MK guitar style and licks

Sound check of a Mahogani body Strat with the Alchemy Pickguard

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Here you can watch me trying out another guitar I am building at the moment: with a  Mahogani body, a dotless birdseye maple neck, brass tremolo, and the Alchemy loaded pickguard it should be obvious that this was inspired by Knopfler’s red Dream Machine Schecter Strat.

The guitar is still in a rough state so ‘unfinished’ does not only mean no red finish yet but also a lot of other final work missing, like sanding, more leveling and polishing on the frets, and so on. I simply like to assemble a body and a neck of my projects at an early stage to see what it will sound like. If I do not like the sound the body might go to another neck or get different hardware to find another combination that works better. In fact the neck has been on another mahogani body before but that combo did not convince me. This one however seems to be nice.

Like on my last two videos I simply plugged the guitar into my Soundcraft ui24R mixing desk and used the guitar amp emulation and effects from it. The amp module is the Twin Reverb with the matching 2 x 12 speaker emulation. Effects are some more EQ, reverb, delay, and a compressor. The sound setting is rather trebly. The slightly piercing sound comes from the 500k pots on the pickguard I guess, like on those old Schecter pickguards. I think I’ll go for the softer sound of 250k pots instead next time. There is no reason to exchange the pots as all you need to do is adding a little resistor somewhere in the circuit to achieve exactly that. More on this later…

MK guitar style and licks

Knopfler-style licks on Dream Machine Strat

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One of the things I was a bit busy with over the last years is guitar building. The guitar in the following video was inspired by the vintage Schecter Dream Machines that Mark Knopfler started to play in the early 80ies. I also built some models closer to the particular ones that Mark had – like the stolen 1st sunburst, the 2nd sunburst to replace the first, or the red one – but this one has different kind of woods than Mark’s models. The body is a flamed one-piece Bubinga body, and the neck of Pao Ferro. Schecter made a lot of Pao Ferro necks in the Van Nuys era. They also offered Bubinga for the body for some time but these are rather rare compared to the other exotic woods they had.

The guitar is extremely heavy. With ca. 6.3 kg It is by far the heaviest Strat I think I ever played! Well, a lot of vintage Schecters are rather heavy, especially the ones with brass pickguards and tropical woods. This was part of their sound philosophy: a heavy guitar has more sustain.

Bubinga is often used for bass guitars, and it is said to sound sleightly brittle and sometimes ‘analytical’ or even a bit sterile. I was not sure what to expect from a Bubinga Strat but I must say that I was very pleased with the sound results. It indeed has a lot of sustain but it sounds warm and clear.

It is equipped with a Making Movies brass pickguard and a Dream Machine brass tremolo.

 

In the video I am jamming over a self-programmed backing track loop reminiscent of the Tunnel of Love intro as it was played on some tours a long time ago by the band. I tried to switch between all kind of pickup combinations to demonstrate some of the possibilities. Remember, those tapped pickups have two sounds: vintage-like when the mini switch is down, and fat when the switch is up. The three mini switches with 3 positions each result in 27 combinations, one is all pickups off so you have 26 different sounds.

I played directly into a Soundcraft ui24 digital mixing desk, and I used  the software amp and all effects from this device. The amp was the emulation of a Fender Blackface Twin with the 2×12 speakers.

There are no effects except the Lexicon reverb and a basic delay from the ui24.

MK guitar style and licks

Blues Improvisation on Ibanez Les Paul with MK58 pickups

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In the following video you can watch me jamming to a blues backing track.

The guitar is a 1974 Ibanez 2351 Les Paul copy, all stock with exception of two MK58 pickups. It is not a close copy of a Les Paul but a model with a bolt-on neck, and the top is not solid maple but a bent piece of thin wood. Nevertheless, it has a nice warm sound.

I played directly into a Soundcraft ui24 digital mixing desk, and I used  the software amp and all effects from this device. The amp was the emulation of a Fender Blackface Twin with the 2×12 speakers.

