Any guitarist aspiring to be a versatile
player will find that a good, fully hollow, archtop
guitar is an essential part of their arsenal. The high
cost of such an instrument has traditionally prevented
all but the most committed from owning one,
but thanks to models like the Epiphone Emperor
Swingster on review here, it’s now possible to get
into a quality archtop for a surprisingly modest sum.
You certainly don’t lose anything in the looks
department either, as the Swingster sports the vintage
headstock shape, mother-of-pearl “vine” inlay,
and multi-layered headstock, body, and fretboard binding that have been classing up Epiphones
ever since Epi Stathopoulos started
making guitars in the early 20th Century.
All are executed excellently here, and the
flame maple laminate on the body is gorgeous,
enhanced by a flawless Polyurethane
I found the C-shaped neck extremely
comfortable, and the low action allowed
swing-style licks to leap from under my
fingers. The medium jumbo frets made
bending even the factory installed wound
G possible, though a switch to a lighter
set with a plain G will be necessary if you
plan to rock out.
Playing the Swingster acoustically served
up a traditional archtop sound suitable
for miking, and plugging into my Orange
Tiny Terror and Egnater Rebel 30 heads
revealed the wide range of great sounds
available from the SwingBucker pickups.
Rather than split the coils with the push/
pull Tone pots, Epiphone has chosen to
offer a parallel option to the normal series
humbucker wiring. In parallel mode the
pickups sounded very Gretsch-like—not
unlike a Filter ’Tron-equipped 6120—with plenty of twang and bite, while retaining
their hum-canceling properties. In series
mode, the neck pickup delivered primo
jazz tones through the Egnater’s clean
channel, while the bridge pickup easily
drove the Orange into the crunch zone.
|Handsomely trimmed in multi-layer binding, the Swingster features a "wire arm" Bibsby vibrato, which functions smoothly thanks in part to the roller saddles on the Tune-o Matic bridge.|
I have found that Bigsby vibratos work
more smoothly and stay in better tune
on instruments where the body angle
eliminates the need for a string bar. The
Swingster thankfully opts for this design
and, combined with the better leverage
of the Chet Atkins-approved “wire” arm,
the vibrato was a pleasure to use. The
system also benefits from the roller saddles
used on the Tune-o-Matic, and the
fact that bridge’s base is pinned to the top.
Epiphone has gone well beyond being
a go-to company for players who seek a
Gibson sound but lack the cash for the
real thing. This company has managed
to develop instruments valued in their
own right for their stellar construction,
out-of-the-case playability, and bang for
the buck. The Emperor Swingster sits
firmly in this new Epiphone tradition,
which earns it an Editors’ Pick Award.
CONTACT Epiphone Guitars, (800) 4-GIBSON; epiphone.com
Epiphone Emperor Swingster
PRICE $1,165 retail/$699 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Set neck, bound maple
FRETBOARD Bound rosewood, 24 3/4" scale
BODY Spruce top, laminated flame maple back and sides.
PICKUPS Series/parallel wired Swing-Buckers.
CONTROLS Two V olume, two push-pull Tone, 3-way pickup selector
BRIDGE Tune-o-Matic w/Bigsby tailpiece and wire arm
TUNERS Grover Rotomatic 16:1
WEIGHT 7 lbs
FACTORY STRINGS .011-.052
KUDOS Terrific archtop sound. Quality construction and setup. Great price.
CONCERNS Stock wound-G set not for bending.