Dire Straits Down to the Waterline explained: licks – chords – solo – no tabs

Summer is here and with it my summer holidays, so the ideal opportunity for some more song tutorials here in my Mark Knopfler guitar blog. This time I will explain the song Down to the Waterline – the first song on the first Dire Straits CD (1978).

Down to the waterline is surely another highlight of early Dire Straits. It is one of the oldest Mark Knopfler songs, one of 5 songs included on the demo tape Dire Straits recorded in summer 1977. It is the opener of the first album and was planned (however never released) as a second single, following the band’s first single success Sultans of Swing.

It is in the key of Bm and features many guitar licks and stuff that is typical for this key but also a lot of surprises like some unusual chord changes in the middle solo or some chromatic notes.

I am explaining the whole song in a youtube video or – to be precise – in two parts since youtube allows only clips up to 10 minutes. I am showing the song as I would play it – which is a mixture of the studio or some live versions. As always, it is not about the most accurate transcription of a particular version, but about the idea behind those licks, chords and solos.

Video Part 1 (Intro, verses, chords, first solos)

Video Part 2 (middle and last solo)

Knopfler probably played his Fender Strat S.-No. 80470 on the CD version of this track, possibly over a Fender Twin and/or his brown Fender Vibrolux amp. Besides some reverb and slight distortion from the amp, the guitar sound is compressed, possibly by the Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. However, noone knows for sure about the gear actually used on the first two CDs, and there is a lot of rumour around.

Some notes on the gear I used for this video

self-built clone of the Mark Knopfler Fender Strat S.-No. 80470 (mainly of Fender parts) , into Morley Volume pedal, into MXR analog delay, into Music Man HD 212 amp

recorded by the mic of a digi cam.

19 thoughts on “Dire Straits Down to the Waterline explained: licks – chords – solo – no tabs

  1. Ingo

    Great explanation. I’ve been working on this song recently and your video filled in a few missing pieces. Thanks for providing this fantastic resource.


  2. Where did you find out some of the information about which guitar he played on the track – I’d seen him interviewed on BBC before in his guitar room and he must’ve had 40 guitars there — hard to track which he used without video or specific recording engineer notes.

  3. Ingo,

    That is an awesome strat clone and great playing. What colour red is the clone guitar. Also what pickups are installed in the guitar?


  4. Hi Chris, that guitar is just a part-o-caster, some parts are Fender, some are from a Japanasese guitar from the 70ies, the red is from a spraying can (nitro) but not exactly the colour I wanted it to have, the PUs are Fender 57/62 from the 80ies, from a JV Squier.

  5. Ingo, thank so much for this lesson which give us a really knowledge of MK technics and give us the felling to be less lost un this pièce of music.

    Thanks a lot. Alain

  6. HI Ingo…First, congratulations on your work .. you play very much!

    What pickups do you recommend for me to perform songs from Knopfler? What pickups would come closest to the sound of red strato Rockpalast 79?

    Igon, thank you! a big hug from Brazil!

  7. except the pickups Haeussels because there is no sale in my country (Brazil), and the import is bureaucratic.

    fs-1 neck + some fenders in the middle and bridge ? or all fenders, and what? help me, please ..

  8. The Rockpalast Strat had “normal” pickups, also in the neck position, probably early 60ies fender vintage so any vintage Strat-style pickup should do.

  9. hi ingo, thanks for great insight into waterline, however still struggling with the chords on the main instro part I have got it pretty well nailed except for achord that I cannot work out mabye you can help me…I play this sequence ( sorry do not have the hash key on keyboard hence the word sharp )

    G Bm G Bm A

    E C sharp m C G ? G

    D A F sharp G A Bm…….into verse

    thanks so much for your help

      1. thanks ingo,
        my wife is off shopping today .so I will get the guitar out and try the chords.
        Thanks so much it is very appreciated.

        kind regards

  10. Hi Ingo,
    Is there any tab /songbook available on the market for first Dire Straits Album?
    what about your project to provide video tutorial to purchase?
    really waiting for it!

  11. Thanks for your time, generosity & for sharing all this info. It really helps the understanding of MKs style in great detail

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