The story behind Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing”

Guitar World did a cover story on the 100 greatest guitar solos of all time in approx. 1998. I wrote a whole bunch of the entries and will be posting some of them here. I start, rather randomly, with Mark Knopfler and “Sultans of Swing.” As I recall, I messed up the time change and woke Mr. Knopfler up from a deep slumber to do this interview.

22. “Sultans of Swing” — Dire Straits (Dire Straits, Warner Bros, 1978)

Guitarist: Mark Knopfler

“‘Sultans of Swing’ was originally written on a National Steel guitar in an open tuning, though I never performed it that way” recalls Mark Knopfler. “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 the first album — and the new chord changes just presented themselves and fell into place.

“It’s really a good example of how the music you make is shaped by what you play it on, and is a lesson for young players: if you feel that you’re not getting enough out of a song, change the instrument: go from an acoustic to an electric or vice versa, or try an open tuning. Do something to shake it up. As for the actual solo, it was just more or less what I played every night. It’s just a Fender Twin and the Strat, with its three-way selector switch  jammed into a middle position that gives it its sound, and I think there were quite a few five-way switches installed as a result of that song.”

2 replies
  1. Roger Law
    Roger Law says:

    Thanks for the post on Mark Knoppfler. I’ve been listening to his music for quite a number of years, well, since the first Dire Straits album came out. I’m from Canada but lived in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province PRC from June ’07 until June ’08 with my wife and two sons. I was able to download his Road Running album and put it on an mp3 player I had bought there. Now whenever I listen to it, it reminds me of Suzhou. I am also a musician and sat in quite often at a local bar with a band from the Philipines .


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