The DiMarzio FS-1 pick-up of Mark Knopfler’s red Stratocaster

According to an interview with Guitar Player magazin from 1979, Mark Knopfler played a DiMarzio pick-up in one of his two red Fender Stratocasters that he played around the time of Dire Straits’ first two albums:

On one there’s a DiMarzio pickup for the bass, and I like it because it just seems to give a fatter, louder sound, with more clout than the standard pickup Fender uses.

DiMarzio has been producing replacement pick-ups for Fender and Gibson guitars since the early 70ies. Back then, a lot of players had the wish for hotter pick-ups to get more distortion from their amps – remember that high-gain amps, tube pre-amps and the like were a development that started in the 80ies. So most DiMarzio pick-ups were simply hotter replacements for the standard pick-ups. Hotter normally means the pick-up is wound with more coils. This does not only lead to more output but also to a fatter tone with more midrange and less treble. Consequently one of DiMarzio’s most popular models was the Fat Strat, or in short FS-1 (today also called model  DP-110). There is no direct evidence that it was this model in Mark Knopfler’s Strat, however, the DiMarzio product line was not big, and the only other Strat pick-up they offered at that time was the SDS-1, which had adjustable pole pieces – something you would see on pictures, and Knopfler’s Strat did not have these.

The DiMarzio FS-1
The DiMarzio FS-1
The SDS-1 looks different
The SDS-1 looks different

The FS-1 had a DC (direct current) resistance of 13.35 kOhms (a stock Fender vintage Strat pick-up has about 6 kOhms). The DC resistance results from the length (and the dimensions) of the coil wire – if it is the same wire you need more than twice as many coils as on the vintage Strat pick-up to get this value. The pole pieces were made of alnico 5, just like stock Fender pick-ups. The higher resistance results in a lower frequency peak, so the pick-up has less treble and instead a boost in the upper midrange – as the name suggest it sounds fat. The pole pieces were staggered (different length) but not as much as on Fender pick-ups – mainly the magnets for the d and g strings were a bit higher (see picture).

Compare the length of the magnets of the FS-1 in the neck position of my guitar...
Compare the length of the magnets of the FS-1 in the neck position of my guitar...
... and on Knopfler's Strat
... and on Knopfler's Strat
I guess you want the complete picture, too.
I guess you want the complete picture, too.

Most players installed hotter pick-ups into the bridge position because the stock Fender pick-up is in some situations too weak to overdrive the amp, and it often sounds too crisp. Nevertheless, Knopfler played it in the neck position. This was in a way similar to some Telecaster players’ approach who like to play a normal bridge pick-up for that twang and a humbucker in the neck position for warmer jazz or blues sounds.

The guitar with the DiMarzio was originally Knopfler’s Fender Stratocaster S-No. 68354 – the one with the rosewood fingerboard. Of course noone knows for sure but I suspect that it was already in when he got the guitar which was only shortly before Dire Straits started. Note however that for some periods Knopfler used to swap the complete pickguards between his two red Fenders. It seems he favoured the one of the rosewood Strat and often put it into his maple-neck Strat (which was the guitar he mainly played on stage in 1978 – 1979). To my knowledge today the DiMarzio is not in this guitar anymore.

There are many old live recordings on which you can hear hear the fatter sound as soon as he switches to the neck position. For some reason Knopfler did not play the neck pick-up often on the first two albums – much less than he did on stage. The only song with the neck pick-up seems to be Single Handed Sailor from Communique, and in fact this seems to be the FS-1.

On the following video I am demonstrating the sound difference between the DiMarzio FS-1 and a normal Fender pick-up. Note that the guitar used here with the FS-1 has a rosewood fingerboard and for this reason sounds darker anyway than the other with a maple neck, but the difference between the pick-ups is still easy to spot. You will find some licks from Once Upon a Time in the West and from Single Handed Sailor on this video.

Finally, here is a video that shows Mark Knopfler on stage in 1978 where he plays the FS-1 on Sultans of Swing : note the sound difference between the standard pick-ups 1 & 2 and the FS-1 in the neck position which he plays on the guitar solo (starting at 3:37, final solo at 5:07).

The DiMarzio FS-1 is still available, unfortunately most shops don’t have it on stock because it is not much requested.

Right now we have a true vintage FS-1 on stock in our shop

33 thoughts on “The DiMarzio FS-1 pick-up of Mark Knopfler’s red Stratocaster

  1. Hi Ingo

    Great article as always. I believe, or supsect that he’s is also using the FS-1 on “where do you think you are going” Also as far as I remember he uses the neck pickup on that particular song in the rock palast session.


  2. He didn’t play the neck pick-up on Rockpalast, but he did on some other concerts of that tour, but only in the outro solo. On Rockpalast he played the white pickguard which has NOT the FS-1, a month later he had the greenish pickguard on the maple-neck Strat with the FS-1.

  3. Hi Ingo,
    Are you sure that only SHS was played with FS-1 ?
    To me there are others songs that sound like neck PU :
    – end solo on Angel of mercy
    – Follow me home
    – Intro in News (with volume pedal)
    and maybe : Once upon a time and wild west end ? (note realy for this 2 ones)
    So, as the sound is less darker, does it means that this songs were played on the the mapple one, or at least with the white pickguard (without FS-1) ?

    And another one : some years ago you told me that Mark never played on bridge PU alone on strat. But on Lions on Chorus 78, for the solo, I can clearly see that he switched from midlle to bridge.

  4. Angel of Mercy sounds like middle PU to me, on stage he used the neck PU on news (solo) and follow me home, but I tend to think on the album it is all pu 1 & 2 (or 2 & 3 which however was only rarely used live). There are some harmonics on follow me home (5th fret, at 4:22) that would be dead with the neck PU.

