AmpsMark Knopfler gear

Mark Knopfler’s Music Man HD 130 212 guitar amp

Mark Knopfler started to play Music Man amps around September 1978. These amps were used for all live gigs from then on until the end of the Making Movies On Location tour in 1981. The Music Man amp was used on some studio recordings from this era, probably also on Making Movies, but it was most likely not used on the first album, and neither on Communiqué (here amps borrowed by Robert Palmer, probably Fenders, were used).

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This amp shares many features of a Fender Twin Reverb, e.g. the same control layout, the same effects, a similar size, a similar look. It is surely fair to say that it was Music Man`s version of the Twin Reverb, although the sound is different.

HD stands for heavy Duty, 130 for 130 Watts from four 6CA7 tubes (could be switched to low power), and 212 for  two 12″-Speakers.

Some general info on Music Man guitar amps can be found in one of the last articles.

Controls

The HD 130 212 has two independent, non switchable channels, just like the vintage blackface or silverface Twin Reverb. Originally the two-channel design allowed to plug in two guitars so that two players could share one amp on a little stage – something that did not really make much sense and was hardly used, except the band could only afford one amp. Both channels have two input jacks (labelled 1 and 2), with 2 being less sensitive so that high gain instruments (e.g. keyboards) could be plugged in without distorting the first gain stage (which is pre the volume pot so that reducing volume does not help in case of being overdriven with a too loud signal). Next to the input we find a Bright switch that works similar to the one on Fender amps: a small capacitor partially overrides the volume poti with the effect that the more treble is boosted the lower the volume poti is set – at almost 10 the switch has zero effect while at 1 it is strongest. Next is the Volume control, and three tone controls (Treble, Mid, Bass). The whole circuit looks identical to a Twin Reverb, but internally the values of the tone capacitors and resistors are different. The treble end is works at a lower frequency range than on the Twin so the sound is a bit fatter with a peak in the high mids. The midrange poti is also more effective than on Fender amps. All Music Man amps also feature a Deep switch that boosts bass frequencies. As this switch works between the pre and poweramp section, it is affective for both channels (the later models of the RD/RP series also have a bright and deep switch but these work and sound completely different).

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Controls on the left channel
Controls on the right channel
Controls on the right channel
The Deep switch works after the pre-amp stage and thus affects both channels
The Deep switch works after the pre-amp stage and thus affects both channels

The second channel additionally features a Reverb control and a tremolo with a speed and intensity control. The reverb comes from an Accutronics reverbtank of the same size as in the Twin reverb. Nevertheless the reberb sound is different, less dense and a bit brighter which is intended by the circuit design. The tremolo also sounds different than on a Fender amp. If you set the Intensity control to more than approximately  3, a second harmonic modulation is gradually added.

Sound

As said, the Music Man sounds different than the Fender amps of its time. The sound is a bit more nasal, with more midrange available. As the pre amp is a solid state design, some typical transistor distortion is gradually added when tyou crank up the amp. For this reason they were better suited for clean guitar sounds, and soon became a standard for country players. However, the transistor distortion does not sound that bad and is helpful to add some grit for clean sounds. The tube power amp section adds a typical warmth that solid state amps normally lack  off. Listen to any Dire Straits live recordings from this time and you will get the idea.

With 130 watts through two 212 speakers the amp is extremely loud, maybe one of the reasons Knopfler changed from the Twin to the Music Man when the stages became bigger.

Tube driver or solid-state driver?

This 12AX7 tube for the phase inverter was later replaced with a solod state design
This 12AX7 tube for the phase inverter was later replaced with a solod state design

The first Music Man amps (up to ca. 1977) had an additional 12AX7 pre amp tube for the phase inverter section. This tube and the corresponding hand-wired board were replaced with a new soild state circuit board that was said to be more reliable (with the old design a total failure plus the destruction of the expensive output transformer was possible in case of a certain malfunction scenario – however nothing you should really worry about if you own an amp from this time). Generally the tube vesrion is said to sound warmer, although I feel both sound nice and and not too different.

It cannot be answered with absolute certainty whether the one that MK used had the 12AX7 tube driver (like all amps before 1977) or not.

Generally in the first series (with the tube) the power switch was at the front panel of the amp and the stand-bye switch at the back. The power switch was labelled with “Hi – Off – Lo” (in the down position it was switched to about only 65 Watts).

