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.

Easy stuff for beginners

Mark Knopfler’s contribution for the Soundbreaking series

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If you have not seen this already, here is Mark’s contribution for the Soundbreaking series on Youtube.

Soundbreaking is a documentary series about the creation of new sounds in the rock music history, based on more than 160 interviews with celebrated recording artists, producers, and music industry pioneers.

Mark is demonstrating various guitar techniques and instruments. I guess you have seen one or the other lick in similar videos with Mark before but it is a great video for sure.

Misc

Great Android Music Player App: AB Repeat Player

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With this blog post I want to recommend a free Android app that I use myself not only for listening to music but also for figuring out licks, riffs, or lead stuff. It is the AB Repeat Player.

The feature I love most on it is not the one that gave it the name – the ability to define two loop points – but the three ‘Jump’ buttons. These are labelled with 7,5 / 5 / 2.5 and simply make the music jump back for 7,5 / 5 / 2.5 seconds as soon as you press one of these. You are listening to e.g. a fancy Mark Knopfler guitar lick, thinking ‘Wow, what was that?’ – press one button to hear it again. This is to me the best solution, as rewinding or moving the position slider in other apps is very inaccurate and take too much time. You can also combine the three buttons or press one of them several times, e.g. press the 7.5 seconds button twice to jump back for 15 seconds to repeat a longer part.

ab-repeat-player
I love the three jump buttons to hear a phrase again

The rest of the app is fine, too – it simply does what you expect of a music player app.

Here is the feature list:

* AB Repeating Function (Ad hoc and saved)
* AB Points post-adjustment Function with “Check Mode”
* Interval (Pause) between AB Repeats
* Easy traverse inside A and B points
* Easy to play recorded A and B points list.
* Customizable three Jump Buttons
* Bookmark Function (Ad hoc and saved)
* Bookmark position adjustment function with “Check Mode”
* Unlimited recording of AB points and Bookmarks
* Editable list of AB points and Bookmarks
* AB points and Bookmark database clean up
* Backup and Restore of AB points and Bookmark database
* Display order in AB points and Bookmark list. Creation date, name and A point with reverse order for each.(New)
* Mp3 Lyric Display.(Font size and previous position memory)
* Playlist (same as Google’s standard media player)
* Setting to the Ring Tone (same as Google’s standard media player)
* Shuffle modes (same as Google’s standard media player)
* Search (same as Google’s standard media player)(Enhancement: can be invoked from menu)
* Artwork Display (same as Google’s standard media player)
* Audio and Video Support
* Automatic pause/resume on received calls.
* Automatic pause on headset unplugging.
* Controls by Bluetooth.
* SD card installable for Android 2.2 or later.
* Database Migration to a new device.
* Sleep Timer
* Float Pad: Translucent Control Button Pad floating over any other apps.
* Saving the sound between AB as a ringtone, alert, Ankidroid flashcard sound and othe

Dire Straits/ Mark Knopfler live pictures and videos

The black Fender Strat on Portobello Belle on the Love over Gold tour

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The song Portobello Belle has been played as a great ‘Irish-reggae-calypso’ version on the Love over Gold tour. An edited version has been released on the Money for nothing compilation sampler a long time ago. However, it was not included on the Alchemy video, and there is no youtube video at all of this song from that tour.

For this reason we do not know much about the guitar on this song. The only info came from myself on my old Dire Straits guitar page where I stated that it was played on a black Fender Stratocaster. The source of this info is my own memory, as I visited the concert in Cologne, May 16, 1983. But I never have seen the guitar I remember well on any picture, until recently when the following picture appeared:

 

black-fender-portobello-belleNote the capo at the third fret, a clear indication for an open G tuning, shifted to Bb by the capo, the key of Portobello Belle on this tour (it is C on the Communique album and D on the Making Movies tour!). The guitar might be the Amercican vintage reissue which was released just a year before (it does not llok like 50ies vintage guitar).

Mark played a lot of cool solo licks in the long outro of the songs, often in dialog with Mel Collins on the saxophone, as seen in the picture.

