We recently constructed a list of the greatest Fender Strat players of all time and one of the most repeated names of people we missed off the list was Dire Straits’ own Mark Knopfler. Judging by his isolated guitar on the band’s ‘Sultans of Swing’ they may have had a point.
The track is taken from the band’s eponymous debut album and announced Knopfler as one of the finer guitarists in the British rock scene. Listen to the stripped-back isolated version of the song for a lesson in playing the guitar.
Dire Straits used ‘Sultans of Swing’ as their way into the music business. After the song was picked up by Radio London in 1977 it found heavy rotation and, in turn, found its way in front of record executives.
Dire Straits were soon enough picked up by Phonogram Records who re-recorded the song at Basin Street Studios in London back in 1978. Ever since that moment, the song has been a permanent fixture in “greatest rock songs of all time” lists and is often cited as the reason for Dire Straits’ wild success.
Much of the song’s appeal comes from not only the expert composition but Mark Knopfler’s outstanding solo, a solo which has often been ranked as one of the finest of all time. It sees Knopfler seemingly defy science by producing a fearsome run, the likes of which had never been heard before.
Originally, Knopfler composed the song on a National Steel guitar in open tuning but later suggested the song was boring until he started playing it on a 1961 Fender Stratocaster which he bought in 1977. “It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat,” Knopfler told Guitar World. “[It] remained my main guitar for many years and was basically the only thing I played on the first album—and the new chord changes just presented themselves and fell into place.”
“It’s really a good example of how the music you make is shaped by what you play it on, and is a lesson for young players,” advises Knopfler. “If you feel that you’re not getting enough out of a song, change the instrument—go from an acoustic to an electric or vice versa, or try an open tuning. Do something to shake it up.”
It was the sound of Knopfler’s solo that really sold the song: “As for the actual solo, it was just more or less what I played every night. It’s just a Fender Twin and the Strat, with its three-way selector switch jammed into a middle position. That gives the song its sound, and I think there were quite a few five-way switches installed as a result of that song.”
Listen to Mark Knopfler’s iconic isolated guitar track for Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans of Swing’.