The later series had the stand-bye switch at the front, labelled with “Hi – Stand-bye – Lo”. On a few concert pictures you can clearly  see that MK`s amp had the “High – Off – Lo” labelling (and thus might be the model with driver tube), however, I meanwhile have seen a few transition amps that still had the “Hi – Off – Lo” labelling but already the solid-state driver stage. What makes it more difficult is the fact that around the time of the introduction of the solid-state driver version, Music Man called back earlier amps from the dealers to change them to solid-state as well. Also, it was offered as a free service to convert amps with the tube driver to solid-state.

There`s one picture available from the Making Movies tour book that shows the back of MK`s amp. It is almost impossible to see any details, but a slight light reflection (of the aluminium tube cover) might be just at the position of the additional tube. All in all, I admit there is not much more than some speculation on this question.

Speakers

This amp can be seen first with Dire Straits on the Chorus TV 1978 video (a concert from October 14, 1987 in Paris).  There are a few shots that show the amp from its back side. Unfortunately it is not possible to tell from these pictures which speaker is inside with certainty.

Alnico speakers with huge square magnets
Alnico speakers with huge square magnets

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The first amps had Eminence speakers with square alnico magnets, but I have seen models with a different Eminence speaker type that has square magnets of different size and shape (picture below). Then – about 1980 – the amp came with Eminence speakers with round ceramic magnets. Furthermore, the amp was optionally available with Electro Voice EVM 12L speakers – the same speakers that Mark Knopfler prefered in later years, e.g. in his Marshall cabinets. These Electro voice speakers normally had a huge golden magnet, but the OEM version in Music Man amps often had black magnets (picture below).

These speakers were probably only used about 1978 - they have most likely ceramic magnets
These speakers were probably only used about 1978 - they have most likely ceramic magnets
Optional Electro Voice 12L speakers
Optional Electro Voice 12L speakers

The second HD 130

Starting around the time of the US tour in early 1979 (March/April), MK used two of these amps. From summer 1979 one of them was to be equipped with speakers with aluminium dust caps (instead of the normal black paper caps), something that can easily be spotted through the amp grill on pictures of this time. The most famous speakers with aluminium caps was the JBL D120F that was optionally available in some n Fender amps (including the Twin Reverb). In fact, a Twin Reverb with JBLs has for a long time been something like the industry standard for ultra-clean sounds.
There are chances that Knopfler used JBLs as well, although I meanwhile tend to believe that the dust caps in his amps were a bit smaller than on JBLs. Many other speaker maufacturers had them as well, e.g. on the speakers in the Roland Jazz Chorus, or the Black Widow speakers that were installed in David Knopfler`s Peavey Deuce amp on the same tour.

Speakers with aluminium dust caps have a harsher sound with more treble than a conventional speaker. This can easily be heard on all live recordings from the second half of 1979.

Talking Heads as guests on stage in 1979 - note the aluminium dust caps on the Music man amp
Talking Heads as guests on stage in 1979 - note the aluminium dust caps on the Music Man amp (far right)

The “Clapton mod”

The most prominent endorser for Music Man amps in the 70ies was surely Eric Clapton, who played two HD 130 heads with 4 speaker cabinets (with two 12″ JBL speakers in each, probably D120F or K120). Clapton`s amps were modified by the Music Man company. This modification included a different circuit for the bright switch, more gain, and a pre-amp out and power-amp in. Music Man service dealers or distributors were sent an installtion instruction for this mod, so it is theoretically possible that Knopfler had it as well.

It is unclear why Knopfler started to have two of these amps on stage. One possibility was to have a spare amp in case the first one breaks down, or he played both simultaneously to have more power, or – with a total of  four speakers – to hear the amps better from different spots on stage. I prefer to think that both were active (e.g. because both seem to be in use on rehearsals like in the BBC Arena documentary from 1980).

However, it seems that none of the input jacks at the front panel of the second amp was connected (an argument for the spare amp version), or this indicates that the amps had those pre-amp outs and power-amp ins to connect them from the back side (like Clapton did), an argument for the Clapton mod on Knopfler`s amps.

While the more-gain option of this mod does not change the clean sound, the bright switch works completely different with the Clapton mod, more like on later Music Man amps. It is much sharper, but less brittle. In addition, it is always effective, no matter of the volume knob position, while the standard bright switch is the more efficient, the lower the volume position is.

The same Music man amps were used on the Making Movies tour in 1981, driving closed Marshall 4 x 12″ cabinets. They reappeared on the Nelson Mandela birthday concert, Wembley Stadium, 1988.

