As the name might suggest, the Swan is a beautiful, graceful guitar with flowing lines and gentle curves. The quilted mahogany top is rich and inviting, and it goes perfectly with the gold hardware. Speaking of the hardware, the open-gear tuning machines look great and work smoothly. Another nice touch is the use of sea snail shell for the fretboard position markers. Each marker is ringed with a thin strip of brass, which looks snazzy and adds to the Swan’s subtle elegance. The tortoise celluloid binding (with black and white purfling) is also cool. The only cosmetic detail I don’t particularly dig is the addition of ebony pickup rings. It’s a neat idea, but why not go with cocobolo like the fretboard?
Hitting one chord acoustically on the Swan tells you that there is definitely something to this extended-scale thing. There’s a resonance and an authority that is different and powerful. The semi-hollow design is undoubtedly contributing something to the acoustic volume, but this is more of a feel thing than a sound thing. It’s fun to riff on the Swan without plugging in, and the thin neck (front to back) and flat radius make certain techniques—such as Holdsworth-esque three-note-per-string runs—easy to pull off. The longer neck does increase the string tension, however, and I found myself wishing for a fatter neck and a slightly more rounded radius to support my occasionally tendonitis-prone fretting hand.
I plugged the Swan into a Marshall 401 combo to get a feel for its amplified sounds. The DiMarzio Air Zone bridge pickup sounded punchy, but it was a tad polite when using the amp’s clean channel. Switching to the PAF Classic in the neck produced noticeably more volume. Although the tone was round, warm, and clear, the level discrepancy freaked me out, so I lowered the neck pickup and raised the bridge pickup slightly. This gave the Swan a stellar neck-pickup tone and more snarl and bite from the bridge position. Splitting the pickups—alone or in tandem—lets the Swan cluck to her heart’s content. What I really wanted, however, was low end, and the longer scale length gives it. The lows on this guitar are fat and clear, and it’s a sound I couldn’t emulate by simply EQing a standard-length humbucker guitar to produce a darker tone.
Soloway designed the Swan for traditional jazz tones, as well as rock and blues. Through a clean Fender Twin, I tried a vamp with a walking bass line, and, sure enough, it worked beautifully. There was great separation and definition between the two parts. The same tune on a Les Paul still sounded good, just different. In painting terms, the Les Paul was more like dreamy impressionism, whereas the Swan came off like photorealism—two different tastes, but both artistic.
I cranked up the distortion channel of the Marshall and let the Swan be a dirty bird. The tones were big and, as always, very articulate. Dumping the low-E string down to D really brought out the resonance of this guitar. It’s not exactly that you get more low end, you just get better low end. Soloway designed the Swan for standard tuning, but it really seems to love this register. Players who tune down a half-step or—better still, a full-step—will definitely reap the benefits of the Swan’s long neck. DADGAD fingerstylists might just dig it the most, as they would be hard-pressed to wring so much punchy bass and clarity out of a conventional guitar.
On the company Web site, Soloway advertises “long necks and big bottoms” [insert Spinal Tap joke here]. They definitely deliver on that score. Of course, this is a different approach, and, just like someone used to stereo might not dig a 5.1 mix, some players may be uncomfortable with the separation the Swan provides. However, those players who require a very distinct string-to-string balance to pull off complex, full-range music are going to love the Swan. Guitarists looking for a new sound and feel, with a cool look to boot, will definitely find it here.