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Tone King / Imperial MKI / 1990 / Red/White / Amp

The King of Clean – Mark Knopfler’s Tone King Imperial amp – Hand-built vintage technology and sound 90’s Tone King Imperial hand wired by Mark Bartel, with foot control for reverb and vibro, an early model with a pine cabinet. Original speaker, all original, The ideal small gigging amp. Two foot-switchable preamp channels (Rhythm=idealized BFDR, Lead=Tweed Deluxe to Marshall), reverb, and foot-switchable. In excellent + condition. Original European 220 Volts. This amp is the real first editions..not the reissue Code Am25

Output Power: 20W Speakers: 1x12" Output Tubes: 2 x 6V6 Preamp Tubes: 4x12AX7, 1x12AT7 Rectifier Tube: 5AR4 Preamp Channels: 2 (Rhythm, Lead) Rhythm Channel Controls: Volume, Treble, Bass Lead Channel Controls: Volume, Tone, Mid-Bite Reverb: Tube driven, full-size 2-spring pan Tremolo: Bias modulation type Footswitch: Included; controls both channnel switching and tremolo Cabinet: Dovetail jointed birch with solid pine baffle board Weight: 35 Pounds Dimensions: 22"(w) x 10"(d) x 19"(t)

Tone King amps are built from selected quality parts by Mark Bartel in Baltimore. Mark does all the woodworking, upholstery, and electronics assembly himself to have total control about the sound and quality of his products.
The Imperial is a two-channel combo with reverb and tremolo. The output power is about 20 watts, coming from two 6V6 tubes. The two channel make use of 12AX7 pre-amp tube, and one 12AT7 driving the reverb, just like Fender amps from the sixties or seventies. In fact it reminds me a lot of a black-face Fender Deluxe amp, which also has a similar layout and one 12″ speaker. In fact you can read on the Tone King website that the rhythm channel aims for that Fender black-face sound. A volume, treble and bass control is all that is required here. Of course the spring reverb – a fundamental ingredient of the Fender sound – works for both channels (note that on Fender amps it only affects the second channel). It will not surprise you that the reverb circuit uses the same two-spring reverb tank (acutronics) and the same tubes like Fender.
The second channel also features just three controls: volume, tone and mid-bite – so no bass and treble control here, just on a small Fender tweed amp from the 50ies. The mid-bite adds a midrange peak and tightens the low end, controling the overdrive tone character that can be blended from Fender tweed to Marshall style.
The speaker is custom designed and labelled with ‘Tone King 33’ – manufactured by Eminence (who also built the speakers in most silver-face Fender amps in the 70ies and 80ies).
The recommended retail price for the Tone King Imperial is 1995 USD. More infos on
On the last (2008) tour Mark Knopfler played his red Schecter Telecaster on the song Cannibals through the Tone King Imperial, his ’54 Stratocaster on the song Our Shangri-La, and his signature MK Strat on Postcards from Paraguay and True love will never fade. I guess it is the ‘king of clean’ for him and that he hardly ever uses the second channel. Another song to feature this fine amp is Hard Shoulder from Get Lucky (played on a Gretch 6120).
The Tone King Imperial on the 2008 tour. The red Marshall cabinets were driven by two Reinhard amps.
Technician Colin Barton working on Mark Knopfler's Tone King Imperial. Pictures courtesy Guy Fletcher.
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25 thoughts on “The King of Clean – Mark Knopfler’s Tone King Imperial amp – Hand-built vintage technology and sound”
I have the Tone King Imperial in red color for 2 years now and I can confirm that this is a great amp. The sound is really Fenderish on rhythm channel and more tweedy on the lead one. The lead one is much more loud than the rhythm channel and with the mid bite control to zero changing from rhythm to lead is an interesting way to boost the sound with minimal change on the sound. The channel switching works fantastic, smothly, with no noise at all. The tremolo is bias modulated so it is the smoother tremolo I have heard and the switching is also completely transparent. However you has to plug the two-button footswitch (channel and tremolo) to stop the tremolo as it is working always by default if the footswitch is not connected.
Another interesting feature is the weight of the amp. With only 30lbs and 20 Watts this is the perfect amp to move around without hurting your back. For readers reference, the Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue is 42 lbs. However the finish is like a soft tolex very easy to tear, so it requires some care to avoid damaging it.


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