Weekend riff: Dire Straits - Sultans Of Swing

Classic fingerstyle guitar riff

This week we're looking at a guitar riff that occurs a few times in Dire Straits' 1978 debut track, 'Sultans Of Swing'.

The riff is a typical example of guitarist Mark Knopfler's 'thumb and two fingers' picking approach. If you are one of those electric guitarists who doesn't play much fingerstyle let us reassure you that Mark's approach has a couple of benefits: a) knowing that you are only going to use thumb and two fingers pretty much takes the guesswork out of choosing which fingers to pick with; and b) you also know that you're unlikely to need to fret more than three notes at a time. So Mark keeps what could have been a tricky riff as simple as possible.

Indeed, take a moment to watch our tutorial and you'll see this riff is formed of a run of three-note chords, followed by a couple of two-note chords, before finishing on a single-note run. The trick is to keep your thumb assigned to the fourth and fifth strings, while your index and middle fingers pick the third and second strings respectively.

Tone-wise, make sure to use a guitar equipped with single coil pickups. Use a clean amp channel, and add gain only if you need more presence and bite; you don't really want to hear any actual distortion in your sound. Compression and reverb will smooth out the inevitable spiky sound of single coils.

If we've whetted your appetite for Sultans Of Swing then why not check out a lesson that Total Guitar published in 2011 looking at Knopfler's challenging outro solo lick: www.bit.ly/tg218direstraits-sultans

Click here to download the 'Sultans Of Swing' preset for the Peavey Vypyr VIP-2

'Sultans Of Swing'
© 1978 Dire Straits

Tutor: Chris Bird
Videographer: Martin Holmes

Check back every Friday at 16:00 (UK time) for a new riff


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