Viewers to my Youtube channel will be aware that my latest endeavour has been to tackle one of the greatest, some might say most sacred pieces of music of them all - Mark Knopfler's guitar solos in Dire Straits' 'Sultans Of Swing' (see above).
As a unique and defining piece, surly only Knopfler himself can truly do it justice? This was my thinking going in to work on the song; I mean, it's gone down as one of the all-time great solos. However, I've always been up for a challenge, and as a song that I first attempted and did a far from accurate facsimile of when I was 17 (video evidence exists), getting it right has been something of a lifelong bugbear.
So, with initial doubts out of the way I sat down to learn it. With a well trained ear, earned from years of straining to pick out guitar parts in the days before the internet could teach you the (mostly) wrong way to do it, getting the notes right was going to be the easy part. It was achieving the correct tone, and applying the right phrasing to the solo that would prove the most difficult.
I've always found that muscle memory plays a huge part in achieving the best results. I can't remember how many times I've learned a solo, recorded and uploaded to YouTube the same day, only to find that I'm much more fluent the next day. My tip therefore is this; if you're stuck, frustrated or simply plain beat; give it a rest and come back to it after a night's sleep. You'll be amazed at the change it will bring.
Having a good memory for a solo - the ability to 'sing' it in your head, and commit it to memory is also half the battle. As mentioned, I had been playing 'Sultans Of Swing' since I was 17 - and on into my twenties - in more than one band, so I was extremely familiar with how it was supposed to go. As a result, I had it nailed fairly quickly, and was pleasantly surprised that the initial stabs that I made at it were not far off the mark (unlike my 17 year old self who was way off!). In fact some of the guesses I made without actually listening to the solo were totally accurate. It was a good start.
One of the things that is unique about Knopfler's style however is that he famously doesn't use a pick. I of course do, and the challenge of replicating the 'Sultans' solos in my own style whilst staying true to its original ethos appealed to me. That meant getting the tone absolutely spot on. Most of my solos are played using my Digitech RP500 pedal, and this one was no different. With a little bit of tinkering over a few frustrating days, with the Fender Strat, with the toggle switch set to the middle position, I finally arrived at the sound that you hear in the above video.
I recorded, as usual to Adobe Audition, and added the rhythm guitars - there are two tracks - and the bass as an afterthought. These tracks were done very quickly. As a result, the rhythm guitars are perhaps a little more distorted than I would have ideally liked. Meanwhile, I listened to the song's bass line once, and the bass track was recorded in one take, on the third attempt. But it's all about the solo, right?
In the end it either took me less than a week, or more than twenty years to get it right. The optimist in me says the former, but the realist says the latter. Harry doesn't mind if he doesn't make the scene. Better late than never. right?