There are no effects except the Lexicon reverb and a basic delay from the ui24.

 

Guitar in general

Repairing an Electro Voice EVM12L speaker – rattling dust cap

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The Electro Voice EVM12L is a legendary vintage guitar speaker, favoured not only by Mark Knopfler who uses this speaker in various 4 x 12 speaker cabinets. I have these in a 4 x 12 cab as well, and I like the sound of these very much.

The last time I played with this cab there was an unpleasant surprise: one of the speakers produced a strange noise as soon as I turned up the amp to a medium volume. It sounded like a scratchy voice coil, something that unfortunately happens on vintage speakers and often requires a re-cone job.

I opened the cab to examine the speaker. When carefully moving the cone a bit with my hand however everything seems fine, no hint of any scratchiness that is associated with a defective coil. I need a while until I discovered the cause of the problem. I will describe how I managed to repair the speaker, hoping this blog post can help others who might have a similar problem.

The problem was that the dust cap that is glued to the speaker cone and covers the center of the speaker became loose, the glue seam had broken over a distance of about 1.5″. This was almost invisible. In fact a speaker produces surprisingly loud noises as soon as something is not 100% firm but vibrates or rattles, like the two paper edges here.

Almost invisible: broken glue seam

I used some drops of bottled hide glue to fix it again, pushing the glue with a toothpick into the gap. Hide glue is great for a lot of materials besides wood, it is durable, and requires only a thin film. I let it dry over night and tried the speaker again the next day: problem solved, no noise, even at high volume.

Glued with hide glue
Guitar in general

Chris Rea – how he gets his signature sound

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Chris Rea is an artist that has surely more than a few things in common with Mark Knopfler – playing a red Fender Stratocaster is one of them. Chris plays a lot of slide guitar, so his Strat is normally tuned to open E, and his sound is different for this reason but often his clean Strat sounds are still similar to some early Dire Straits stuff.

I found this video on youtube, originally it was included on a VHS video tape with the Fender Chris Rea signature Stratocaster that was available in the late 90ies.

Chris explains how he gets his signature sound on his fiesta red 1963 Strat, which he calls ‘Pinky’. He demonstrates e.g. the effect of a compressor pedal on a clean sound (at about 5:15), an effect that is helpful for Knopfler sounds as well (just listen to e.g. ‘In the Gallery’ or ‘Lady Writer’).

Also notice that his tremolo is blocked with a piece of wood (at 1:55). This was not the case on Mark’s Strat I think, as he occasionally presses down his tremolo on stage (e.g. in the outro of ‘News’), but it seems that Mark also had no floating tremolo but had it decked (using five tremolo strings so that the bridge is pressed down on the body).

There is another detail that I found interesting: at about 17:10 Chris demonstrates how he removes some harshness of a Strat by rolling the volume pot down to about ‘8’. I recommend to try this for the Knopfler sound, too. Rolling back the pot a bit reduces the strength of the so-called resonance peak of he pickup (more on this in this blog post), resulting in a sweeter, less harsh sound. You can then turn up the treble control of your amp a bit tomake the sound brighter again, this really sounds different from fully turned up with less treble on the amp, worth trying out. The effect is a bit similar to using that old Morley volume pedal that Mark had in the 70ies as this also reduces the pickup resonance peak.

Guitar in general

CITES regulations exempt musical instruments – ban of rosewood lifted

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This is what I consider good news for all of us guitar players – after severe CITES restrictions for trading guitars with parts of rosewood or bubinga that were introduced in 2017, these woods can soon be used for musical instruments again, without any horrifying paperwok that almost made many companies stop using these woods that are essential for e.g. fingerboards or bridges on acoustic guitars.

An exemption for finished musical instruments, including parts and accessories, was discussed earlier this year and has  been agreed to a few days ago. It should become effective in 90 days from August 28, 2019.

