My first guitar - lead me!!!


Junior Member
Hi Everyone--

I'm about to start ordering pieces for my first guitar and I need advice - on some things more than others.
I'm aiming to build a guitar that will effectively combine the best parts of a strat and a les paul. I'm listening to an awful lot of Mark Knopfler recently, and I want to be able to span sounds from "Sultans of Swing" to "Speedway at Nazareth" to "Are We In Trouble Now" to... to... to... you guys get the point.

Obviously I can't recreate his sound with just equipment. I control most of that through my own playing, but this guitar will be my only electric for a while (having to trade in my other instruments to build it) and I want to get off to a good start and make smart decisions.

I'm going towards a strat body, hollow, with a laminate top.
Mahogony with a flame/quilted maple top.

Maple or Mahogony or...?
Start or Gibson scale neck?
Definitely going for the warhead headstock!!!
Ebony or Rosewood?
What do people think about EMGs? SA/SA/85? If you like them, does the battery go in the control cavity?
If you don't like EMGs, can you suggest a good combo of single coil and humbucker for a nice clean/thick driven sound?
Tune-o-Matic fixed with stop tail piece?
Floyd Rose fixed bridge and locking nut? Are there drawbacks to this particular choice? Specific benefits?

Obviously, I'm looking heavily at the Pensa MK-1 but can't afford it, so I'm trying to do my best to create a similar guitar.
Like I mentioned, my knowledge can't match the individual (and of course not the collected) knowledge on this website, so I'd appreciate any advice people can offer.

Google "Knopfler Strat" and you'll find some stuff
I've had the David Gilmore EMG prewired pickguard  in one of my guitars for a while now, I've always thought it had a great clean, crisp and or warm tone, hard to explain.  But recently I have been actually learning and playing some of David Gilmores solos, using a delay pedal and an MXR 90,  I have discovered a totally new sound I didn't even know I had. The guitar really sings like David, and am shocked at how close to his sound I can get. I haven't touched My EVH guitars in a week now....

I'm not sure what EMG's they actually used to put this pickguard together, But I do think EMG's are gonna be a narrow use pickup, maybe I'm wrong, I think EMG's are not as versitile as some other pickups, but what they do do, they do well.

If none of this makes sense I'll try again
Maple or Mahogony or...?
  I think the answer to this, will decide the answer to this
Ebony or Rosewood?
and this one
Tune-o-Matic fixed with stop tail piece
   Well, I'm a hardtail guy through and through, but that doesn't mean you are, so decide hardtail or trem, and if it's hardtail, the Tune-o-Matic is a good choice.  As for pickups, keep in min that ole Marky boy spent a good bit of time in the "tween" spaces on the strat's selector, so if you are serious about copping his sound, single coils and a five way switch should be essential.  The only other thing I want to say here since you said "lead me" is that you should absolutely not skip the stainless steel frets, I am giddy over the playability that these afford!  Look around the Warmoth site some more, they have an uncanny way of describing the indescribable, and good luck!
I don't know, I'm not sure you can 'combine the best parts of a strat and a les paul'.  Part of what defines each one is how different they are from each other. Combining their best features is supposed to be what Paul Reed Smith did, but to me PRS are a different animal entirely (and a really great one at that). Example: whammy vs. hard/stoptail; whammy obviously gives you another tool, but the stoptail gives you more sustain and tone with the more direct connection to the guitar body.  I'm not sure you can 'combine' these features.  My advice; pick either a strat or LP, make it the best strat  OR LP that you can, then see if you can incorporate features of the other without too many compromises on your basic sound. For instance, you may stick a single coil pickup in middle position on a Les Paul, which wouldn't really affect the basic LP sound but would give you another option. Or if you don't like the bridge position strat pup sound, which many don't, stick some kind of PAF in there, even a Burstbucker. Also, go to your local guitar center and spend the afternoon just playing the highest-dollar guitars they've got, and take notes on what you like best. Figure out what fingerboard feels best for you, whether you need a whammy or not (if you'll never use it, definitely don't get one). Definitely investigate different neck shapes & thicknesses and fret sizes, as this is key and very personal. Etc. etc.etc.
Lots of your list of choice are just personal decisions.  No-one on this board is qualified to tell you if rosewood is better than ebony (except CB!); its just a preference, which is why there is the variety that there is.
From what I know though, I don't think you could get too much farther from Dire Straits than EMGs in a mahogany body with a stop tail. I could be wrong, but...
Classic Knopfler sound for me means:

Strat body, mostly Ash but Alder will do. No top, no hollow.
25.5 scale, maple fretboard but rosewood will do. Vintage modern neck.
Passive single coils. My favorites are Kinman & Van Zandt. Choose from Kinmans Traditional Mk-II, Hank Marvin set or Van Zandts True Vintage set. Or anything that aims to 50's Fender sound, no pushed or hot pickups.
Hardtail or vintage tremolo.
Bone nut.