Note the solid state circuit board for the pre amp and the point-to-point wired small board for the power amp
Note the solid state circuit board for the pre amp and the point-to-point wired small board for the power amp

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63 thoughts on “Mark Knopfler’s Music Man HD 130 212 guitar amp

  1. I had always thought that the pic with Talkings Heads was from January 78, while the Straits where support act of them, and maybe they joined at the end of a gig.
    Do you have more infos about this gig in 79 where TH joined DS ?

    PS : Chorus was of course 1978 not 1987 😉

  2. It is definitely from summer ’79, not sure about the exact location, but most likely from one of the festivals they played in Germany with the Talking Heads and otehr bands.

  3. Great article as always! One question though…on what do you base the info that the Music Man amps were used on Nelson Mandela’s birthday concert?

  4. I think you can see them under the stairs to the drum plateau – e.g. good to see after the last verse, at the beginning of the final solo

  5. Are there any of those old Clapton service mod instruction manuels floating around and how can you tell if a HD-130 has been modded?

    Many thanks..!

  6. there are manuals in the web, try a serach for clapton mod. How to tell? Open the amp and check… ;), or check if the bright switch works the same at all volumes, normally it is the more effective the lower you set volume.

  7. Thank you so much for posting this site.I have been watching ebay and my local used gear shop for a MM.. I have noticed there is a change in the lay out of the combos even with the phase inverter tube. IE in put one being either a vol,treb,med,bass or just vol,treb and bass. Was there a change during the first years and why ?
    Many thanks!
    Scott

  8. AFAIK the 212 amps always had vol, treble, middle, bass on both channels, while most of the other MM amps had vol, treble, bass on the left channel.

  9. Hi Ingo

    On any of your strats did you put the strap button on the back of the guitar with the neck plate. I’ve done it to mine and it feels cool and I’ve always like that on the sg i have.

  10. Just on the the Nelson Mandela birthday concert and using the MM amps – we know they were visable under the drum riser, but I wonder whether they were used for everything as the previously used Mesa Boogie (III?) + marshall cab was used the Prince’s Trust Rock Gala and both concerts occured only a few days apart and rehersals for both were done together, even though the set was different – just a thought.

  11. It is strange to see the MM amps here in fact, he always played marshall cabs around that time. It would be interesting to see which amp he played on the warm-up gigs in Hammersmith before the Nelson Mandela concert. I have audio recordings of these, but have not seen any pics yet, but I guess there are some around somewhere.

  12. Hi, I´ve always loved the mandela´s guitar sound. Do you think the reverb was the one from de music man amp? or maybe was a master room reverb? Do you know anything else of his gear for that concert? :)Greetings from Bcn

  13. Hallo all of You,

    I had a wonderful 212HD 130 20 years ago and dammit I sold it when I
    left Tübingen.
    Do You think it to be possible to get one nowadays ?

    Thanks for answering and esp. info.

    Thomas

  14. Hi I hope you can help. I have an old 130 HD head, with 2 separate ev speakers originally from a 212 evm. Can you tell what ohmage each ev speaker is? I cannot see any indication on the speaker. I want to build a cabinet to house the HD 130 head with 1 of the ev speaker as a 1×12 combo, with the second ev in a separate cab if required. I am too old to even try to lift a combe with 2×12 evs as they each weigh a ton.

  15. eh, which Music man do you mean?
    I have one MM 65 112RP in mint condition that is for sale. Contact me for more info if interested.

    Music Man normally have Eminence speakers.

  16. Dear Madam or Sir,

    from 1983 on I have used this amp for a Stratocaster. For me it was ok but the sound too thin.
    At the time I lacked the patience to try and find out suitable sound modification (Matchless Hotbox / Ibanez Tube screamer or the like)

    I abandoned it in favor of Fender Twin, but I shoudnt have sold it.

    So please tell me – is it still somehow on the used gear market ?

    For my Gibsons it would be fine.

    Thanking You – and hoping to get information

    Best regards
    Thomas Wesp

  17. They still can be bought 2nd hand, often not too expensive. However, I noticed that recently less MM amps were offered and the prices went up. They were generally underrated for a long time it seems but now more and more become aware of their quelities.

  18. Greetings,

    Thanks so much Ingo for your in depth and informative post & article! I really appreciate it:) I’m a professional musician who’s played with members of KISS and others and currently have a band ECOTONIC with Chris Slade from AC/DC on drums.

