stop tailpiece is very low.

les-paul-58-setup

les-paul-58-head
The head of the 1958 Les Paul, note details like the laquer checking

 

Another interesting detail is the view on the software mixer, at 1:20. Mark’s electric guitar are the purple mixer rails. Here we see that they recorded the guitar to three parallel tracks, probably one for each microphone they used. The tracks are mixed together with  -4.0 dB, -9.8 dB, and -23.5 dB for the three tracks, all panned into the center. The label below says ‘mk-elecgtr_57’ for two of the tracks, and ‘mk-elecgtr_67’  for the one in the middle. My guess is that two were recorded with a Shure SM57, and one with a Neumann U67.

tracker-mixer

Like always, use the comment function below to add your comments, or more details that might be worth discussing.

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Two ways to connect the string ground wire on a Strat

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Guitar in general, Vintage guitars

For better hum shielding, the strings on electric guitars are normally grounded, which means they are connected  internally to the ground of the guitar. For this purpose, usually a ground wire is connected somewhere to the guitar bridge, in the case of a Stratocaster with tremolo this is normally a wire from the case of the volume pot to the ‘claw’ that helds the tremolo springs. As the springs are – like the whole bridge – made of steel, the bridge is grounded via the tremolo springs, and the strings via the bridge.

Many guitarists, even the guitar freaks, are not  aware that there are two different ways how this was done on the classic (= vintage) Strat. And I have never seen this issue discussed in any guitar book or website, so let’s cover it with this blog post.

The ‘normal’ way (as it is on most Strats and copies) with a wire from the volume pot to the tremolo claw was  not the original way how  Fender did it but was introduced about 1964/65. In all the years before, the wire went from the tremolo claw to the ground lug of the output jack! Electrically it does not matter whether it runs to the volume pot or the output jack (except some  theoretical arguments that might cause a very small and usually negligible difference) but to build a ‘vintage correct’ Strat (or Schecter Dream Machine) it is of course important to know.

The wire runs (see picture below) from the tremolo claw through a drill hole into the electronics cavity, from where it directly runs through the drill hole to the output jack cavity where it is connected to the jack.

Stratocaster_Body_Cavity
Original Fender style (before 1965): ground wire from tremolo claw directly to output jack

The ground wire on the Schecter Dream Machines and on the mk-guitar.com pickguard replicas

On their Dream Machines, Schecter used the original style that Fender used from 1954 to 1964, the wire from the tremolo claw to the output jack. The pickguard is  connected with only two wires, the hot (yellow) and the ground (black) wire. It is a bit different on my replica pickguards which feature the post-1964 style. They come with a third wire, that is soldered to the ground plate of the pickguard (where also the ground wires from the pickups are soldered) and must be connected to the tremolo claw. I did it this  non-original way because it is the most common way on a Strat. If I delivered these without this ground wire, you need to connect the existing ground wire from the tremolo claw on your guitar to the output jack. If you have bad luck, the wire will be not long enough to reach the output jack, or the drill hole between the electronics cavity and the output jack is not wide enough for three wires instead of two.

ground-schecter-pickguards
Remove (unsolder or clip) this ground wire (the one to the tremolo claw) for the original wiring style

If you build your own Dream Machine and want to do it the vintage-correct style, you can unsolder the ground wire on the replica pickguard (or simply cut it close to the solder point) and run a wire from the tremolo claw to the output jack. I could have shipped the pickguards without this ground wire, and instruct you to solder the one on your guitar yourself to the ground plate of the pickguard but this requires a strong soldering iron as the shielding plate and the whole metal pickguard absorb a lot of heat so that the solder does not flow very well, an effect that is by the way much stronger with the brass or chrome pickguards compared to the white aluminium pickguard.

The original wiring has the advantage that it is a bit more comfortable to work on the  electronics of the opened guitar, as only two wires instead of three connect the pickguard to the guitar. One thing however is important NOT to do as this causes a danger of hum due to a ground loop: never use both ground wires (from the pickguard to the tremolo claw + from the tremolo claw to the output jack).

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