Epiphone Emperor Swingster

February 8, 2012

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 finish.

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

BUILT Indonesia


KUDOS Terrific archtop sound. Quality construction and setup. Great price.

CONCERNS Stock wound-G set not for bending.

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