Dire Straits star Mark Knopfler to auction Brothers In Arms guitars

Mark Knopfler
Mark Knopfler was named one of the most influential rock guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine
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Dire Straits star Mark Knopfler is to auction more than 120 of his guitars and amps, with 25% of the proceeds going to charity.

The sale includes the 1983 Les Paul that Knopfler used to record the hits Money For Nothing and Brothers In Arms, and which he played on stage at Live Aid in 1985.

The singer-songwriter told the BBC he wanted the instruments to find loving homes.

"I hope they all get played," he said. "I don't think they do too well living in a case all their lives."

The collection, which will be auctioned at Christie's in London next January, spans the entirety of Knopfler's 50-year career.

Among the lots is a 1959 Gibson Les Paul with a sunburst finish, known as the "Holy Grail of electric guitars", which has an estimate of £300,000 to £500,000.

Mark Knopfler guitars
The auction includes the star's classic 1959 Les Paul (left), the first guitar he ever owned (centre) and a classic Fender 12-string (right)

At the other end of the scale, fans can acquire a mandolin, previously owned by blues legend Yank Rachell, for an estimated £300 to £500.

"I like the cheap ones as much as the expensive ones," said Knopfler.

The 74-year-old has been called one of the greatest guitar virtuosos of all time, known for the fluid and cinematic solos of songs like Sultans of Swing and Telegraph Road.

Born in Scotland but raised in England, he never took a lesson and ultimately developed a pick-free playing style of his own.

"Playing with your fingers," he has said, "has something to do with immediacy and soul."

Trembling fingers

Knopfler said his love affair with the guitar began in childhood, as he watched Elvis Presley and Hank Marvin of The Shadows.

"It came with such a sense of adventure and fun and freedom. I wanted to be part of it all."

Growing up in Newcastle, Knopfler would spend hours gazing at the displays in JG Windows (a shop he still visits to this day), dreaming of the day he could have a guitar of his own.

"I can still remember the first time I plucked up enough courage to pick one off the wall, with trembling fingers," he said.

"It was a Spanish guitar, and one of the Geordies in the shop said: 'If you drop that, I'll drop you'.

"I didn't even know how to play. I was just desperate to have it in my hands."

Mark Knopfler (left)
The star played his Les Paul on stage at the Live Aid concerts in 1985

For months, he begged his father for a Fiesta Red Fender Stratocaster, just like the one he'd seen Hank Marvin play on the cover of an EP. Unfortunately, they were too expensive, even on an architect's salary. Eventually, Knopfler was given a twin-pick-up Höfner Super Solid, which cost £50, in the early 1960s.

"I never actually got much of a sound out of the Höfner but I just fell in love with it," he said.

Now, that model has become the first lot in his auction, with an estimated value of £1,000 to £1,500.

Asked why he'd decided to part with such beloved instruments, Knopfler simply replied: "I think it's just age.

"I'm looking now at about 20 guitars that I use to make records and there are at least 100 other ones that aren't going to get played.

"We've had great times together, so I am sad to see some of them go - but I've got enough left to play. More than enough."

Nightmare shortcuts

Knopfler formed Dire Straits in 1977 with his younger brother David, bassist John Illsley, and drummer Pick Withers.

Their laid-back, blues-tinged rock was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, with hit albums including Communiqué, Love Over Gold and Making Movies - often considered their finest moment.

But they became superstars with 1985's multi million-selling Brothers in Arms, which spawned several hit singles including Walk Of Life and Money For Nothing, a satire on rock excess in the MTV era.

Knopfler juggled the band's career with session work for Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Scott Walker, and penned the title track of Tina Turner's hit album Private Dancer.

He also expanded his horizons with film soundtracks for Local Hero and Cal, both of which drew on his Celtic roots.

After Dire Straits disbanded in 1995, he moved onto a successful career as a solo artist, exploring his interests in folk, country and roots music on albums like 2004's Shangri-La, the 2006 Emmylou Harris duets album All the Roadrunning, and 2018's Down The Road Wherever.

He spoke to the BBC from a recording studio in Chiswick, west London, where he was working on his 10th solo album.

"I've had a bit of a writing jag and I've got quite a lot of songs, so I'm hoping that I can get an EP out as well as an LP," he said.

Once named the 27th best guitar player of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, he was self-deprecating about his abilities - suggesting he'd become lazy with the advancing years.

"As my hands deteriorate, I've found that I play more like a plumber all the time," he said.

"I tend now to play parts of chords, rather than fingering the whole damn thing. I use these shortcuts that would be a nightmare for a guitar teacher."

And he added that songwriting, rather than technique, was the biggest reason for his success.

"Being a guitarist is way down the list. It's not as important to me as trying to write a good song, and then trying to make a good record of it.

"You're just trying to get the emotion of the thing across. It's basically telling a story."

The star's guitar collection will go on display in New York and London before the sale on 31 January, 2024.

Proceeds will benefit organisations including the Red Cross, the wildlife conservationists Tusk and children's charity Brave Hearts of the North East; amongst others.

And Knopfler admitted that some of the money he retains could be re-invested in new guitars.

"There's every danger of that," he laughed. "I guess I'm not impervious to temptation. It's quite possible I can have my head turned.

"In other words, what have I learned? Not a lot."