The wrong colour of the first Mark Knopfler Signature Strats

The Mark Knopfler Signature Stratocaster was introduced by Fender in 2003. Officially it was available in one colour only – Hot Rod Red. However, the first production run was in a different colour. I remember when I first saw one in a shop in 2003: it did not look like on Fender’s product pictures, or like Mark Knopfler’s famous red 1961 Strat, instead it was much darker. Without the headstock decal with Knopfper’s signature you would not have believed that this guitar should have anything to do with Mark Knopfler. I saw two more of these in other shops only a bit later, and both also had the darker red, something that looked similar to Fender’s Dakota red of the 60ies (see this blog post for more info on Fender’s different red finishes).

This picture compares both colours

I must say that I was disappointed by the look of the first signature Strats, and I could not understand why the ones that Knopfler played on stage looked so much brighter. Was it just the stage lights that caused this impression? A few months later I saw another one on the Frankfurt Music Fair, and this one was as I always had imagined it to be: a bright red like in the early days of Dire Straits. From an insider I got the information that indeed the first production run was a wrong colour due to a mistake. Rumours say that when Knopfler found the first signature Strat in a London guitar shop that also had the wrong colour, he was upset and made Fender to correct the mistake immediately.

The Dakota red guitar from the picture above

It seems noone knows exactly how many of the darker ones were produced. I somewhere read a figure like some 30, but if I take into consideration that alone in my city I saw three of them in the shops, plus what I read in internet forums,  I believe there must be far more.  As it seems the serial numbers do not really give an answer to how many there are because darker ones  exist with serial numbers higher than of Hot Rod red ones. I heard that Glenn Saggers, Mark Knopfler’s guitar technician, started to file a list with the serial numbers of the wrong-coloured  guitars. If you own one of the dark ones, you might use the comment function of this blog post to tell us the serial number, maybe we can find out more this way.

Otherwise those darker guitars were identical to the later ones, and theoretically they might become a special collector item due to their limited number.

And another one (picture courtesy duytvalentino)


53 thoughts on “The wrong colour of the first Mark Knopfler Signature Strats

  1. Definitely prefer the Hot Rod red over the Dakota. However, I don’t like the sound combo of ash and rosewood. I think alder is a better complement, ash and rosewood gets really ‘bitey’ and I think his old strats would have probably been alder anyway. Surprisingly, I’ve never heard good reviews of the Knopfler model by Fender.

      1. This is wrong, in the contrary, it is mainly the wood that makes the sound, and not only the type of wood (ash, alder,brazilian/indian rosewood etc. ) but the individual piece of wood and its attitudes (direction of grain, weight, age,…). Otherwise two Strats of the same model would sound identical, and we know that there are no two Strats that sound the same.

        1. Its the pickups. Pickups are not microphones picking up the acoustic sounds of a guitar.They arepurely magnetic and their the strings, the nut, the saddles, and the pic kup plcement and of course the amp have the only beating on sound.Wood on a guitar is not in any way changing or effecting the tone, it is physically impossible.paint doesn’t matter either. You gave been sold a bad bill of goods.You can email me if you would like a better explanation@

        2. Pickups just “pick-up” the sound of the guitar, they can colour it but its the tonal quality of the guitar itself that makes the sound quality. Paint has an impact because thicker (poly) finish dampens the body vibration. It is all about vibration anyway, the strings vibrate, as the guitar does not have an endless mass, it will start to vibrate, too (just put your hand on the body to feel it if you don’t believe it), so the guitar takes out energy from the string, it does so differently for different frequencies and colours the sound. But it is much more complicated: when the guitar vibrates, these vibration will go back to the strings again, causing high-complex interaction.
          Each guitar has certain “dead notes” and other “live notes”, it will have a characteristical sustain, an individual emphasis on harmonics, and so on. These factors remain the same with any pickup you put on the guitar.
          The guitar that sounds best without amp (and everyone who has e.g. two or more Strats knows that each ones sounds different even without amp) normally sounds better with the amp, too.

        3. Pickups do not pick up sound. You do not understand the first thing about electronics or how a pickup works. Put nylon strings on your guitar and tell me how much your pickups work. Pickups are magnetic and what you are hearing is the magnetic vibration caused by the strings, not the body because it wouldn’t be enough to matter.

