There are some exceptional British guitarists, but is it possible Mark Knopfler’s the best?
He’s on the shortlist for sure.
Let’s talk about his achievements, his best songs, and see if he is the best British guitarist.
Ready to meet the Sultan of Swing?
What Is Knopfler’s Musical History?
Born in Scotland and raised in England, Mark Knopfler always had an interest in various music genres. His uncle was a pianist who exposed him to boogie-woogie and other styles.
Knopfler got a guitar in his teens and studied great guitarists like Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Django Reinhardt, and Chet Atkins. He formed and joined various bands during his school years, even appearing on TV as part of a harmony duo.
While working as a junior reporter in college, Knopfler befriended blues enthusiast Steve Phillips. Knopfler learned more about early blues from him and began to perform that style in a duo with Philips.
Post-college, Knopfler worked as a reporter, a teacher, and even a music critic. He joined a band named Brewers Droop. There, Knopfler began playing finger-picked guitar and said this was when he found his voice. The finger-picked style would eventually become part of what defined his sound.
After Dire Straits disbanded, Knopfler began a solo career and has nine solo albums to date. In addition, he records film scores, famously including “The Princess Bride,” and collaborates with country artists such as Emmylou Harris.
Knopfler is much sought-after as a record producer as well. He produced albums for the likes of Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, and Randy Newman. Knopfler also writes songs for others, penning “Private Dancer” for Tina Turner.
He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to music.
What Band Was Mark Knopfler In?
Mark Knopfler first became famous for his band Dire Straits, in which he wrote the songs, sang lead vocals, and played lead guitar. The band sold over 100 million records worldwide and won Grammys, Brit Awards, and MTV Video Awards. This certainly lends credibility to him being the best British guitarist.
Dire Straits’ music had roots in rock, blues, pub rock, and jazz when punk and disco were trending. It was one of few rock bands that cut through the trends to find fame.
Knopfler’s gifted songwriting contributed to Dire Straits’ success. He says Bob Dylan influenced him to write songs that told stories. But Knopfler made sure his songs were still catchy and memorable. Some of their biggest hits were “Sultans of Swing,” “Money for Nothing,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “Walk of Life.”
The band’s lineup changed frequently, but Knopfler always retained his role. Then, in 1995, he disbanded Dire Straits. Knopfler felt that the band’s commercial success wasn’t in keeping with his values.
What Are Knopfler’s Most Popular Songs?
In addition to Knopfler’s work with Dire Straits, his solo albums have been very successful. Many of them feature a more stripped-down sound. In some of his most popular songs, Knopfler finds inspiration in history.
“Sailing to Philadelphia” is a duet with James Taylor about Mason and Dixon. While “Done With Bonaparte” tells the story of an imagined soldier in Napoleon’s army. And, “Song for Sonny Liston” details the boxer’s life.
Knopfler is also acclaimed for his score in “The Princess Bride.” Director Rob Reiner said Knopfler was his first and only choice, stating that only Knopfler could make fairy-tale music with the quirky humor of the movie. “Storybook Love,” arranged by Knopfler, was nominated for an Oscar for best original song.
What Makes Mark Knopfler’s Guitar Playing Unique?
Knopfler is known for his finger-picked guitar style and use of vibrato. In addition, he’s left-handed but plays a right-handed guitar.
Furthermore, he owns over 50 guitars and knows precisely when to use each. He primarily plays Martin guitars. In fact, Martin dedicated two models to him, and Fender has one.
He even has a dinosaur named after him! A paleontologist was listening to Dire Straits when he found the dinosaur’s fossil. He named the species Masiakasaurus Knopfleri.
Are There Better British Guitarists Than Mark Knopfler?
There are many amazing British guitarists!
Of course, this is a matter of opinion, but critics agree on some of the top names. They cite Jeff Beck (Yardbirds), Eric Clapton, Andy Summers (The Police), George Harrison (The Beatles), Pete Townshend (The Who), Brian May (Queen), and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) as among the best.
Can You Still See Mark Knopfler Perform Live?
He hasn’t made any formal announcement either way about touring in the future. Although he toured two years ago, so this hasn’t been a long gap.
Is Mark Knopfler the Best British Guitarist?
Mark Knopfler is certainly one of the best, especially when it comes to fingerpicking. His unique style, versatility, and strong songwriting certainly make him a candidate for that honor. But there will never be a way to name the very best – and that’s a good thing.
As listeners, we are blessed to have so many brilliant guitarists to listen to, each with their own style.
Who’s your favorite British guitarist?