Mark Knopfler Recalls One Important Thing Chet Atkins Told Him About Guitars, Explains How He Chose Guitars for Specific Songs

Rock guitar legend and the leader of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler, discussed his guitars and recalled one thing Chet Atkins said that he’s only understood years later.

In case you didn’t know, Mark is auctioning off a huge chunk of his guitar collection through Christie’s. And it was during the event organized by the auction house that the musician reflected on these guitars and how he felt about parting ways with them.

“I must admit — a couple of the things that I saw did make me gulp a little bit,” Knopfler said during the event (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs). “I’m gonna wish that I was taking them home with me, but at the same time, I’m happy.”

Mark Knopfler in Conversation at Christie’s

However, it’s still a great occasion since Knopfler is donating a portion of the sales to charity — 25%, as The Guardian reported. And he’s also happy that other people will get to not only play but also bond with these instruments.

“It’s a kind of a happy pain,” he added, “because they will go to people who — hopefully — will have new friends and will make new relationships with them.”

Discussing the matter, Mark then recalled what The Country Gentleman himself told him about making bonds with your instruments. The two collaborated in the past, particularly on the award-winning album “Neck and Neck,” released in 1990. Mark recalled:

“And I remember Chet Atkins telling me, ‘You get a guitar, Mark, and a guitar is your friend for life. And it’ll be your best friend.’ I wasn’t really thinking so much at the time, but I’ve had plenty of time to think about that since, and it is a wonderful companion to you. And I’m sure a lot of you will know that already.”

And according to the Dire Straits legend, these aren’t just pieces of wood, electronics, and hardware all mashed together. Every guitar will have its character and you need to find the perfect one for a song that you’re performing.

When the interviewer said that guitars can be “like members of extended family,” Knopfler then offered:

“Anybody that’s been unfortunate enough to work in the studio with me will know that you’re looking for characters for songs, you’re looking for a voice in the song. They all have a different voice, so that’s just the funny thing about it. They don’t conform to what you’d think. You’d just think, ‘What is this? Just two bits of wood, isn’t it?'”

Mark Knopfler - She's Gone (Live, Down The Road Wherever Tour 2019)

“And the guitarists in here will know very well that it’s just not the way it plays at all, that they’re characters, and there will be a song that answers for them, just for that one thing.”

He continued:

“And I was looking at one of them — it was the blue [Eko 700] there covered in sparkle. It looks more like something you’d find at a kid’s party or something you’d get out of a swizzle stick. But that was ‘Song for Sonny Liston’ — it had the song written all over it.”

“And when I played the song on that instrument, it worked. I would do it on a Les Paul — or different guitars on different nights — but at the time when we were doing the record, that was the guitar for it.”

Mark Knopfler - Song For Sonny Liston (The Studio Albums 1996-2007)

For him, it’s pretty much like finding the right people to perform a certain piece of music and who’ll make the song sound the way it’s intended.

“It’s a character,” Mark said. “It’s like finding a character for a play. It’s the same thing. It’s like casting people for a song, casting musicians for a song.”

“I remember when I wrote a thing called ‘Sailing to Philadelphia’, I suddenly heard James Taylor singing the other guy. Poor old James, he didn’t ask for that.”

Mark Knopfler - Sailing To Philadelphia (The Studio Albums 1996-2007)

Up next, Knopfler was asked about how this process goes for “casting a guitar” for a song and whether the song comes first and then the selection process next.

“Well, you get to know your instrument,” he replied. “You play it so much that you think, ‘Ah, this is the job for a 1954 Fender Stratocaster with thick strings and a tremolo arm’.”

The auction at Christie’s features over 120 guitars that will go under the hammer on January 21. One of the instruments is even his old Höfner Super Solid, a Stratocaster copy from the early 1960s. For more info, you can visit Christie’s here.

Mark Knopfler - Guitar Stories - Trailer - Clip #4

Photos: Raph_PH (KnopfRAH220519 15), Public domain (Chet Atkins)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.