Guitar in general

Jamming with the BOSS DR-80

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The BOSS DR-80 is an astonishing little device with a vey high fun-factor. In short, it is a digital 8-track multitrack recorder with a lot of effects, and at the same time a virtual band  with a great number of jam grooves. And maybe the most astonishing feature is the price which is just about 200 Euros.

I already had a lot of fun with this little device. Here are two spontaneous jam videos that were created with nothing but the effects and grooves from the device. Partly I even used the suggested effects and amp simulation for the backing tracks, without any further editing.

 

Guitar in general

Simple trick to meaure neck thickness with strings on

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Recently I wanted to measure the neck thickness of some of my guitars. I was surprised to find something as trivial as this to turn out to be rather difficult job. The strings always hindered my calipers from lying flat against the neck surface, no matter how I tried.

I solved the problem with the help of a little battery that turned out as the ideal tool to help with the job:

neck-thickness-0
Tricky job: string hinder the calipers
neck-thickness-1
Take a little battery (here an AG13) and set the calipers to zero
neck-thickness-2
Place the battery between the strings…
neck-thickness-3
… and measure neck thickness.
Amps

Easy way to cure a scratchy voice coil in a guitar speaker

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I recently had a problem with a Music Man HD130 amp (the one Mark Knopfler used in the early days of Dire Straits). One speaker was creating a scratchy, distorted sound, surprisingly only at very low volume while it was fine at medium or high volume. I managed to cure it with an easy trick, nothing too special or secret but nevertheless something I want to share in case someone runs into similar problems with his amp.

When I removed the speaker to have a closer look at what might be wrong with it, I immediately noticed that infamous scratchiness when moving the cone carefull with two fingers. It was worse when pushing more on particular places while it disappeared when doing so at some other spots. I quickly came to the suspect that the problem came from “standing” upright for decades (it was a 1976 amp with original speakers). The voice coil is not really a heavy part but still it has some small weight, and after years this weight can deform the cone slightly so that the voice coil scratches on one side. For the same reason you should always store speakers horizontally but who stores a combo amp or a speaker cabinet this way?

mm-amp-speakers
The speakers after turning and swapping – the two ‘Music Men’ on those stickers with their heads down now – but the speakers feel happy again

The solution was very easy and inexpensive, even without any costs at all: all I had to do was turning the speaker for 180 degrees, so that what pointed to the top became the bottom end. I did the same with the second speaker, not only to prevent similar problems with it in the future but also to make the connectors of both speakers look to the middle between the speakers again, which means I also swapped the left and the right speakers. Hopefully it will work fine for the next 41 years now 🙂

Of course this easy fix does not always work, if the cone or the voice coil is damaged only a recone job will help. But before doing so you should give it a try.

Guitars

Preview: Tunnel of Love Birch Dream Machine Strat Copy

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Here are just two quick pictures of what I have been spending time with lately:

dm-birch-1

This is a body of one-piece (!) flamed (!!) birch (!!!), shaped like a Schecter Dream Machine body (yes, the shape is slightly different to a Fender body, e.g. slimmer horns and cutaways) . The neck is a one-piece birds-eye neck, the neck profile is copied from a Van Nuys era Schecter neck.

The wood is not finished at all yet, not even finally sanded. I admit I just could not wait to hear this guitar so I assembled it for a true ‘preview’. 🙂

The guitar sounds very cool !!! And before you wonder why this neck has no dots on the front (Mark’s Schecter – the one that was stolen – had dots): there are a few more bodies waiting around here, of different kinds of mahogany, birch, and ash. I have not decided yet on which body this neck will end (Mark’s other Schecters were dotless).

dm-birch-2
The flame of the wood will come out when the guitar is finished. This is the raw untreated wood (!) but you already get an idea of the flame.

Here is the video of the first soundcheck:

Guitar in general

Building a Schecter Dream-Machine Style Telecaster Copy

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Finally, I finished the second Telecaster-style guitar with Dream Machine brass hardware. You might remember my first build report about a Dream Machine Telecaster clone. Even back then when I started that first project, I already got the body and neck to start a similar project with these but never found the time to complete it. The idea behind the project was to assemble an affordable guitar that looks great, and – most important – sounds great and gives you the ‘Walk of Life’ Schecter Tele sound of the tapped F520T / F521T pickups and the brass bridge, in other words a guitar with high-quality brass hardware and electronics but without any parts so cheap that they might ruin the sound of the guitar. It turned out to be a really great guitar, great look, great feel & great sound. As I already have more guitars  than I have room for, I put it for sale into my online shop.