Bubinga Stratocaster body

It was agreed that on musical instruments the woods in question are used in rather small amount so that the conservation benefit for the endangered species is in no healthy relation to the huge administrative burden of certification required by manufacturers, dealers, and musicians.

It was also noted that these woods are essential for high quality instruments and banning them would lead to a cultural loss.

Note however that this exemption is NOT for Brazilian rosewood that was added to the list most endangered species back in 1992.

More info can be found here.

Misc

New Mark Knopfler album Down the Road Wherever and tour coming

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I guess most fans are already aware that a new Mark Knopfler album called Down the Road Wherever will be released on November 16. You will already find a track list and the lyrics to all songs here on the official Mark Knopfler website.

A new single called Good on you son is already available, see the official video below:

And finally, the tour dates of the coming world tour have been announced recently. Ticket sale will start soon, and a pre-sale ticket reservation is available on the Mark Knopfler website.

Guitar in general

Possible loss of sound and sustain on a guitar bridge with block saddles

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With this blog post I just want to make you aware of a possible sound loss due to a wrong setup. This affects  all Strat or Tele bridges with the  ‘block’ saddles instead of the bent steel pieces of the vintage Fender design, like the American Standard bridge, or vintage Schecter bridges and consequently also the Dream Machine Tremolo and Tele bridges.

I found that you need to make sure that both of the Allen screws used for the height adjustment have firm contact to the bridge base plate. Both screws should be at exactly the same height. Otherwise it is possible that one of them has no direct contact to the bridge plate at all; the bridge saddle will stand on one screw only then. With the vintage Fender design the saddle would simply tilt a bit to the side of the shorter screw which is probably not ideal either but will hardly affect the tone. The higher block saddles however can be jammed between their neighbour saddles and cannot tilt easily to one side for this reason.

A block saddle might stand on only one screw which reduces sound quality

As the string runs in the middle of both screws, the string vibration will not be transmitted ideally to the guitar body when one screw is in midair. The saddle should sit firmly as only then all vibration is equally transmitted, even small movement of the block can reduce sound and tone quality.

The right screw of the b-string does not touch the bridge plate here

Check not only if both screws seem to be the same heigth but also check if there is enough pressure against the bridge plate by slightly turning them with the Allen key. Do this regularly – e.g. after changing strings –  as due to the vibration of the guitar the screw might have turned lose.

Effects

Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer compressor confirmed by Mark himself

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In addition to the rumour that Mark Knopfler used the Orange Squeezer compressor in the 70ies with Dire Straits for his unique guitar sound, here is a confirmation coming from an interview with Mark himself:

In the September 1979 edition of the Portuguese magazin ‘Musica & Som’ we find  an interview with Mark, most likely dating from the gig in Freiburg, Germany, June 2, 1979.

Mark was asked for hig equipment and answered:

MK: “Quanto  a guitarras utilizo duas Fender Stratocaster, um modeleo de 1960 e o outro de 62, umo Telecaster; tres Gibson (Les Paul Modelo 1958 – L3 acustica – Blonde 335); uma Baldwin Double 6-12 cordas, tres Ovation (Adamis 12 cordas – Adamis 6 cordas – Legend 6 cordas), duas National Steel. Como amplificadores e efeitos uso dois Music Man 212-HD de 130 wats cada, em MXR Analog Delay, um Morley Pedal, um Yamaha Strobe Tuner PT4 e um Orange Squeezer.”

The Orange Squeezer was mentioned in the equipment list of the late 1979 tour book of Communique tour as well but was missing in the otherwise identical list of a german book about Dire Straits from 1980.

Guitars

The Schaller Floyd Rose tremolo on the Pensa Suhr MK-1

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Recently I did a service job on a Suhr MK1. It is the same guitar in fact that I played on a youtube video and that was featured in a blog post six years ago. It belongs to a collector of MK-related guitars who lives near my place, and who kindly also lent me some of the more expensive guitars for my youtube videos in the past.