        4. If the mass of a guitar mattered, then when you hold it up to your body tight, then you are preventing that wood from vibrating. Does your tone change??? NO!!! Because the mass of the body has nothing to do with the sound. Most people get confused because acoustically the wood changes the tone, but once you plug in, the wood is a non factor. How can the neck wood be a factor when your hand is on it and stopping it from vibratiing and yet the tone doesn’t change. The only things that matter on an electric guitar are the pickups, the placement of said pickups, the height of said pickups, the nut material, and the bridge saddle material. Everything else is not in the mix. Most people are told that the paint doesn’t allow the guitar to breathe and you have been sold a very expensive paint for no reason. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar has a shitload of Schwinn Bicycle paint on it, David Gilmore’s guitar has not just a sunburst finish, but also painted black on top of that and yet he has one of the greatest tones. Also, no matter what wood is on a strat, how come when you hear it, you always know its a strat. If instead of arguing with your heart, you might want to do some research. I have been playing for thirty years and always thought those things made a difference until I did some reearch and then realized, I was fooled. The tone coming out of the amp is the pickups. Lastly, if a material is strong enough to hold the strings to pitch, then if it vibrates, which most 1.75inch thick planks of wood do not, very well, you would only hear this if you let the note sustain out to silence which is nonsense. The attack of the guitar, that you hear, is too violent for the bodies subtle vibration to matter. Don’t be fooled by expensive guitars and paint. Just find and instrument that feels good then plug in and if it sounds good. You got a good one. If it doesn’t switch the pickups. Here is some reading for you:

          and here is a letter from Mark Kendrick, Masterbuilder at Fender

          Mark Kendrick master builder @ Fender.

          Pardon my typos. I’ve lost alot of brain cells in my day. Could it be the ‘Nitro’.

          The first Fender lap steel was finished in black enamel. When Doc Kauffman and Leo formed K&F guitars in 1945, their original instruments, including the amplifiers, were finished in a lead based, wrinkle coat enamel. A nice shade of Battleship Grey. That was the only color available. After expermenting with different woods other than pine for guitars, they began using nitrocellulose lacquer. They used what was available to the furniture trade at the time.
          The original colors were blonde, sunburst, etc… just like your Grandmas coffee table.

          Custom colors were introduced in 1955. Once again they were enamel. The same material they used in the auto industry. The enamel would not adhere to the stearate based nitocellulose sanding sealer. Acrylic lacquers were then developed by Dupont to be sprayed on material other than metal. “Duco colors”. In order for the paint to adhere, Fender began using a Sherwin Williams product called Homoclad. It was a penetrating, heavy solid, oil based sealer used as a barrier coat to to provide better adhesion for their guitars with custom colors. It was applied by dipping the guitar bodies directly into a 55 gallon drum, filled with the product. ALL Fender guitars produced after 1955 used this product until 1967, when Fender began experimenting with polyesters an undercoat.

          By 1968, virtually all Fender guitar products used polyester as an undercoat, including necks. It’s a two part product using Methyl Ethyl Ketone(MEK) as a catalyst. The reason the face of the pegheads were not sealed with polyester, is because type ‘C’ decals (under the finish) would not adhere to the product. While it is true a few guitars may have squeaked by with homoclad, when homoclad wasn’t available, they used a Fuller O’Brian product called Ful-O-Plast. PLASTIC!!! It’s obvious to me that those necks or bodies were stragglers, having to be reworked for some reason or another and not shipped after the change.

          I’d like to make one thing clear… ALL FENDER GUITARS PRODUCED AFTER 1968 HAD A POLYESTER UNDERCOAT WITH A LACQUER TOPCOAT!!! There is no specific ratio. Enough poly was, and is sprayed to properly fill the grain while preventig a burn through while sanding.

          In 1983, Fender began using polyuerthane as a topcoat. It cured quicker. It had better clarity. It had more depth and gloss, and didn’t melt when you accidently spilled 151 on it. Fender then discontinued the use of polyester on the necks. Polyurethane is a 2 part product using a catalyst.

          Fender has continued to use polyester, polyurethane, nitro, homoclad, and Ful-O-Plast.

          Nitro is not a superior finish. An electric guitar doesn’t ‘breathe’ at 120 db.

          My first year at Fender I personally painted approximately 46,000 guitars. I like polyester. I like Nitro colors too. But maybe I’ll let the players that use poly (ester or urethane) speak for themselves…

          Billy Gibbons, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Joe Perry, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Roccco Prestia, Jimmie Vaughn, Nils Lofgren, Vince Gill, Chet Atkins, Tom Hamilton, Lenny Kravitz, Merle Haggard, Don Rich, Darryl Jones, Mike Stern, Larry Carlton, Peter Frampton, Sting, Marty Stuart, just to name a few. More are available upon request.

          Hope this helps,

          Mark K.

