When I think of Mark Knopfler, with or without Dire Straits, I think of a player with incredible taste and decision making. I have never heard him play a bad note. Because he doesn’t use a pick, Knopfler gets everything bit of quality out of every note, completely eschewing speed and focusing on great hammer-ons, and heavenly bends.
It is worth noting that he has sold over 120 million records, something that gets neglected in discussions about him. Sometimes we don’t realize how popular certain guitarists are because we neglect the worldwide market, but this list is going to acknowledge that sort of thing, and most of the world has figured out that this man is a living legend.
What Knopfler understands, (and what most ‘great’ guitarists miss) is that all the theory and the scales and the techniques are there to help us create music, and that music has to affect people. Just the act of practice itself means that guitarists, especially lead guitarists, end up showcasing their technical skill. The better you get, the more acclaim you get from other musicians, and so you keep going further.
But for the most part, you’re not playing for other musicians. Its a small crowd, and there’s generally not much money in it. You play for people, and even though you cleverly worked in an exotic Indian scale into your solo, unless you made it interesting, no one knows what you did or cares. Knopfler gets it.
At his best, he plays on rollicking mid-tempo jams, and when he plays slowly, he able to make each song sound important. I think his biggest hits, sadly, have been his most atypical songs (Money for Nothing anyone?) but my opinion and a dime add up to ten cents. In the end listen to the man. His playing does more convincing than I ever will.