Pensa Suhr Mk 1 1988

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Manufacturer:Pensa Suhr
Model:Mk 1
Serial No.: 001
Colour:original two-tone sunburst
Woods:two-piece (see comments) mahogany body with one-piece flamed maple top / maple neck with bound Brazilian rosewood fingerboard
Pickups:EMG SA – SA – 85 (n-m-b)
Strings:009 – 042
First seen with MK:1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday concert at Wembley Stadium
Still in MK’s possession/Last seen:yes



Info: This is the guitar that master luthier John Suhr built for Mark in 1988, when he was working at Rudy’s Music Stop in New York.

Suhr built another Pensa Suhr – similar to this one but in black with a flat top – before which Mark  played both in the studio and on stage a lot (e.g. live with Eric Clapton in 1987), but the new Mk1 one was meant to be even more to Mark’s wishes and requirements. However, Suhr left Pensa in March 1991 (Source. John Suhr himself, Wikipedia says March 1990), and after this there have been some arguments between Rudy Pensa and John Suhr concerning the rights to build a guitar to this specs. Consequently, the versions about the origins of the idea to this guitar are different. Rudy Pensa claimed that the guitar was designed together with Mark on a “napkin over coffee”. Suhr however stated that the guitar was basically designed by himself when Rudy Pensa suggested it as a new guitar for Mark. The following text is what Suhr said in the forum of

“Mark Knopflers was an interesting story, naturally I don’t remember it the way Rudy does, something about designing on a paper napkin LOL. I already had a good portion of it built before we decided it was for Mark. IN fact you can see the body as I was working on it in an old D’Addario add.
The first carved top I made was out of Alder, made a few, I think one of the first was for my dear buddy Eddie Martinez. Lots of sawdust flying around those days! They are all interesting stories for me buried in blood sweat and tears. Knopflers was the most challenging since I had less than one week to paint it and build it for the Mandela concert, I was scared it would stick to the case !”

“I already had begun the carve, it was just something I wanted to do. I had just finished one in Alder unbound. It was actually my first bound carved top and the lack of tools at my disposal made it a real challenge, I armed myself with a Die Grinder, some sanding disks and a router and let some dust fly. When I was in the carving process Rudy decided it would be a great guitar for MK for the Mandela Concert. They went out to lunch and talked about details like Pickup color etc but otherwise it was pretty much already set in stone. Mark had some extra ideas like tapering the headstock which I explained it was too late. He also didn’t like the rings not matching the pickup color and wanted Ivory color so I mounted the humbucker from the back so no ring was used. He decided the bridge should be locked to the body since he had no intention of using the trem really but enjoyed the stability of a locking setup. I used his normal 6105 fret wire and added the EMG SPC on the push pull pot, EMG SA, SA, 85, I also put a circuit in there to try and balance out the Bridge middle combo. Building it on the fly at the last minute I realized the body was too thin for the switch and have a control plate not hit it so I had to get creative by cutting down the back of the 5way switch. It was Mahogany Back, 1 Piece maple top Lacquer Colors and Polyester top coat even on the neck since it is the only top coat that would dry in 2 days. At that time Anderson was cutting our raw parts but this was not programmed yet. So basically I only had a perimeter Body and neck to work with, it was only 2D no neck shape, no body carves etc, so everything else including paint was done by me which was kind of rare since we didn’t really have a spray booth intended for that. Usually we had Pat Wilkins do the paint who also used to do Andersons paint since painting in NYC was sketchy. Eventually Mark grew less fond of the guitar as the neck was slim and he started to prefer larger necks. It always had a very unique tone though through his Jim Kelley amps.”

“Knopflers personal guitar was very roughed out parts from Anderson before he started making complete guitars, basically perimeter cut and that was it. I did all the carving of the top, Routing, complete neck shape and the Paint. There were only a few built like this. Sure you can find a great one of my old guitars but chances are there was something about the instrument I would have liked to change but it was not in my reach due to a lack of a real factory. They were all very different back then due to the varied sources that were used for parts. Personally if I could have a choice as to owning a guitar from what I did then as to now there is no comparison, I have learned a LOT in the past 25 years and what I do now is much more of a Suhr hand made instrument that I can be proud of than it ever was.”

