The making of “Sultans of Swing”

In 1997 or ’98, Guitar World did a cover story on the 100 greatest guitar solos of all time. I wrote many of the entries and will repost a bunch of them over the next month or so.

I’ve been listening to Mark Knopfler’s new album Privateering, which prompts me to post this story on the writing and recording of  “Sultans of Swing” from Dire Straits, the band’s self-titled debut album. I really loved their first three albums and Mark was a big vocal influence for me, without thinking about it too much. I despise the song “Walk of Life” and became unable to listen to them for a long time after that hit.

When I did this interview, I messed up the time change and woke Mr. Knopfler up from a deep slumber. sorry about that sir.

“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.”

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