With this blog post I want to focus on the Floyd Rose tremolo on such guitars.  I must admit that I had never delved deep into Floyd Rose tremolos and their differences before, but with the arrival of this guitar I had a closer look at it.

One striking feature of an original Floyd Rose are the protruding screws on the rear side of the bridge that lock the string ends. I could not remember such long screws on the MK-1 so I had a closer look at some pictures of it again. There are some nice ones on the cover of the Mark Knopfler guitar style books, and here I did not not only find that Mark has shorter screws but I also found a ‘Schaller’ logo on his tremolo where mine says ‘Floyd Rose’. Does Mark’s guitar have a copy of the original tremolo?

Schaller tremolo on the original MK-1

Original Floyd Rose base plate made of steel

Die-cast Schaller base plate

 

Schaller is a German hardware manufacturer, well known for e.g. their tuning pegs. Some quick research told me that in fact Schaller was the manufacturer of the original Floyd Rose tremolos for a long time. So these were made in Germany for Floyd Rose.

In addition to the original Schaller-made FR tremolos various FR-licensed tremolos were available from several companies, and Schaller was one of these. In other words, they made the original tremolos for Floyd Rose, and they made a modified version featuring some improvements. These had a label ‘Licensed under Floyd-Rose patents’ on the bridge base plate, near the fine tuners.

Both are made in Germany. Note the steel knife edge on the Floyd Rose (left) and the steel insert on the Schaller (right)

Besides the length of the protruding locking screws, another difference was the material of the bridge base plate: on the original FR tremolos it was steel, while on the licensed tremolo it was die-cast. By the way, the steel plate is magnetic, the die-cast version is not! Where the bridge plate was attached to the bridge posts, the original FR tremolo has a knife edge. As die-cast metal is much softer than steel, the licensed tremolo had steel inserts here. The advantage: if the knife edge becomes worn, you can exchange these inserts. Also it had steel inserts that hold the screws to fasten the bridge saddles. If a thread of these is stripped, the screw will not hold the saddle anymore and the whole tremolo bridge becomes unusable. Steel is harder so that the threads will last much longer, and if one was stripped you can simply replace the insert with the thread.

Threads in inserts (top, Schaller) and in the plate itself (bottom, original Floyd rose)

Later this modified design became available from the Floyd Rose company as well. It is often referred to as the ‘Floyd Rose II’ tremolo. And there were different other companies who offered it – partly built in Germany by Schaller, partly in Asia. The latter are said to be inferior in quality.

Sound difference between the Floyd Rose and the Schaller?

There are some who say the die-cast Schaller version sounds a bit different than the original Floyd Rose tremolo with the steel bridge plate. It is said to be softer and warmer, and the steel version to sound brighter. This sound difference and the screw length were two reasons to make me me wonder if the Schaller-licensed tremolo might be the better choice for any MK-1-style guitar, be it a Suhr, a Pensa, or a Pensa Suhr. In fact some of the original Pensa Suhrs built by John Suhr at Rudy Pensa’s Music Stop in New York had the original Floyd Rose, including e.g. Mark’s black Pensa Suhr, and others like the MK-1, or the one that is displayed on the cover of the Neck & Neck album had the Schaller version.

Long protruding locking screws at the rear of the original Floyd Rose tremolo…

.. and the shorter Schaller screws.

Luckily I found an unused NOS Schaller bridge plate on ebay, and I found the shorter original Schaller saddle screws at Thomann (big German online music store). 

Both parts are interchangeable between both tremolos (you need the Schaller plate for the shorter screws!), so  I exchanged both on my Suhr, and I made before/after sound samples to judge the tonal difference. Conclusion: I cannot hear any sound difference on the samples at all. I planned a youtube video to demonstrate the sound difference, but as I can’t hear a difference I did not. 

I will leave the Schaller parts on the Suhr to make it look as close to Mark’s as possible, and keep the original parts in the case of the Suhr.