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DS:UK - The Dire Straits Tribute
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Pensa Suhr MK1 1988 Custom

It’s rare that a guitarist produces songs that require specific instruments to perform. The ‘sound’ of Dire Straits’ recordings like Sultans of Swing, Money for Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, Why Worry are like a piece of art - changing something about it fundamentally changes the song. Imagine Money for Nothing played on a Strat - or Romeo and Juliet played on a classical guitar. The songs would still be recognisable, but they wouldn’t be the same.

In 1988, Mark sat down with friends - businessman Rudi Pensa and guitar builder John Suhr (formally a master builder at Fender) - to design a guitar that could take the role of a Strat and a Les Paul without Mark needing to constantly change between the two. The result was the iconic Pensa Suhr Custom that he played from the latter days of Dire Straits and into his early solo career.

The body is one piece mahogany with a maple top with a gorgeous flame top finish, with a fretboard made from rosewood and gold Floyd Rose hardware that is unusually ‘locked’.

The pickups are a pair of EMG SA Single Coils in the middle and neck positions and an EMG 81 at the bridge. The active pickups provided a lovely, hot, warm and fat tone, with a EMG SPC push/pull knob which provided the pickups with a gain boost for more drivier tones.

Although the guitar was supposed to fill the role of a Strat and a Les Paul, its clean tone is very very different from a Stratocaster’s clean and bright texture. The SA’s have a much fatter, rounder and more mellow tone that do give songs like Sultans of Swing and Telegraph Road a lovely sound, but it’s definitely a different experience and it’s hard to argue that it’s as iconic as the Stratocasters used to record those pieces.

As a Les Paul replacement, it’s a little more successful on account of a fatter sound and hotter pickups, although the resultant textures are definitely different. Playing Money for Nothing through the semi open Wah still gives the song it’s distinctive sound that still very Dire Straits / Knopfler, although it’s more likely that it’s recognisable on account of a similar tone being used fro Calling Elvis and Heavy Fuel on the On Every Street Album.