        5. Yes the tone would be the same. It just wouldn’t feel as nice to play. I mean if you listen to Van Halen 1, can you tell which guitar is the Les Paul and which is his Frankenstrat with a Les Paul Pickup. No you can’t. You probably didn’t realize David Gilmour solo on Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 is a 56 Les Paul with P90s. Gibson sometimes uses Ebonol instead of Ebony on the neck. No one can tell the difference because it looks the same and it has no bearing on the end sound. A 57 Les Paul Custom sounds just like a 59 Les Paul Custom, despite the fact that the 57 is solid Mahogany and the 59 has a maple cap. The maple cap was added to the Les Paul, not for sound, but so they could paint a see thru (CANDY) finish on it with the flame top. There are plenty of songs recorded on a Steinberger guitar because of the Trans Trem and you can not tell that that guitar is carbon fiber with no body and no headstock. Listen to Van Halen Summer Nights or Duran Duran’s Come Undone. Both Steinbergers. Its a hard pill for guitar players to swallow. Whatever wood feels the right weight in your hand should be your only concern and of course what fingerboard you like to play. I prefer maple. I like the feel of it.

  2. Another great article Ingo.

    I have heard many good reviews about the Knopfler model Strat, although generally people change the pick ups to sound more like his earlier sound. Thr Texas pups sound more like his modern thicker sound.

    Ingo- Any news forthcoming on the new Schecter Style Pre-loaded pickguards you are working on?

  3. I have one of the Dakota Red MK strats – Serial number SE00200. I had the opportunity to go backstage in Kettering Ohio, USA in 2005 (I think) and get it signed by MK. Glenn Saggers took a real interest in it and it was the first I heard about the color mix up. He advised to contact Fender about it but I did not mind and since MK signed it “To Alex, Love Mark Knopfler” I am not about to give it up!

    1. So we might assume that there are at least 278 of the dark ones (?). Does anyone have a hot rod red with a serial number below 278?

      1. Mine is a darker one, serial nr SE00232. When I got to the guitar shop to pick it up in July 2004, I suspected that the shop owner had cheated by chaging the body.I compared it with the catalogue picture and I really thought I was beeing fooled.I tooked it outside the shop to the sunlight and it finaly seemed ok to me .I said I was sorry and tooked it home anyway,since this was the only one in Portugal by that time.Since that day the color was not an issue anymore, until today by watching one of your excelent videos comparing a 64 and two MK Strats.

      2. I have a MK Stratocaster in beautiful Hot Rod Red (not Dakota) serial # SE00043. So the color mistake is not sequential apparently.

        1. Sorry, I was wrong on my serial #…. my MK Strat is #00143, not 43…but mine is still the beautiful Hot Rod Red correct color, not the darker. From some UK music store literature I printed out in August of 2003 when I bought mine in the US, there were only 250 made in the initial production run, of which 8 were for the UK.

  4. Hi Ingo, I saw a Dakota Red today, serial number SE00382 … The Hot Rod Red is still much more beautiful! Super your blog ++++

  5. My Dakota Red example is 00118, bought new. I later added a Hot Rod Red example. I contacted Fender about the colour and they said there was no record of how many were shipped in Dakota Red but it never appeared as an option so, by default, it must have been an error.

