Things You Need to Know About Mark Knopflers Guitar Style...


Mark Knopfler's guitar playing is legendary in the music community and that makes him a guitarist worth studying. At some point every practicing guitar player will end up taking a closer look at the way he both plays and how he composes. 

That is exactly why we're going to check out the style of Mark Knopfler on this weeks "Guitar Blog Insider"...

Knopfler tends to hold back more than shred and he doesn't set out to show off his "chops" in the way that many other famous guitarists do. He plays guitar in a way that fully supports his songs. Whether that involves killer solos performed with just the right notes played on every chord, or even when he is simply playing a basic rhythm strumming pattern.

Picking Technique:
To achieve the "Mark Knopfler" tone it will take some practice. His technique is based around the use of his fingers, (he doesn't use a pick). Most of this plucking style is also quite unorthodox. However, it can be developed by focusing on the way he applies the plucking technique of his right hand's thumb, index and middle fingers. Some occasional use of the ring finger is also a part of the technique.

Mark uses a unique vibrato and lot's of it - almost anywhere and everywhere he can. So, in practicing playing his style, be sure to work on adding smooth vibrato on everything, (that even includes chords).

Guitars and Tone:
Knopfler has dialed in on a guitar tone that can be established by using the combined bridge and middle pickups on a Strat (or similar style guitar). Clean tone favors some chorus and reverb and his dirty tone operates with only a touch of tube overdrive.

In Mark's early Dire Straits era, he'd rarely be seen playing anything other than a Fender Stratocaster. His fame and success has since allowed him to have ownership over a vast collection of amazing guitars including the incredible Pensa Suhr line of guitars.

When it comes to acoustic guitars, Mark is a die-hard Martin acoustic player with his signature Martin-40S model being his primary "go to" acoustic over the years.

 Knopfler with one of his Fender Stratocaster's

 Knopfler playing the Suhr MK-1

Performing on the Martin 40S acoustic

Over the years Knopfler has used many different amplifiers. In his early days he favored the Fender Vibrolux and the Twin-Reverb. He also used the Music Man HD-130 for awhile and used Mesa-Boogie heads with Marshell 4x12's.

Soldano SLO-100 became his main amp into the 1990's and beyond (keeping the Marshall 4 x 12" cabinets with Electro Voice speakers as his main speaker cabs).

Soldano SLO-100 with Marshall 4x12 cabinets

Mark Knopfler's ability to create simple but strong sounding chord progressions has become a staple part of his guitar sound over the years. When composing chord changes he principally favors chords that operate within the diatonic key center. Chords that target resolutions by way of the V or the IV are most common in his music.

Work through the Minor key chord changes in example one and notice how the IV-chord in this "A Minor" progression pulls us back to the top of the changes.

Example 1). "I-VII-VI-IV" progression in the key of "A Minor"

In many of his songs he places the majority of his focus on the lyrics and the groove, and enjoys the simplicity of basic I-IV-V changes, like in his piece "Cannibals." The up-tempo hill-billy beat of this song (combined with the application of a common I-IV-V in the key of "E Major"), makes it easy to zero in on the lyrics and message of the song.

Other songs will take on more of a smooth sound, with an almost "pop-jazz" approach using collections of seventh quality chords in more the style of jazz harmony. This is evident in his piece "Hard Shoulder." In this song, the feel is very laid back in an adult contemporary style. We find him using primarily major and minor 7th chords to create a very smooth effect.

Play through the chord changes in example two to get an idea of how this seventh chord approach affects the overall sound of the chord harmony.

Example 2). Key of "G Major" progression using seventh-chord harmony

There's no questioning that Mark Knopfler has excellent control over his feel of both major and minor key centers. While a majority of his single-note guitar playing places the focus around pentatonic scales, he will also tend to add select tones from the; Dorian, Mixolydian and the Harmonic Minor when he sees it appropriate.

His ability to focus on the specific chord tones from pentatonic scales for the melodic connection to each chord is amazing. Add it is also very cool how he outlines chords with arpeggio tones from the chord shapes. Plus, he's very smooth with adding a few extra unique modal ideas around the lines as well. All of this comes together in creating what we all know (and recognize) as his unique melodic sound.

His application of different melodic lines and scale runs is done using select pieces of the scale patterns located in mostly in position block areas along the fingerboard.

Study the melodic segment below in example one. Take notice of how the scales are located within the 12th position area of the guitar neck.

Example #1). 12th Position "A Minor" Pentatonic phrase

In example two, I've set up a classic Knopfler style Pentatonic run located in the 5th position. Plus, I've also added in his staple sound of outlining chords using small arpeggio clusters taken directly from the chord voicings.

Example #2). Classic "Knopfler style" Pentatonic lick with arpeggio outlines.

A Mark Knopfler lesson wouldn't be complete without mentioning his abundant application of small chord shapes. This "small chord" performance approach makes even more of an impact when done using the finger-picked technique.

Study example three below. I've produced a riff to practice that is largely based upon the sound and style of his guitar part made famous in the hit song, "Money for Nothing."

Example #3). Double-stop chord riff (key of "G Minor")

Watch the Video lesson:

While Mark Knopfler may not be known in the guitar community for blinding shred tactics or insane use of technical wizardry across the neck, there his no denying that his music is full of very tasty guitar licks.

I don't believe anyone would ever say that he is a slouch on the guitar. His technique is there. The feel and connection within all of his songs is always there. And, I think that the reason he is often under-rated in the guitar world (of virtuoso shredders and all that) is because he uses his licks sparingly.

Mark Knopfler is all about getting each of his notes in just the right place. In other words, he plays the right notes at the right time, designed add to the music, rather than call attention to him ever wanting to be any kind of a guitar hero.

Songs like "Sultans of Swing," "Money for Nothing," and "Brothers in Arms," are some of his most well known pieces. And, those songs rank as favorite study pieces for many practicing guitar players. But, he has many other songs as well. And, the more you dig into his style, the more you're going to discover just how versatile he really is.

So, in wrapping up, it's important to note that while Mark Knopfler may not rip the neck up with shedding madness, (like Malmsteen, Van Halen, Steve vai or Paul Gilbert), what he does do is play into the heart of his songs, and he does that extremely well.



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