Mark Knopfler’s 1961 Fender Stratocaster

Mark bought this Stratocaster was bought sometime prior to Dire Strait’s first album released in 1978. It was Mark’s first Fender Stratocaster, and the one he cherishes and plays to this day.

Sultans of Swing Guitar

According to Mark, this guitar was used on the entirety of Dire Strait’s debut album, which included the mega-hit Sultans of Swing. This is important to point out because sources vary online regarding which specific Stratocaster it was on Sultans – whether it was this one, or the maple ’62 Strat.

But, it seems that from the way Mark talks about this guitar, and how he presented it in the Guitar Stories documentary, there’s no doubt it was the rosewood 1961 Strat.

I thought it was dull, but as soon as I bought my first Strat in 1977, the whole thing changed, though the lyrics remained the same. It just came alive as soon as I played it on that ’61 Strat—which remained my main guitar for many years and was basically the only thing I played on [our] first album—and the new chord changes just presented themselves and fell into place.

Mark Knopfler Discusses His ’61 Strat and “Sultans of Swing”

Originally the song – I was playing in an open tuning on an acoustic guitar, and I’ve forgotten what the tuning was. And it was only until the Strat turned up, which is this one – from 1961.

Mark Knopfler – Guitar Stories SkyArts

If you know of any statements from Mark that would debunk this, and prove that it was the maple Strat – we’re all open.


When Mark bought the guitar the original paint from the body was stripped down to bare wood by the previous owner. Using his dream guitar as inspiration, which was Hank Marvin’s red Strat, Mark took his guitar to his friend Steve Phillips and had it painted red.

Over the years, the finish started cracking and from around the late 80s, there were clear white lines visible across the body. However, it’s interesting that these lines do not appear in the Guitar Stories documentary, which means that he did some retouches to the finish, or that there’s more to this story.

Mark Knopfler playing his '61 Fender Stratocaster. Guitar Stories Documentary.
Mark Knopfler playing his ’61 Fender Stratocaster. Guitar Stories Documentary, YouTube Screengrab.

Usage, Mods

As already pointed out, most notably, Mark used this guitar on Dire Strait’s debut album. Following the release of the album, he continued using the Strat as his touring guitar, but not as nearly as much as the maple fretboard Strat.

Mark playing the '61 Stratocaster in 1978.
Mark played the ’61 Stratocaster in 1978.

At some point in the late 70s, Mark had the guitar moded – he installed a DiMarzio FS-1 pickup in the neck position and replaced the volume knob with a black one. If you want to learn more about this, please refer to MK-Guitar – The DiMarzio FS-1 pick-up of Mark Knopfler’s red Stratocaster.

Both of them are ‘60s vintage: One has a maple neck, and the other is rosewond. On one there’s a DiMarzio pickup for the bass, and I like it because it just seems to give a fatter, louder sound, with more clout than the standard pickup Fender uses. That’s the only thing that isn’t stock on either guitar.

Guitar Player, July ’79 Mark Knopfler


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1 year ago

This was the guitar Mark used at the first official Dire Straits gig and was pretty much the only guitar he used until he got his maple neck strat. Once Mark began using his maple neck, his set of guitars expanded and this guitar was not seen again for a long time. He only started using these guitars again sometime in the 90’s and has used rosewood strats ever since in his solo career.

Last edited 1 year ago by Koby