Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My Favorite Guitar

My favorite guitar is a Fender Mark Knopfler Signature Stratocaster. I love this guitar for two reasons. For starters, she is just a fantastic guitar not only to play but to look at and admire, and I'll get into that in a moment. But what makes her so very special to me is that she was placed into my care by Mark as a "thank you" for the small part I played in support of the SHANGRI LA album.

Electric bass is my weapon of accomplishment but I've always had a few guitars around for writing and teaching. On a more sensual level, there are some guitars which pay their way just by being beautiful to look at and touch in ways that result in wonderful noises. This is what my '62 P-bass and my first girlfriend once had in common. After forty-some years, the bass is sexy as ever and still makes wonderful noises when I touch her just right. I can't say with any certainty, but I'd hazard a guess that the old girlfriend hasn't aged as well.

Everyone has a favorite "the one that got away" story. My stories tend to fall more into the "Pete, you are a friggin' idiot" category. I once bought a "63 strat for $75.00 and decided it was ugly, so I sold it and made fifty bucks! Now this was in the early seventies and fifty bucks kept me alive for a week so it was cool...I thought. It was ugly to me because of the color. I found out later that Inca Silver is a rare color and had I put that rare bastard into the the case and under the bed, would be worth two or three of my cars now. Everytime I think about it I imagine a big pie hitting me in the face.

I could write all day and into the night...into many nights, about my knuckleheadedness but let me get back to my favorite guitar. MK arrived at Shangri La the evening before we were to load in the instruments and digital recording gear. Some days before, I had taken delivery of the fourteen guitars which he planned to use for the album. We spent the evening unpacking his guitars to get them aclimatized to the Malibu air. Mark proved to be a true guitar junkie and we spent a most enjoyable evening fawning over each of the instruments as we set them free of the flight cases and let them run loose in what would be their home for the next five weeks.

One of the guitars that Mark is known for is a "frankenstrat" which, to my knowledge, is a '59 red Fender Stratocaster with a '61 neck with a rosewood fretboard. This guitar, with the middle and bridge position pick ups out of phase, was the sound heard on "Sultans Of Swing." Fender now markets The Mark Knopfler Signature Strat and I was surprised to find that both Mark and Richard Bennett play these guitars on stage and in the studio just as they come from the factory. I admired the guitar and told Mark that it seemed like an instrument worth having and that I would look into getting one for the studio.

The weeks spent recording the album are another story but it must be said that a good time was had by all concerned. About a week after the circus left town, a guitar was delivered, addressed to Mark, in care of Shangri La Studio. I emailed Mark's tech in London and asked what was to be done with it and when the answer came, so did I. The guitar was no longer an anonymous "it" but a "she"...and she belonged to me!

In describing the manufacture of the guitar, Mark had told me that he thought Fender had done an excellent job of reproducing his original Strat. As I had played both Richard's and Mark's guitars, I had to agree but these guitars were in the hands of world-class musicians and I suspected that they were handmade at the factory especially for them. I was surprised to find that this was not the case at all and that my new Strat was a spectacular instrument right out of the box. The first thing that impressed me was the finish which is a bright, hot-rod red nitrocellulose lacquer and absolutely flawless. The use of nitrocellulose insures that the guitar will age beautifully and actually sound better as the years pass. Her first impression simply knocks your eyes out. The neck is also finished in the old school lacquer with a beautiful, aged amber tint. The grain of the rosewood fretboard is vey straght and runs the length of the neck with no run-out. This is not only visually attractive but will contribute to years of stability.

I always judge the musical voice of an electric guitar un-plugged. When I play a guitar without amplification, I can hear and feel how the wood reacts to string vibration. Some guitars "speak" more clearly than others and there was an unmistakable similarity between the Signature Strats used on the session and my newly arrived beauty. There was a pronounced consistancy in these instruments that speaks very highly of Fender's quality control. But what impresses me is that when I have this girl in my hands, all the techno talk melts away and I'm left with a guitar that feels like she was handmade only for me.

Mark once said to me, "A beautiful guitar will be a friend to you for a lifetime." I am in love with this guitar. It is a Mark Knopfler Signature Stratocaster.

No comments: