My Favorite Guitar (Revisited)


I’m ripping myself off. Actually, I’ve had a few requests to revisit an old article about one of my guitars so here it is, this time with photos. In the past year the guitar made appearances on the albums Out Of Confusion by ConFused5 and The Running Time by SolidTube, both of which I produced for Sellaband. So, on with the guitar-porn…

MK signature Strat

MK signature Strat

My favorite guitar is a Fender Mark Knopfler Signature Stratocaster. I love this guitar for two reasons. For starters, she is just a fantastic guitar not only to play but to look at and admire, and I’ll get into that in a moment. But what makes her so very special to me is that she was placed into my care by Mark as a “thank you” for the small part I played in support of his 2004 SHANGRI LA album.

Electric bass is my weapon of accomplishment but I’ve always had a few guitars around for writing and teaching. On a more sensual level, there are some guitars which pay their way just by being beautiful to look at and touch in ways that result in wonderful noises. This is what my ’62 P-bass and my first girlfriend once had in common. After fifty-some years, the bass is sexy as ever and still makes wonderful noises when I touch her just right. I can’t say with any certainty, but I’d hazard a guess that the old girlfriend hasn’t aged as well.

Everyone has a favorite “the one that got away” story. My stories tend to fall more into the “Pete, you are a friggin’ idiot” category. I once bought a ’63 strat for $75.00 and decided it was ugly, so I sold it and made fifty bucks! Now this was in the early seventies and fifty bucks kept me alive for a week so it was cool…I thought. It was ugly to me because of the color. I found out later that Inca Silver is a rare color and had I put that rare bastard in the the case and under the bed, well…every time I think about it I imagine a big pie hitting me in the face.

Vintage bridge

Vintage bridge

I could write all day and into the night…into many nights, about my knuckleheadedness but let me get back to my favorite guitar. MK arrived at Shangri La the evening before we were to load in the instruments and digital recording gear. Some days before, I had taken delivery of the guitars he planned to use for the album. We spent the evening unpacking his guitars to get them acclimated to the Malibu air. Mark proved to be a true guitar junkie and we spent a most enjoyable evening fawning over each of the instruments as we set them free of the flight cases and let them run loose in what would be their home for the next five weeks.

One of the guitars for which Mark is known is a “frankenstrat” which, to my knowledge, is a ’59 red Fender Stratocaster body mounted to a ’61 neck with a rosewood fretboard. This guitar, with the middle and bridge position pick-ups selected, was the sound heard on “Sultans Of Swing.” Fender now markets The Mark Knopfler Signature Strat and I was surprised to find that both Mark and Richard Bennett play these guitars on stage and in the studio just as they come from the factory. I admired the guitar and told Mark that it seemed like an instrument worth having and that I would look into getting one for the studio.

The weeks spent recording the album are another story but it must be said that a good time was had by all concerned. About a week after the circus left town, a guitar was delivered, addressed to Mark in care of Shangri La Studio. I emailed Mark’s tech in London and asked what was to be done with it and when the answer came, so did I. The guitar was no longer an anonymous “it” but a “she”…and she belonged to me!

Lightly figured maple

Lightly figured maple

In describing the manufacture of the guitar, Mark had told me that he thought Fender had done an excellent job of reproducing his original Strat. As I had played both Richard’s and Mark’s guitars, I had to agree but these guitars were in the hands of world-class musicians and I suspected that they were handmade at the factory especially for them. I was surprised to find that this was not the case at all and that my new Strat was a spectacular instrument right out of the box. The first thing that impressed me was the finish which is a bright, hot-rod red nitrocellulose lacquer and absolutely flawless. The use of nitrocellulose insures that the guitar will age beautifully and actually sound better as the years pass. Her first impression simply knocks your eyes out. The neck is also finished in the old school lacquer with a beautiful, aged amber tint. The grain of the rosewood fretboard is very straight and runs the length of the neck with no run-out. This is not only visually attractive but will contribute to years of stability.

Rosewood

Rosewood

I always judge the musical voice of an electric guitar un-plugged. When I play a guitar without amplification, I can hear and feel how the wood reacts to string vibration. Some guitars “speak” more clearly than others and there was an unmistakable similarity between the Signature Strats used on the session and my newly arrived beauty. There is a pronounced consistency in these instruments that speaks very highly of Fender’s quality control. But what impresses me is that when I have this girl in my hands, all the techno talk melts away and I’m left with a guitar that feels like she was handmade only for me.