“We cut, paint and build everything in our shop here in sunny CA for Suhr Guitars
With Pensa Suhr we relied on outside help from people like Anderson and Wilkins Paint. At Pensa-Suhr I did do all the neck carves, frets and some of the paint.
Rudy Pensa was the store owner and ran the business end, I did all repairs and building but I was only an employee there and we had no real factory.
I left in 91 and had nothing to do with any PensaSuhr guitars built after March of 91′
Reunion? Why? I actually offered to make the Pensa-Suhr MK models for Rudy like 15 years ago but that ship has long sailed.”



From the Pensa Days exhibition 2002 - Note the way the frets extend the fingerboard binding. This is the same method as it was done on 50ies Les Pauls.
From the Pensa Days exhibition 2002



The first gig with the guitar - Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert Wembley Stadium 1988
The first gig with the guitar – Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday concert Wembley Stadium 1988

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26 thoughts on “Pensa Suhr Mk 1 1988

  1. Hi Ingo,

    The body from this guitar is 2 piece Mahogany, not 1 piece. John Suhr told me by chat a few months ago.

    Kind regards

    1. Thanks for the info. The guitar styles book says that it is a one-piece mahogany body but I guess Suhr himself is the more reliable source 🙂 so I will correct it.

  2. To be more accurate, the first gig with this guitar was in fact the 1st warm up gig for mandela concert, at Hammersmith odeon (8th june 88), just few days before the “real” mandela’s 70 birthday gig (11th june 88)

  3. Hi there,

    Was wondering about the wiring on this guitar. I understand it is 85/SA/SA with volume pot and a push-pull tone pot the kicks the SPC into gear when pulled. Would you happen to have an actual diagram of this or similar? I was trying to do something similar on a strat of mine.

    Thanks – love this guitar – just fantastic.


  4. What is the color of the guitar?

    On Shur models one look like and it s called “Translucent caramel” Is that one?

  5. Always puzzled why Knopfler would specify a Floyd Rose Trem… Then block it off & use it as a hard tail. Why not just order a hard tail or regular “traditional” trem & block it off a la Clapto

      1. if i remember right, it was already routered out by John Suhr, so there was also no way to have a normal trem on it. But with the FR locked, it’s very stable in tuning.

  6. Hey.
    I have read and listened some John Suhr interviews/podcasts and he explains that he was building the MK1 for himself. That napkin story is completely fake. John tells that maybe Rudy brought “the napkin” with some annotations.
    Rudy asks John if he wanted do send his guitar (Mk1) to MK. John explains that he already routed the Floyd Rose and Mark doesnt like those tremolo systems.
    Rudy insists, John finished up the guitar and sended to MK.
    That’s it. End of story.
    No napkin, no nothing.

    By the way, this ‘Napkin Story’ gained force because are some issues between Mark and John that John himself cannot explain why. John always thinks about Mark as a friend. So, he cannot explains why Mark has pushed away of him.

    Sorry my poor english.

  7. I was just 20 years old when I saw MK play at the Mandela concert. I’m not quite sure what drove me to it but I sold my car (a Ford Escort) and promptly ordered an MK1 Pensa-Suhr, after numerous conversations with Rudy.

    When I went to NYC to collect the guitar the following year, I met both Rudy and John and they were really lovely people but it was clear there was a fair bit of animosity between them. It was also obvious that John was the craftsman behind the guitars and that Rudy was just a businessman. John explained to me that there was an ongoing feud over the name ‘Pensa-Suhr’. John wanted to leave and start his own company and Rudy was adamant the name would stick. It had got legal at this point. I didn’t ask much more about it.

    When I went to collect the guitar from the shop – excited as hell – I remember seeing it for the first time. Something didn’t look right. It was then I realised the humbucker had a guard around it and the slots for single coils weren’t the exact shape of the pick up, so it was possible to see the wiring.

    I spent a few days in NYC and visited the shop a few times. In that time, it became apparent the completed bodies and necks were being shipped in from elsewhere. I saw a stack of them for myself individually wrapped in packaging. This, as you can imagine, was a bit of a shock and quite a disappointment. Looking back, I think John wanted me to know that the guitars weren’t being manufactured in-house.