    I bought my HD 212 One-Thirty for $150 in 2001 from a friend (what a steal!)and at that time let my keyboard player use it(and he complained about it, quite a foolish bloke) and it sounded AMAZING, handling all the lows and warming up the synth sounds considerably. I was using my other Mesa/Boogie Studio Preamp rig with a Simul 395 Stereo 2 channel Switchable Power Amp with marshall & carvin cabs.

    well, it sat in my garage until about 2 years ago I got a gig and started using the MM HD 130 (pre 1977 as it has tube phase inverter stage, thanks for the info) with a fully packed Furman SPB-8c stereo pedalboard loaded with a mix of modern and vintage effects. It sounds AWESOME and is a work-horse, being used for 3-5 hours a night 3-5 times a week for the past few years.

    I believe that mine belonged to someone in the Allman Brothers, and it has Cerwin/Vega speakers instead of the MM or JBL’s. One of them has a red speaker cone.

    I’ve never had the pleasure of playing through another one of these amps for comparison, but I’d love to have another as a back-up or to potentially run stereo rigs.

    I’ve never changed the tubes and it has been a workhorse. Yesterday I did give it a once over in my studio because I heard rattling when using it with the Pog 2 pedal — something I didn’t catch in the live stage setting. After giving it a once over, I noticed that the speaker screws vibrated loose as did the mammoth power transformer! It was hanging by only 2 screws instead of 4, and those 2 supporting it were half way loose! In another month or so it would have fallen and the connection chords would have cause it to shatter at least 1 tube!

    My point? Remember that these are vintage amps and give them periodic spot checks!

    Happy 2010!

    JE

  19. I have a Musicman 212HD combo that I bought new in the late 70’s. I’m thinking of selling it. I stopped using it a few years ago because I find channel-switchable amps so much more versatile on stage. The MM was recently revalved and serviced by an amp technician to the stars. The reverb is always packing up – the very fine connectors break but that should be fixable. Otherwise in good condition for its age (not great – I gigged it a lot!) and it’s got my name stencilled on the side. Anyone want to make me an offer? I’m in Berkshire, UK

  20. Look at any stage picture of Aerosmith from mid to late 70’s and you’ll see a row of modified HD-130’s behind Joe Perry sandwiched between custom ported 4×4 cabs loaded with EV’s.

  21. From 1974-84, I played a ’59 Les Paul through a 1974 MM HD130 Reverb (bought new) into four JBL cabs each with a single D130F for 10 years full time (5-7 nights/week) and never so much as blew a fuse. I never even changed the tubes! Rock solid, road-worthy amp. I never used pedals in those days and had plenty of gain for sounds like ZZ Top and Almann Bros tunes.
    NOTE: my hearing at 59 years old is pretty damaged on the left, which is the side that always took the brunt of the MM volume on stage — these amps can be plenty loud!

  22. My Musicman has two switches at the back – why does Mark Knopfler’s Musicman have two switches?

  23. Hello everybody,

    I have just bought an early 212 combo in mint shape. First Ive got to say its the greatest amp I ever played and I am very happy with it. But Is it anyhow possible to modified it in order to have a footswitch for no gain and gain over the electronic circuit?

    cbeers,
    Simon

  24. Hey friend, Needing to depend on insulin to maintain my diabetes has always been a challenge for me, especially in how self-conscience it caused me to feel. The info here has given me some totally useful tips that I will be able to put to use and I think it will actually help me control my condition.

  25. I was a Musicman Dealer from Day one in the UK and had one of the first HD130 212’s from Strings & Things the then importer. We did a Musicman Seminar in Southend on Sea with Strings and Things and my amp did not sound so loud, so Ray Todd from Strings and Things took it back to the Factory and told me he would find me another. A few weeks pasted when he phoned and told me he had got an awesome HD130 212 for me and to never sell it, as it was something else. Ray still cannot believe I still have the amp, I also still have one of the very few promotional mini Musicman amp cases given to Musicman dealers to show how the cabinets were made, I am told there were only three? I still have the amp 2012, the guarantee card has only just fallen out from behind the amp were it was stapled on from the factory, the valves have been changed, not that they needed it, only once, for the same EL34 Sylvania’s and I am lucky enough to have two new spare sets, as yet unused. The amp is on its second flight case and is unmarked but used. In the late 70’s I played at a Musicians workshop night through a Marshall Stack, and wanted to compare the Musicman the following week. When I did it blew everything off the stage it was so loud. One gig with The Michael Oliver Band, while doing an eight bar solo with the Musicman on top of the flight case, the keyboards went off and I had to solo for a lot longer, as the amp was so close to me I could hear my hearing shut down, and afterwards I was a bit giddy for about three days. Needless to say I do not play that loud anymore and mic up. I asked my mate Gibbo from The Kinks, when we were playing on a gig together, why we never played much together, his answer was “You play too loud” Not anymore Ian. This amp will never be sold as it can never be replaced, and price is irrelevant, it just sounds so good with Fenders or Gibsons. I also use an extension 2×10 Eminence cab with it to take the pressure off of the 2×12 Alnicos. I do not like the sound of the HD150 212 as they have the Ceramic Magnet Speakers and a Phaser with 6L6 valves and no Preamp Valve and sound completely different, but that is just my opinion. If you see one just buy it! TIM GENTLE. Tim Gentle Music.