    You are right with Lions, so never say never, but it very rare, normally he took the middle pu for the solos on Lions.

  5. in Amsterdam 4/11/79, Maeks changed a bit the lyrics of Wild West End : instead of singing “I get a pickup, for my steel guitar, I saw you”, he sang “I get a pickup, for a RED guitar, I saw you”.

    Maybe was he thinking about the FS-1 ! even if he got it one year before

  6. In Rockpalast ’79 I thought too that was the white pickguard but it’s not the white, is the 3 ply greenish like on sultans of swing video clip. It’s the colour of the video that changes and seems more white.

  7. Oh! That’s right. I saw the 11 holes on the pg and thought it was the same. So it must be a 3 ply pg.

  8. Both pickguards are 3 ply / 11 screws, the greenish is original (made of celluloid), the other seems to be custom made from plastic.

  9. Ingo, do you think that Mark made himself this custom pickguard ? did he have already a guitar tech at this time ? Or do you think that the guitar had already this pickguard when Mark bought it ?

  10. He got this guitar in late 1977 and he didn’t have a guitar tech then (they were not even touring regularly). I can imagine that this guitar was custom modified for Mark (possibly by a Chinese luthier called Sam Lee / Li in Soho), and the new poti position does not conflict with the two fingers with which Mark stabilizes his right hand position.
    It seems that Mark bought this guitar as a vintage 60ies Fender, and he sold it after John Suhr claimed that parts of it were Japanese.

  11. OK, thanks
    in the Oldfield’s books, Ed Bicknell tells his first meeting with the band : Mark palying with a red strat made him thinking of Hank Marvin , and when he went backstage, he stumbled on the “red strat”.
    EB talks about the “red strat” as it was already Mark’s iconic guitar, but as it was in early dec. 77, it’s funny to know that Mark just got his first red strat (at this time he only got the bare wood finish rosewood one), maybe for just few days before meeting Ed.

  12. Yes, I also think that he got the red maple neck Strat shortly before, and that the rosewood Strat was still bare wood finish.

  13. Who was his first guitar tech, and when ?
    Was it in 1980 for the on location tour ? and was it Pete Bewis ?
    Or did have a guitar tech in 79 ? (europe and US tour)

  14. I don’t know when he first had a dedicated guitar tech, I guess it was Pete Brewis (from the On-Location tour on, which was in 1980/81). Before I guess they had some techs who did more or less all the stuff, one particular name would be Pete Murdoch (who was stage manager in 1979).
    I cannot find the Communique tour book right now, I think it had some more names but nothing for guitars in particular if I remember correctly.

  15. Hello Ingo,

    I’m just searching for the early dire straits sound and offcourse the way of playing is the key. But can you tell me please what stock fender pick ups sound great for the early stuff? In the signature Knopfler strat he uses texas special but i think that they are a bit too dark for these songs. I want too buy a set (3) maybe 54’s pickups? or maybe you can reccomend something else?

    thanks, gr danny

  16. so what were the middle and bridge pickups in his red strat and what pickups does he use in his flamed pensa custom that he plays every once in a while now? i think its koa but im not sure

  17. >>>so what were the middle and bridge pickups in his red strat
    The stock ones as it seems

    >>>what pickups does he use in his flamed pensa custom
    he has more than one flamed pensa, do you mean the one he play on Telegraph Road?
    I might have heard about Lindy Fralins somewhere, but not sure

  18. Before I go and buy the pickup, I want to make sure it’s the right one. This may sound really stupid but the Dimarzio FS-1 is also the Dimarzio DP110 FS-1 right? In the picture it has a black cover on it on musician’s friend so please confirm this. I don’t want to buy the wrong one, get it installed, and not have the right one.

  19. If you are interested in the FS-1, check out our new VFS-1 pickup that was designed to sound like the FS-1 *PLUS* to sound like the vintage Strat at the same time (it is a tapped pickup so you can switch between two sounds e.g. with a push/pull poti). So you won’t lose the traditional sound. Here is a link to a direct A/B shoot-out: , please listen for yourself.

    And yes, the FS-1 = DP110, available with a black or white cover, but the normal cover you already have should fit, too.

  20. Alright thank you. I would get the VSF-1 but I don’t have that money compared to the $49 FS-1 but I’m just looking to get a less harsh sounding bridge pickup because I don’t like the high treble sound and I’ll have to buy new covers because my Vintage Noiseless covers don’t fit but I’m stuck between the new pickup or the Clapton mid-boost but if I go for the pickup I’ll get the VSF-1 and get the mid-boost later.

  21. Also, if I want to get the mid-boost and VSF-1, how will that work? The mid-boost has a 50k volume pot, the TBX, and the mid boost control. How can I install a tapped pickup with the mid-boost? Do they make a 50k push-pull volume pot or will I have to buy individual switches

  22. @Ryan T.
    This might in fact be difficult, no idea where to get push/pull potis with other values than 250 or 500k, but they should exist, too. By the way, I am working on a stomp box that has (among other features) a mid boost (similar to the Clapton boost, but more like the EMG SP that Knopfler has in his Pensa-Suhr). I think having the mid boost in a stomp box makes more sense because you can use it for all your guitars this way.

  23. Well I only have a fender strat and an acoustic so I would only be able to use it with one but i’m disappointed cause i liked the sound of the VFS-1 in the vidoes but i’ll have to do some more research but i don’t know too much about pickups but could you have the mid-boost and then possibly use an individual toggle switch or have three individual toggles for each pickup like your custom pickguards?

  24. Hi I know this is and old thread but no one seems to notice that on the picture with MK and his guitar he has taped the switch to what looks like the pos 2 (bridge/middle) on the 3 way switch? so why would the FS1 be in the neck position? Just a thought. Regards Caspar

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