Mark Knopfler’s 1988 Pensa-Suhr Custom

In 1987 Mark met with Rudy Pensa at a small coffee shop called “Prince’s” in New York. The two discussed a possible project – a guitar that would be a sort of crossover between a Stratocaster and a Les Paul. They agreed on the details, and drew the first sketch of this guitar on a napkin they found on the table.

The guitar was finished sometime in early 1988, and it was completely built by John Suhr who worked at Pensa music shop at the time. This particular model was supposedly something that John worked out prior to Rudy and Mark ever meeting, and the guitar was only modified to fit Mark’s needs and wishes following the input Rudy took from Mark during the infamous meeting at a coffee shop.

Mark playing the Pensa-Suhr Custom at the Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert played in June 1988
Mark playing the Pensa-Suhr Custom at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday concert played in June 1988


John used mahogany as a basis for the body, one-piece carved maple as a top, and Brazilian rosewood as a fretboard material.

The guitar was equipped with EMG 81 in the bridge, and EMG SA in the middle and neck position – all mounted from the back. This was all controlled with two knobs – a regular volume knob, and an EMG SPC push/pull knob which added the gain boost. Tuners on it were Sperzels, and a Floyd Rose locking tremolo was installed – although Mark didn’t use it that much.


This guitar is perhaps best known for its appearance at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday concert played in June 1988. Fun trivia about this gig is that Dire Straits were allowed to play under one condition – the band needed to rehearse for the event because they haven’t been on tour for some time and had even disbanded temporarily. So the first time Mark ever picked up this guitar was at the rehearsal event at Hammersmith Odeon on June 8th, 1988.

This guitar was also one of Mark’s main in the late 80s and early 90s – used extensively on the On Every Street album and tour. Since then Mark grew accustomed to the fatter necks of his Gibson Les Pauls and eventually stopped using this guitar altogether.


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