    I kept the guitar for 5 years and then sold it on, as I could never quite get over the fact it wasn’t exactly like MK’s.

    Nowadays, I’m quite happy playing a beat up old Tele and a lovely Les Paul. I have no desire to own another Pensa or a Suhr. But if I did it would be a Suhr, as I know the guitars are built 100% at the factory under John’s guidance.

    Looking back, though, I still laugh when I think about me as a 21-year-old kid stumbling into Rudy’s shop with a monumental hangover and trying to belt out ‘Money For Nothing’ on my new Pensa. Whatever must they have thought! 😀

  8. Hey,
    I’m trying to build a Pensa Suhr replica and I have some questions.
    First, after looking at some pictures of the Pensa-Suhr MK1 I’m pretty sure the maple top is quilted and not flamed as stated here…am I right?
    Second, what bridge did MK has there? Is it a Gotoh? Schaller? I tried to google Non-Recessed Floyds with no luck. Is it a regular Floyd which was mounted on a regular Trem ready body?
    If someone knows the exact model of this bridge it would help me a lot !
    And lastly, I tried to find the wiring diagram of this guitar all over the net and came out empty.
    I tried contacting Suhr’s customer support and they gave me something but it is not exactly it.
    I even emailed Mr. Suhr’s personal email…Still hoping to get a response.
    Any help will be much appreciated!
    Keep up the good work, it is amazing how much knowledge you have on MK and his career.
    He is my all time favorite (even have his pic on my racing helmet :))
    Thanks in advance !

  9. I believe the bridge is a schaller
    I made a replica but never finished it, it just needs painting
    It was the first guitar I made myself and plays really well except its too heavy!
    I believe there is a fair bit of lightening holes between the mahogany back and the quilted top but im no expert so cannot comment
    I believe I have a wiring diagram somewhere I will look

    1. Hey Rich,

      Thanks for your reply.
      I’ve read than when John built the guitar for Mark it was pretty thin and the 5 way switch had to be cut down in order to fit in…maybe that is why it was lighter than your built… 🙂
      Did you built your replica using quilted maple top or flamed?
      BTW, Did you manage to find that wiring diagram?
      Thanks for your help man !


  10. Hey,
    I would use a quilted maple top, that’s what looks closest to Mark’s guitar imo, but that’s a personal choice. Regarding the wiring: there’s a regular volume control but the tone control features a push/pull poti which activates the EMG SPC midboost. If I remember correctly Mark’s guitar could only go for the full boost and there was no way to control it. From what I’ve read the pickup selector switch was modified with a capacitor and a resistor for the combination of the middle (SC) and bridge (HB) pickups. This was done to simulate a coil split and to tame the output of the EMG 85 in the bridge. I remember a post on a guitar forum from John Suhr himself on this topic but can’t find it anymore. Some information on the values and parts can be found in the Suhr forum though:

  11. I don’t know how to upload it also cant make any sense of it now
    It is a hand drawing and i think its from John Suhr via email? maybe maybe not?? i did have contact with John and i remember him being really helpful, but it was over ten years ago i started the project so a bit vague.
    i can take the cover off mine and confirm the wiring as i have completed it on my guitar the tone pot needs re-soldering any way as the pot came loose and is intermittent
    If somebody can let me know how to upload a picture i will sort

    1. Hey Rick,
      Well, its been a few years since you posted your reply but I just saw it.
      I know its a long shot but if its possible and you still have the diagram, can you email it to me?
      I’m getting back to my Pensa built now (couldn’t find the time to do it since) and it would help me a lot 🙂
      Anyway, my email address is
      Also, if you can send some pictures of your Pensa Suhr replica and its wiring it would be great.
      Thanks man!

  12. This guitar was actually first used by mark during The Prince’s Trust rock gala on the 6th of june 1988, playing together with eric clapton , not during the mandela concert which was at june 11, 1988

  13. As a luthier and fan of MK and Dire Straits I also want to build a sort of replica. The thing I can’t figure out is the shape of it. It looks like a strat type guitar but the horns look more narrow and sharper. If anyone could help me out it would be great.

    1. I’ve just bought the Suhr standard Carved MK1. Collecting it tomorrow. Can send u a picture and template of the body shape

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