Monthly Archives: October 2010

How Mark Knopfler Got His Groove

You know the sound. Smooth but with just the right kick of distortion to let you know you are dealing with some real rock n’ roll. You know what I’m talking about. That perfectly even tone that has you walking with a bit of a strut because you just heard “Sultans of Swing” on the radio and can’t get the guitar lines out of your head.

Mark Knopfler and his Strat

Mark Knopfler and his Strat

Mark Knopfler possesses one of the most distinct tones in all of rock. With Dire Straits and beyond, Knopfler has been combining fluid solos and chord passages that walk the line between understated and flat-out jaw dropping. Although the beautiful music comes from his head and fingers (he plays without a pick), Knopfler did have a bit of help in developing such a persuasive and sexy tone. The atmosphere and shadings he creates on such tunes as the aforementioned “Sultans of Swing”, “Down to the Waterline” and “Lady Writer” was created with the help of the Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer Compressor pedal.

The Orange Squeezer is a basically a compressor pedal. A compressor is a circuit that compresses the signal so if it exceeds a level, the compressor limits, or puts a cap on, the signal. What this means is that the soft tones are lifted and the loud tones are limited resulting in an even sound. A listen to early Dire Straits recordings is a perfect example of the benefits of using a compressor. The Orange Squeezer enabled Knopfler to keep a flush sound, not too loud and not too soft, which has played a huge role in the guitarist’s unmistakable tone.

Of course, there is the Strat that Knopfler played that helped create such a signature sound. Strats often possess a biting tone that is great for cutting through a thick rhythm section. Combined with the Orange Compressor pedal, Knopfler was able to use the Strat to create the perfect timbre that set his playing style apart from everyone else. Knopfler’s style is so distinct that Fender has issued a Mark Knopfler Stratocaster which features three Texas Special single coil pickups in inside of a Hot Rod Red ’57 ash body with a ’62 c-shaped maple neck. This guitar along with the Orange Compressor is the perfect recipe for creating smooth lines and chords that pop with an even controlled resonance that will have you rolling with the Sultans of Swing in your basement or at the gig.

Analog Man Mini-Bi-Comp Compressor Pedal

Analog Man Mini Bi-Comp. Orange Squeezer on the right.

blog written by E. M. Kaplan

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Which Effect Pedal Goes First?

Do you place your wah pedal before your distortion pedal?  Or do you run your fuzz before your wah?  While there is the conventional wisdom surrounding effect pedal order, there are as many different schools of thought as there are guitar players.  The fundamental question you want to ask yourself is:

Do you want your distorted guitar sound wah’d or do you want your wah’d sound distorted.  Splitting hairs?  Not really.

A wah pedal is by definition a filter and when thinking about it in those terms, should be placed first.  Placing a wah first in your pedal order will allow that effect to see your unadulterated guitar tone and to sweep that signal.  In many ways, that produces a natural, sweet wah tone.   Another reason to place a wah or other filter first in the chain is that most are very touch sensitive.  Your fingers and pick attack can most affect the first pedal in your chain and therefore, a wah makes most sense.

Talk to other guitarists and they’ll tell you to place your fuzz or distortion pedal first.  Many fuzz pedals react best when hit with a straight guitar signal.  Secondly, a distortion or fuzz pedal is often the core tone for many guitarists and therefore is a good base for building tone, including wah.

Ibanez Wah Pedal

Ibanez Weeping Demon Wah Pedal

Other effect pedals like delay, chorus and other modulation type effects should come later in your signal chain.  We’ll discuss these later.