Mark once said to me, “A beautiful guitar will be a friend to you for  life.” Truer words were never spoken. This beautiful redhead has been a true friend and a hard working cohort who has never asked for a raise. She doesn’t mind bad weather, is kind to strangers and doesn’t bark at children. I am in love with this guitar. It is a Mark Knopfler Signature Stratocaster.

NOTE: I had previously written that the middle position pick up on this guitar is “out of phase” with the other two pick ups. A big thanks to Louis Cypher who correctly writes, “…that is not accurate. the middle pup being rwrp is a newer development, but that is hum cancelling and not phase cancelling. the standard strat, whether 3 or 5 position switch, the 2 and 4 positions are the pups in phase in parallel. it is incorrectly thought that is out of phase. some people have a switch installed to flip the phase on one pup and have an out of phase sound, but that is a very weak nasal sound instead of quacky one.  the quack is the result of the bridge and middle pups together in phase. or the neck and middle. they are not out of phase with each other in a standard strat. that is why I was curious when you said MK’s guitar has an out of phase sound. flip the hot and the ground wire on the middle pup, and you’ll find out what out of phase really sounds like in both of those positions. you are right about the history of the 2 and 4 position on a 3 way switch strat. the hum cancelling has to do with the direction of the magnet creating the current, the phase cancelling electrically has to do with the timing of the sinus wave of the ac current.”

5 Responses to “My Favorite Guitar (Revisited)”

  • Pieps

    Heya Pete ,

    as you know I mostly play on big jazzers . I love the ” in between acoustic and electric” sound … and maybe even more important ; I prefer to feel a big body on my lap 😉 … LOLOL , we’re talking guitars , and not girls .
    But I’m still having sweet dreams about a Custom Shop 1956 Mary Kaye Strat replica that was my “guest” some years ago. The sound of the neck pick up was as sweet and clean as you can imagine . The instrument almost played itself … I only had to make sure that my fingers were in the right position .
    Good Guitars isn’t rocket sience … straight grain wood does half of the trick … when the wood vibrates you are there . Your redhead looks like a beauty :) … and I would love to date her ♥ ♥ ♥ .

    HAVE FUN !!! yours Pieps

  • Dean Hetherington

    Hi Pete,

    Mate I was just reading your review of katie thompson on sellaband – – then I went to the page with your MK strat… choice! I’m katies gat player/ producer for tall poppy. i’m in nz country rock band “coalrangers” ( youtube search “the coalrangers”) .

    Email me ( cherdoyman@yahoo.co.nz ) & we’ll shoot some. Thanks for katie’s great review by the way – she’s got it goin on!
    Dean

  • Hi Pete
    I loved reading this story about the red guitar you showed us on our visit. I wish I had taken a closer look but my eye for beauty hasn’t really extended as far as electric guitars other than perhaps the silent guitar I’m playing now. You saw it and there’s not much to see-lol! and it may have it’s flaws since you and Ken couldn’t hear it at the Whisky the night we performed together for the LA Music Awards Voting Party! My eye always seems to wander to classical guitars since this was my first foray with guitars at the tender age of 15. My own story of not really knowing what you have until it’s lost is one about a beautiful Sergio De Jong classical guitar I once had. I bought it for $800. I was down on money, so like you I took it to the 12th Fret in Toronto, where I first bought it by the way, and they appraised it at $5000! Now it did have lacquer checks all over the finish so realistically I could expect only $3000 for it. It finally sold it for $2700 and I was astounded and thrilled with the cash. The reason I sold it was that, while a beautiful sounding cedar guitar, the neck had originally been ordered extra wide and my fingers just couldn’t get those wide spreading chords. Ergh, to this day I regret selling it but ah, that’s life. I later found a beautiful Lowden in a shop in Amsterdam; she spoke to me and the rest is history! I took her back to Canada with me and am still in love!

    Cheers,
    Michele

  • louiscyfer

    you said that the bridge and middle pup on MK’s red strat out of phase is the sound on sultans of swing. did he have it wired up specially to be out of phase? it doesn’t sound out of phase. got me curious.

  • That truly is a ” beautiful” strat(Mark Knoplfer).I look just like Mark,so much that I fooled my mom with his picture in a guitar magazine(she thought it was me).His schnozz is a lot bigger than mine though.I’m sure that git sounds wonderful as I don’t think they apply Fullerplast under the finish anymore.It should sound better than a real vintage one.The only big issue with the new reissues and custom shop is Fender’s use of non original bridge material.Fender uses a bogus copper and lead infused block.The original ones are cold rolled steel and MAGNETIC(I have one).Callaham makes great reissues of these bridges.Ash bodies sound more Knopflerish also.I do realize with a great player the tone is in the hands not the wood and parts. Ty M. in East Tennessee

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