  26. I can’t get the reverb to work on my HD 212. I don’t have the foot pedals for the reverb or the tremolo. Do I have to have these for it to work? What could be wrong? Thanks so much!!

    Brandon Cooke

  27. You don’t need the foot pedal. No idea what is wrong on your amp, there are so many possible reason (it is a device > 30 years old). If I were to guess I’d say the IC that drives the reverb or the reverb spring unit.

  28. I HAVE A GORGEOUS HD130 COMBO 2X12 FOR SALE. LOADED WITH NEW EMINENCE TONKERS. NEW AMP CORNERS AND CASTERS. TOLEX AND GRILL ARE PERFECT. IT IS MINT!!! No mm badges though. 650 dollars. CONTACT ME….

  29. I have a Musicman amp and speaker, what’s it worth?

    It’s a Musicman HD130 (Reverb) head with a 212RH (One thirty) cabinet. Its pretty much in as new condition with no tears in the gauze or the tolex and it has a plaque on the back of both Amp and Cab saying “Strawberry Studios” This is a seriously loud valve amplifier that I hardy use at home. I was offered £500 for it but I think its worth more as a genuine 1970’s Valve Amp made by Musicman (Fender) Any ideas if that was a fair offer?

  30. Terrific info! I learned a lot about the MM’s from this. I have a MM 212-HD 150 with evm’s that is an absolute monster! It’s in mint condition, I am the original owner, and was wise to purchase a cover with it when I bought it. I quit playing shortly after, and have since become an acoustic player, so I never use it. It is in mint condition, probably only used on about 6 gigs. I think I’m ready to let it go, may regret it. I’m trying to get some idea of value, but one thing I’m noticing is that most amps of this age are no where near pristine as this, it’s literally as nice as the day I bought it. Any ideas?

  31. just picked up an early 212 130 today i tracked down off craigslist. practically mint with the original cover almost too tight to fit! it is amazing. cranks on the high power and when brought down to 65 watts functions for practice as well. i would advise not selling a clean one. ive been watching the prices steadily rise…saw my chance to grab one at a reasonable price and will be keeping it for a long time. feels like christmas!

  32. I have a Music man 212 130 hd and supposedly it belonged to mark knopflers is there any way I could find out?

  33. Hey, I learned alot from this wed site. I own a MM 130HD 210 combo (yes, 2 10’s) and I just found out about the tube/solid state per amp. Mine has the tube. The amps is in great shape. I bought it used many years ago and I’m sure I’m the second owner.
    Anyway, what I wanted to know is what setting should the OHM switch be on the back, 8ohm or 4ohm. You can connect an external cabinet so I thought that would be the 4ohm. The speakers have no indication on them but I figured if they were 8ohm speakers paralleled would be 4ohms. I have the switch set to 4ohms now with no ext. cab connected. So…??
    Thanks,
    B

    1. Barrie, I can only imagine how good that sounds with 2 10″ speakers. I have the 212HD 130 and love it, but at lower volumes it can be kind of flabby, the 10’s would tighten that up. I use mine for pedal steel and guitar, and I really love it with the steel.
      As to the ohmage issue, find out if it is wired parallel or in series. If you aren’t sure, look up a wiring diagram on google and look at the way it is wired- it’s really easy to tell when you have the diagram. But I have only seen them wired for 8 ohms, the 4 ohm out would require the speakers to be wired differently- an easy mod, if you want that tone.

    2. Barrie, I have this amp AND the instruction manual. Here’s what it says, “The two speaker jacks are connected in series. Therefore, when both speaker jacks are used, place the impediance switch in the 8 ohm position (for best average performance).” So, if you are only using the internal speakers, place it in the 4 ohm position.

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