DM-Tele-sb-600-3

The body is a really nice looking, extremely light sunburst Tele body. I have no idea how old it is exactly (I guess you can call it ‘vintage’), or who made it. It is not 100% accurate compared to the Fender specs, e.g. it is only about 90% (ca. 40 mm) of the Fender body depth (44 mm) but still it seems to be a great piece of wood without anything indicating inferior quality. The grain looks great, the tap tone is nice, and, given its age, it is completely dry tone wood. There are some dings & dongs, e.g. at the edges of the body, so it looks  a bit ‘naturally relic’ed’.

DM-Tele-sb-600-1

I got the neck together with the body. It has a rosewood fingerboard without center dots (like Mark’s ‘Walk of Life’ Tele, although this one has little dots on one side of the fingerboard, between the two lowest bass strings). So the look is similar to a dotless Schecter but you still have something that helps to orientate. The neck even has a slight flame on the peghead.

DM-Tele-sb-600-4

I used a set of brass hardware that I produce myself, even the control plate is brass like on vintage Schecter Dream Machines. The pickups are two ‘Walk of Life’ pickups, clones of the original Dream Machine pickups of the early 80ies.

DM-Tele-sb-600-5
Here is a first video:

Amps

Strange guitar sound on the Werchter 1981 recording – Did Mark mix direct out and microphone?

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On July 5, 1981, Dire Straits played on the Werchter festival in Belgium. The concert was broadcasted on the radio and on TV and is one of the very few soundboard recordings from the 1980/81 On Location tour.

There is one thing that always strikes me about that recording: Mark’s guitar sound was what I’d call ‘strange’, and completely different from all other recordings of the same tour we have (and there are many…). It had a very different, harsh kind of treble. To my ears it sounds like a direct out of the amp, and not like the mic’ed guitar speaker you would expect here.

You will probably know that a typical guitar speaker is a ‘woofer’, a loudspeaker aimed mainly at low and midrange frequencies. It has a pronounced treble roll off, which means it hardly produces high treble frequencies over maybe 6 kHz. For this reason it strongly colours the sound; it automatically filters out unwanted harsh, crisp frequencies. Without the guitar speaker especially a distorted guitar would not sound as we all expect it to sound. For this reason there are – unlike in a PA system – no tweeters (high frequency speakers) in a guitar cabinet.

celestion-graph
Typical frequency response of a guitar speaker

What is strange about the Werchter guitar sound is that I feel to hear exactly these frequencies that should not be there. How is this possible, as we know that Mark of course used guitar speakers on this tour, Marshall 4 x 12″ cabinets to be precise? And on all other recordings from the tour the sound is not like on this one.

It seems unlikely to me that they had a completely different setup for this day – especially as Mark’s live sound required a full effect rack that is not easy to substitute. And even if a guitar speaker suddenly fails, you can simply put the microphone in front of another one – there are four of them in each cabinet! The only theory that makes sense to me is that there was a second signal path involved, one without the guitar speakers. This ‘direct out’ was blended with the signal from the microphones/speakers. One possible reason to do so might be that this way you have more high end and low end to enrich the ‘normal’ sound of the speakers to a desired extend.

I guess for the radio/TV broadcast the concert was mixed separatedly from the PA mix, most likely by engineers of the broadcasters . This is not unusual, you normally want to mix to a much wider stereo signal than you’d do for a PA system. And the sound guys responsible for this mix simply used the direct signal rather than the mic’ed speakers signal, they maybe did simply not know why there were two different sources and what to do with these.

Interestingly the youtube video of this concert includes a few songs that were missing on the radio/TV broadcast. These came from an audience recording in bad quality (see video description), but you can clearly hear that on these songs the sound is very much as it is on all other recordings from the tour, not as thin and trebly as on the radio mix!

Of course this is speculation but if I am right indeed it tells us something about the way Mark created his stage sound on this tour (or even on others, too ??) .