How to play Money for Nothing on guitar

Photo of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler
(Image credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Dire Straits’ iconic 1985 MTV-conquering anthem is the British rock outfit’s biggest single and one of guitarist Mark Knopfler’s defining riffs – all of which makes learning how to play Money for Nothing on guitar a rite of passage for aspiring rock players.

The song saw guitarist Mark Knopfler recording with a 1958 Les Paul instead of the Fender Stratocaster that had been so integral to his earlier work. Studio trickery and specialist recording techniques are a big part of the tone here – and Knopfler never fully recreated the sound in live shows, using at times the aforementioned Les Paul, his signature Pensa Suhr MK-1 and even a Steinberger GL2.

As long as you have a humbucker-equipped guitar, an overdrive pedal and EQ knobs on your amp you should get a ballpark tone. A wah pedal set to a fixed position may also help.

Famed as a fingerstylist, Knopfler’s technique in Money for Nothing relies heavily on the first and second fingers, with occasional use of the thumb. In fact, he often rests his third and fourth fingers against the guitar body for stability. It’s not exactly a ‘perfect’ technique, but copying Mark’s method might just get you closer to the feel of the recording.

  • Appears at: 1:36-2:04
  • Tempo: 134bpm
  • Key: G minor
  • Main techniques: Harmonics / fingerpicking

Get the tone

Mark Knopfler recorded Money For Nothing using his 1958 Gibson Les Paul with a Laney amp generating the basic tone. Dual-mic’ing, double-tracking and the goal of achieving a ZZ Top-like sound combined to create the unusual drive tone.

In early performances, Mark tried to recreate the sound with his Les Paul set to the bridge-position humbucker using his amps and little else for tone shaping. Later on, he started using the neck humbucker, adding a rackmount EQ/filter effect to alter the tone (best recreated with a wah pedal set to a fixed position).

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Chris Bird

Chris has been the Editor of Total Guitar magazine since 2020. Prior to that, he was at the helm of Total Guitar's world-class tab and tuition section for 12 years. He's a former guitar teacher with 35 years playing experience and he holds a degree in Philosophy & Popular Music. Chris has interviewed Brian May three times, Jimmy Page once, and Mark Knopfler zero times – something he desperately hopes to rectify as soon as possible.