  6. Hi Ingo,
    Can I 1st compliment you on the “setting me up” backing track, (I will at some point get around to uploading my rendition) Why is it that people will never listen to reason on the individual issue. Just as you say, NO two guitars ever sound the same, they are made of wood for gods sake and THAT is the foundation of the sound, I’m sorry but P/ups are just icing on the cake. I’m 63 and been building my own custom Strats for 32 years. Back in ’79 I traded my newly purchased 25th Anni Strat (piece of crap)for a fiesta red ’61 model (wish I still had it!)It was a “refin” by famed Dick Knight. Like MK I found the worn rosewood board very hard on the fingers so built myself 2 Schecters. Well they played very nice but that “magic” tone just could not be got — even after endless twiddling on my Musicman HD 150 with EV speakers (bloody thing used to trash my back at every Gig, no wonder it had 2 screws each end of the strap!!)So to prove a point I took the whole pickguard from the ’61 and fitted it to the schecters one after the other and guess what — no magic tone, just softer and less powerful than the heavy magnet clad schecter p/ups. I rest my case and perhaps Dave and other doubters will take heed.
    Then there’s the issue light weight and resonance. Just because a guitar is acoustically louder doesn’t always mean it’s tone is “better” Here’s another example. Many years back a Guy asked me to look out for one of those awful “orangey” fiesta red Hank Squier guitars for his collection. I eventually found one and bought it by phone from a dealer in hampshire (here in the UK) Well when I collected it I struggled to lift it off the counter, must of weighed 9lbs plus, when I got it home even with new strings was about as resonant as a park bench and about the same weight! To my utter amazement I plugged it in to be greeted with really “boingey” Strat tones on any p/up and we are talking here about a guitar with the cheapest single bar magnet p/ups and poly finish. Sorry to rattle on but it really annoys me when people say ” strap on the best p/ups and anything will sound good”, I think I have just proved that is utter rubbish. So next time don’t trash that dead sounding body or neck try mating them with another body/neck you may be very surprised.
    Finally some info on the MK Strat colour issue. Like you Ingo I am a MK fanatic, indeed he is THE reason I took to the guitar back in Feb ’79, culminating in my own tribute “Sultan of strings” before I retired from the band scene. I now play solo with MP3 for friends/parties, practise around 3-4 a day and just enjoy it while I can as I’m 10 days older than MK!
    OK, I have owned 3 MK sig guitars the 1st was Dakota red as nearly all the 1st ship to Europe were. Yes like others I was disappointed, the colour was wrong, the weight was certainly not light and the tone just louder but no sweeter than the 62′ USA re-issue I traded. Like others I saw at a concert that Marks Strat was a lot brighter red. By chance I heard of another for sale offered by a non playing collector selling his entire collection to move to South Africa. When I arrived to pick it up I was staggered when he opened the case. Under the the lights it was almost Fiesta red, the most beautiful red I’ve seen on a Strat. I picked it up and it was so light in weight. As he write the receipt I told him I already had one, he said “you best sell the one you have at home, you’ll see why” I got home and plugged in to THE best sounding Strat ( and I’ve played 100s) I’ve ever had in my hands — and still is. I have built so many using genuine USA Fender parts and currently have 4 with exotic Musikraft necks but none quite sound like this one SN:- SE000072 Neck date Aug 7th 2003. As forecast the Dakote red model was sold but I was so awestruck by this new guitar I had to have another to gig with. I Bought a nice bright red 2006 model, it was fairly light, sounded good, but not especially. but most significant was the colour, it was a different shade again, gone was pinkish tinge and more a sort of regal/signal red. I spent months searching for an explanation. Fender where no help at all, so the baulk of “honest” answers came from Dealers mainly in USA. The consensus is:- Hardly any of the original bright red guitars made it for export, IE, UK and Europe, the legend follows,(like the 1st E type Jaguars) these were select guitars using superlight Swamp ash, dark rosewood boards/laquer, all lovingly put together to prove a point, you will notice from current photos all later guitars have lighter neck tint, with cheaper looking maple. I think you will find that most if not all the Dakota guitars are after Sep 2003. The general opinion is Fender lost the original paint supplier, so to meet demand switched to Dakota red until (prompted by MK) another supplier was found, but the colour though similar is not the same as the 1st guitars (mine will stay with me until death!) but the colour difference is subtle, only noticeable side by side, plus the original finish is very soft and easily marked, probably why I’ve only used it for a single Gig in 6 years! Keep up the good work with this excellent Website ,(any chance of a backing track for “News”?) I love your enthusiasm Martin

  7. hi there,
    just checked the colour of my mk strat number SE00528, it appears to be dakota red just thought I would let you know

  8. My opinnion about wood influence on sound is: the wood is important for sound, not as much as amp or pickups, but it has influence. Yes, the magnets react to vibration of metal parts (strings, bridge, springs…) but vibration from wood affect further string vibrations. if you stop wood vibration, strings will stop wibrating in shorter time.

  9. I think mine is Dakota Red SE00809. From what I can make out from the pictures above mine does not look as bright as the top picture 🙂

  10. I am new here and great reading and information… I was wondering if anyone here has the pantone color code for the hot rod red fender used for this guitar?…

  11. SE09843 is the serial number of mine (I think around 2011 built) and I’m pretty sure its a Hot Rocket Red

  12. I recently acquired a MK strat from a dear friend who passed away – he had it for many years and also had an original White 1961 strat – has now been sold.
    Can anyone tell me the year my MK strat was made Number 00210 and obviously is RED.
    The condition is pristine & shop – with original case but no proof of purchase.
    No sign at all of wear on frets and they have been dressed. Bit more info if possible please !


  13. Another Dakota Red MK Signature Strat here. 318. Even if Fender offered me a replacement for a Hot Rod version on my doorstep, I’d keep the Dakota Red. I personally much prefer Dakota Red as a colour and it makes no difference to the performance of the guitar. I’m not looking to clone Knopfler’s look, I am looking to match his guitar tone. (One can always hope :-)) Besides having an official Fender artist signature guitar, we have a rarer version that Fender won’t ever repeat, even if that signature guitar came back into production.

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