Obviously I'm suggesting you to build an excellent stratocaster and be the closest you can to the early Knopfler sound. It's best to build one amazing* guitar with one sound than a good guitar with two sounds. In the future, a mahogany/korina based guitar with humbucker(s) will be able to give you the "other" sound you 're looking for.

*Warmoth parts with the right construction/setup will make an amazing guitar, be sure about this. Woods are the foundation for a great instrument and Wamrotn sells excellent woods.

Good luck with your project.
Reading comprehension, dudez... The lad said he was LISTENING to Knopfler, but really wanted a Pensa MK-1; Pensa MK-1 easy enough to recreate with Warmoth parts for a LOT less than 9 grand....

Body wise, the MK-1 look like a carved top "almost" Strat body, you could go a non-carved top Strat body or a VIP or a Soloist carved top; quilt maple carve tops are in the "Call for price" category, so figure a little over $400 for the body on those, here's a Strat body in the Showcase with a similar finish, except that  the back is bursted rather than solid cherry on the back:

Whichever body you go with, order the burst like that, quilt on mahogany with TOM/STP bridge routing, white binding, SA-SA-85 pickup routing, battery box route, V-X-T with 5 way switch for control routing. That will run you $600-750 or so finished depending on the body style, with my making a wild ass guess on the CALL FOR PRICE on a carved quilt top; will definitely run a bit more if you want AAA quilt.

Neck per MK-1s would be rosewood on maple, here's a nice flame one with sweet rosewood & MOP dots, SRV contour:

Add vintage tint gloss, your favorite frets and a corian nut, $407.

The rest of the hardware/parts are going to run $150-200 depending on what color hardware you use, chrome/black/gold.

The EMG SA SA 85 set was $230 at the first place I pulled them up on the internet.

So add that all up and you're looking at about $1400 - 1600, your "dream" guitar for about what Guitar Center would charge you for a middling Artist series Strat...
I kinda like the Soloist top, but I don't think Warmoth hollows those bad boys out. I will take a close look at VIP v Strat Bodies. Thanks for the hint.

What's the real difference, if there is one beyond preferences, between the maple neck w/rosewood fingerboard and maple neck w/ebony fingerboard?

Should I be scared off of EMG pickups? The reading I've done has people pretty much split between hating and loving them... not much in between.

I'm leaning towards the tune-o-matic w stop piece... was curious to know what people thought of the floyd rose fixed bridge with locking nut, just because I want the education.

Words of wisdom on scale lengths?

I guess I'm really not looking to make a vintage looking or sounding instrument. Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree, and I'm eager to hear more pro and con arguments. At the end, I can only go by what I like sonically (as mentioned above) and what appeals to me visually (the pensas are just gorgeous, i think).

I know it seems silly to try and combine the best facets of strats and les pauls, but i wonder if it's even worth aiming for. I know it's not very purist of me.
If you like the Pensa's/Fenders/PRS's, go with the 25.5 scale length, it will feel most familiar - technically PRS uses a 25" scale length, but I never could feel any difference from a Fender to speak of...

As to the EMGs, I've never got around to using any; do you want them just because they're on your "dream guitar", or have you played them previously? If you've never played a set through a similar amp set up as you intend to, I'd highly suggest that you try a set out first. The issue is that the SC routing for the EMGs is unique, and although there are limitless possibilities for a S-S-H route, NOTHING will fit in an EMG SC route except for the EMGs and Lace single coils, so if it turns out you don't like them it may cost you a bit to get those re-routed for something else.

As to ebony vs. rosewood fretboard on a maple neck, not a lot of difference tonally if you ask me; ebony makes for a little "slicker" feel, but other than that it's aesthetics, could go either way with a finish like the one you picture...
Thanks for the input re scale length and finerboards. I tend to like the darker look in the ebony, and i think the slicker feel will work well, but i'm going to go play an ebony neck if i can find one.
i'll also follow your advice re playing the pickups through a similar amp to mine just to make sure i hear what i'm gonna get.
what's another good combo of pickups for a s-s-h setup?
most of my initial preferences on this project are based on trying to create my "dream guitar" as i think it exists... i admit. though i also admit i have too little intelligence on the subject to make informed decisions, which is why i so value this forum.
i'm gonna need to start this project soon so i'm eager to start getting some details nailed down in my head and that means more research.
the Tune-o-matic bridge is a good choice for me i think... with the tail piece. i know it's a standard gibson look, but i think will sound good and make the finished product look a little custom...right?
MKFAN said:
I'm leaning towards the tune-o-matic w stop piece... was curious to know what people thought of the floyd rose fixed bridge with locking nut, just because I want the education.
Floyd Rose: Nice to that "uéééééoooons"? Yes!
But a F%&$#@G PAIN IN THE ASS to regulate... and you must have a reserve guitar, to the case of one string brake in the middle of a concert, trust me, it's a long thing to do...

