If you’re a guitar player of a certain age then you’ve probably been trying to cop the licks of one of the best guitar songs ever – Dire Straits “Sultans Of Swing.” When the song came out in 1977 the clean jangly Strat guitar sound was totally opposite from the much heavier distorted tones that most bands were using at the time. But the solos were, and still are, outstanding, especially the one at the end of the song. If you’ve spent a lot of time trying to sort out what Mark Knopfler is playing, here’s the isolated version that should give you a clearer picture.
One might say that “Sultans Of Swing” was the song that really made Dire Straits. It was on the original 5 song demo that the band made in 1977, and it was put into rotation by an influential DJ on BBC Radio. The band received its record deal with Phonogram a few months later.
The song was actually recorded twice. It was rerecorded in February of 1977 because the label felt that the first version wasn’t rock enough, and that was produced by Muff Winwood (Steve’s bass player and A&R man brother). Even so, it wasn’t a hit right off, instead taking about 6 months of slow burn before it began to take off, and with it the fortunes of the band.
Mark played a 1961 Strat through a 1961 Brown Fender Vibrolux, according the the Mark Knopfler Guitar Site. The engineer that record the band’s first two albums could only remember that he used a Neumann mic on the amp, but couldn’t remember the model. That said, the real key to the sound is the finger picking style that the bandleader uses, so even if you cop the notes exactly and use a pick, it’s going to sound different.
And speaking of the playing, it’s not as precise as you might think, although that never bothered anyone listening to the song. There are some ghost notes that would probably be fixed today, and it would most likely be way more compressed. That would be a loss, because it sounds terrific as is.
One of the cool things about this video is that the rhythm guitar is left in between the licks so it’s easy to follow where you are in the song. That’s important across six minutes, although they go by fast. If you want to jump ahead, the solos come at 3:41 and 5:10. There’s also a bit at the end that isn’t on the record.
This is a fun listen. Enjoy!