Mark Knopfler – The Man Behind the Guitars

Mark Knopfler, the legendary guitarist, singer, and songwriter, has had a profound impact on the world of music. Best known for his work with Dire Straits, his unique fingerpicking style and smooth vocals have earned him a place among the greatest guitarists of all time.

In this post, we will explore Knopfler’s biography, the guitars that shaped his sound, and the equipment that has accompanied him throughout his illustrious career.

Table of Contents


Mark Knopfler was born on August 12, 1949, in Glasgow, Scotland. His family moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, England, when he was only seven years old. As a young boy, Knopfler was fascinated by his uncle’s guitar and began learning to play the instrument at the age of 15. Heavily influenced by rock ‘n’ roll, folk, and blues, Knopfler’s early musical inspirations included artists such as Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, and Scotty Moore.

In 1977, Knopfler formed the band Dire Straits with his younger brother, David Knopfler, and friends John Illsley and Pick Withers. The band gained international fame with the release of their self-titled debut album in 1978, which included the hit single “Sultans of Swing.” Dire Straits went on to release several successful albums, including “Brothers in Arms” (1985), which sold over 30 million copies worldwide.

After Dire Straits disbanded in 1995, Knopfler pursued a successful solo career, releasing several albums and collaborating with notable artists such as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Emmylou Harris. Throughout his career, Knopfler has received numerous awards and accolades, including four Grammy Awards and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Dire Straits in 2018.


Mark Knopfler is known for his unique fingerpicking style, which he developed while playing on a variety of guitars. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most iconic guitars that have graced Knopfler’s hands:

  1. Fender Stratocaster: Perhaps the most iconic guitar in Knopfler’s arsenal, his red ’61 Fender Stratocaster has been his primary instrument since the early days of Dire Straits. This guitar, affectionately known as “The Red Strat,” can be heard on hits like “Sultans of Swing” and “Money for Nothing”.
  2. Schecter Stratocaster: In the early 1980s, Knopfler began using a custom-built Schecter Stratocaster, featuring a birdseye maple neck and fingerboard. This guitar became a mainstay in his live performances and can be seen in the iconic “Alchemy Live” concert film.
  3. Gibson Les Paul Standard: Knopfler’s love for Gibson guitars is evident in his use of a ’58 Les Paul Standard, which he acquired in the late 1970s. This guitar, with its distinctive sunburst finish, has been used on several Dire Straits tracks, most notably “Tunnel of Love.”
  4. Pensa-Suhr MK1: This custom-made guitar was built for Knopfler by New York luthier John Suhr in the late 1980s. With its unique body shape and versatile electronics, the Pensa-Suhr MK1 has been used by Knopfler on both his solo work and Dire Straits recordings.

Guitar Equipment

Mark Knopfler’s distinct sound is not only due to his choice of guitars but also his selection of amplifiers, effects, and other gear that has accompanied him throughout his career. Here, we will delve into some of the key components of his guitar equipment:


  • Fender Vibrolux: Knopfler has often relied on Fender amplifiers to achieve his signature clean sound. One of his favorites is the Fender Vibrolux, which he has used extensively both in the studio and on stage.
  • Marshall Bluesbreaker: For a more overdriven tone, Knopfler has turned to the Marshall Bluesbreaker, a combo amp that he used during the recording of Dire Straits’ classic album, “Brothers in Arms.”
  • Mesa Boogie Mark II: This versatile amplifier has been a staple of Knopfler’s rig since the late 1970s. Its wide range of tones and settings allows him to achieve the perfect sound for any song.


  • Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer: This iconic green overdrive pedal is a crucial part of Knopfler’s guitar sound. He uses it to add warmth and sustain to his tone, particularly during solos.
  • Boss CS-2 Compression Sustainer: To help maintain a consistent level of volume and sustain, Knopfler employs the Boss CS-2, which also helps to enhance his fingerpicking dynamics.
  • Roland Space Echo: Knopfler has long been a fan of the Roland Space Echo, a vintage tape delay unit that adds depth and space to his guitar sound.


  • Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Strings: Knopfler’s string choice is Ernie Ball Regular Slinky, which he has used for decades. These strings provide a balanced tone and feel, perfect for his fingerpicking technique.
  • Jim Dunlop Thumb Picks: An essential component of Knopfler’s fingerpicking style is his use of thumb picks. He prefers the Jim Dunlop variety for its comfort and durability.


Mark Knopfler’s influence on the world of guitar playing cannot be overstated. His innovative fingerpicking technique, combined with his mastery of various guitars and equipment, has left an indelible mark on the musical landscape. As we’ve explored his biography, iconic guitars, and essential gear, it’s evident that Knopfler’s dedication to his craft has been the driving force behind his lasting success. His legacy will undoubtedly continue to inspire guitarists for generations to come.