I usually think that Strats/Teles with T-O-M bridge looks a little weird, but if you like it, do it...
Hummm I forgot:
I like Strats with Tune-o-matic with string-thru bridges, but T-o-M + Stoptail isn't very sexy to me...
If you're trying to get close to that pic:
1.  I would go with the 7CT body with maple top and mahogany back.  Add cream binding and the appropriate finish and it would look close to that pic.
2.  I would go with a Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard for a warmer tone and maple neck to approximate the Pensa.
3.  Pensas come in a variety of pickup combinations.  I've seen MK with S-S-S configuration and S-S-H. I think the MK fender had Texas Specials.  Any good strat pickups should work I would think.  I like the Fralin Vintage Hots but some people think they're overpriced so YMMV.
4.  I can't recall MK using a floyd rose.

Are you trying to say VIP? the 7CT is like the 7 stringed VIP...

I think a Strat or Carved Top Soloist would looks like closer than VIP... (sad that they don't do C.T. Strats)
MKFAN said:
... most of my initial preferences on this project are based on trying to create my "dream guitar" as i think it exists... i admit. though i also admit i have too little intelligence on the subject to make informed decisions, which is why i so value this forum...
Your dream guitar maybe is different in looks, feeling and sound. Don't just play the EMG's in a similar amp. Play the EMG's in many different guitars with many different amps. Take notes, how the pickups sound with this body wood... that neck wood... through clean/dirty/bright/muddy amps... with drive/effects etc. If you don't know how to make your dream guitar wait until you are completely sure. Take notes on neck shapes and see what feels good in your hands. You may end up making a guitar like Pensa in looks but the choice of woods and pickups you 'll make won't give you the sound you're looking for.

As far as I know the Pensa Suhr guitars were made from Warmoth parts. Maybe Warmoth can make you a similar guitar in looks with the same body and neck/headstock shapes. This would be custom order though and it will be pricier.

Do not go into VIP territory, bodies have their own sound and the strat sound is unique. Strat/Soloist is what I would choose.

Fender scale is important if you want to be close to a Knopfler clean sound.

There are choices of Indian/Brazilian Rosewood, Kingwood, Ebony, Pau Ferro & Ziricote if you want a dark look in your fretboard. Read the neck woods section.

Read this for tune-o-matic bridges.
Right now I have a cheappy strat and an epiphone dot... i've really enjoyed the sound from the dot, and have noticed that when I just sit around and play, i prefer that warmer tone, that's why I'm leaning towards the classic mahogony body w/maple laminate top.
It seems that the standard scale length is a better bet than the conversion neck, so that's all but settled.
I like the look of the recessed tune-o-matic a lot. I thin it's slick. Does anyone think it's a little too stylish? No classic enough? What are some other choices for fixed bridges?
I think that ultimately I can't go wrong with a maple neck and either a rosewood or ebony fingerboard. I'll have to play both and decide.
As for pickups, I'll have to play some EMGs just for my own edification, but it'll be great to know what other classic S-S-H combos are out there.
Anyone got suggestions for a combo that'll give me a nice warm tone for the H, and a nice clean (pristine) tone from the single coils?
You guys are great... I'm learning a ton-and-a-half here and I can't wait to get started!
I like the recessed tune o matic, I think it would go great with what you're trying to do.

Just keep in mind that ebony boards will sound brighter than rosewood; but since the body is mahogany maybe you want that extra brightness.  I'd try to find some mahogany-bodied guitars and see if you like their tone with the different fingerboards.
The recessed TOM can't be done on a carved top? So, if i like that option, I'd have to go with a Strat body or a flat top soloist.
The soloist isn't available hollowed, which i like for reasons of weight and resonance.
I'm definitely going to find some mahogany guitars with different fingerboards just to hear the differences.
I'm also leaning more and more away from trying to "copy" the pensa and more towards creating a guitar I love that borrows certain aesthetic qualities from the pensa, if that makes sense.
I'm beginning to fear that trying to "copy" any guitar will lead me to disappointment, but being inspired by a certain instrument can make for some interesting choices.
Are there drawbacks to the recessed TOM?
Still trying to flesh out pickup options, too.
The warhead peghead isn't angled, right? Does the angled headstock matter that much?