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.
From 1980 on, Mark’s guitar effects were mainly integrated into huge rack systems. At the time of Dire Straits, these were designed and built by Pete Cornish, specialist on high-quality racks and effects for numerous big names like Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Lor Reed, …
Pictures of Mark’s racks however are extremely rare, mainly because the rack was often located behind the stage, and at least partly operated by Mark’s guitar technician from there.
Recently Pete Cornish published some unseen pictures of two of Mark’s racks on his Facebook page. One of them shows the rack of the Love over Gold tour (I will cover the other rack in a coming blog post). In fact it is the first time we see this rack at all I think.
In the following, I will try to explain as many details I can make sense of. If you think you can add something, use the comment function at the bottom of thispost (no registration required). So, first of all here is the picture itself.
The Cornish racks follow the same logic that is true for effects used in the studio: most effects sit in a dedicated aux way (send / return), thus the path of the direct guitar signal is kept short and simple. (Note that however, not all effects can be used as aux effects but only those who “add” some effect to the dry signal. Effects that also might “reduce” something of the direct signal must sit in the direct path, e.g. compressor/limiter, EQ, distortion,..)
Cornish uses buffers on many locations within his racks. These can colour the sound is an intended way. The foot remote control is a wooden case of heavy-duty waterproof multiplex wood, all switches are normally military-grade quality products.
The control unit
On top left, we can see the power indicator / power button. I think that those square button-like elements are push switches that glow in different colours when switched on. I am not sure of the five elements we see next to the power button, I cannot read the description properly … does it end with … 15 – 15 V? So we possibly have indicator LEDs here that might show the presence of different voltages to run the rack, or the input or output level of the signal.
On the top right, we have what looks like a rotatory switch labelled with something like “1/P Gain” (or I / P ?). The same description can be found a bit more on the right where other five elements are located, labelled with numbers 1 to 5. I guess the rotary switch has five positions, and the selected one is indicated with an LED. It might be the gain of the first input stage, this would make technically most sense to me. On the other hand, the “P” makes me think of “parallel” so it might also be about gain of the send/return paths. This might go together with the two elements right below this section, which seem to be a control and a jack labelled with “?X 1 / P” and “AUX 1/P”
The serial number of the rack is 078.
Next we have a line with 8 controls and many of those square switches that partly correspond with the controls. The controls seem to read “VOL” , “EQ” “555” (= Roland Space Echo 555), “REV” (Reverb), “DDL” (I guess Deltalab Delay or digital delay) “FLND” (Flanger DynaFlanger”, and “Wah” (well, Mark used a wah for at least It never rains on that tour).
I suspect these controls to be rather return levels (and thus controlling the actual effect depth of the corresponding effects). The corresponding switches might mute or enable the respective effect path (alternatively, these can be switched with the foot remote control).
Between the VOL and EQ controls, we have a “EFFS” switch, I guess it is a master switch to enable or bypass all effects.
One of the two buttons on the left seems to be an “AMP SELECT”, with two LEDs for amp A and amp B, and the other one is “AMPS OFF” and will mute the signal to the amps.
I am not sure if VOL is simply a master volume control, or if it has to do with the volume pedal. Also is is unusual to have a path for the wah as normally a wah is not used in an aux way.
Below we see the different rack effects. These are partly identical to the ones used on the previous On Location (Making Movies) tour. A description of these effects can be found in the blog post about that effect rack.
The effects are (from top to bottom): MicMix DynaFlanger Deltalab Digital Delay DL-4 MicMix Master Room Reverb XL-305 Roland Space Echo SRE-555 Roland Graphic Equalizer
The foot remote control unit
With the foot remote control unit, Mark could enable or bypass the different effects.
We see 15 foot switches. Each one seems to have a corresponding status LED (although we cannot see these for the upper line of switches).
I cannot read most of these, the ones that seem to be clear are (line one) REV (Reverb) and EQ (all others not sure), and (line two): DDL (Digital Delay) – FLND (Flanger) (all others not sure).
The one second to the last has two LEDs. It looks like the A/B amp select, and I guess the last one is “(All) Amps off”.
I cannot tell if any effect programs (e.g. from the Deltalab delay) could be selected from here as well.
As said, feel free to add your suspects or thoughts on any elements with the help of the comments.
From now on you can buy the Hotcake overdrive pedal in our online shop. This is the overdrive pedal that Mark Knopfler used on his 2005 Shangri-La tour, and probably on other occasions as well. The Hotcake is built by Paul Crowther in New Zealand since 1976. It has a best reputation among players around the world – Stevie Ray Vaughn also played one.
For us Mark Knopfler fans it is obvious that it can only be good – why else should Mark, who can surely afford any pedal in the world, have chosen the Hotcake? In very short, it IS good because (a) it sounds good and (b) it is a high-quality product, made of best component. It is reliable, has a low noise floor, and is very stable.
What I really like about it is that it does not alter your clean sound, unlike other overdrive units that even with minimum (or no) distortion totally change your tone. With the drive control down, the Hotcake is totally clean, and your sound is identical to what it is without. For this reason it is also ideal to boost your guitar signal to get more drive from a tube amp.
When you turn up the drive control you get any desired amount of distortion, starting with a subtle crunch, over a creamy overdrive (picture 4 shows Knopfler’s setting for the song Boom like that), to a fat and thick distortion. In fact even with a single coil guitar and the drive at maximum you get much more distortion than with typical tube screamers.
The sound is really as you hear e.g. on the 2005 tour, just listen to the crunch of Mark’s Silvertone guitar on Boom like that. I will try to make some sound clips or a demo video soon. Check it out in the online shop