Prior to setting up under his own name in 2013, Chris Swope worked for Sadowsky, the Gibson Custom Shop, and as Guitar Advisor for Private Reserve Guitars (PRG), all of which gave him an intimate knowledge of the workings of high-end electric guitars. Given that foundation, his designs are deceptively simple—workmanlike even—but a quick examination reveals quality workmanship and attention to detail at every turn. The GTO comes off as a major twist on the classic Telecaster, with stylistic nods to Mosrite and some other B-list ’60s hipsters. The solid alder body is carved with ribcage and forearm contours and a gentle edge radius all around to enhance comfort. Thinly finished in light metallic- blue nitrocellulose lacquer with no plasticizers, it has Swope’s “knock around” treatment with natural checking that lends a look that’s both cleanly vintage and artistically modern. Swope opts for flat sawn (aka rift-sawn) maple necks with quarter sawn rosewood fingerboards, believing that the push for quarter sawn necks is “by and large, price-point bunk.” This one has an open-C profile that feels even thinner than its .830" depth at the first fret implies, while remaining comfortable all the way up. A vintage style bent-rod trussrod with easy adjustment access at the body end and staggered Gotoh Klusonstyle tuners complete the build.
A big part of the buzz regarding Swope’s Geronimo model (a previous GP Editors’ Pick Award winner) revolved around his in-house pickups, and the GTO carries another set made to a proprietary design. These fat single-coils are purportedly inspired by an old lap-steel pickup, tweaked for a full midrange with optimum clarity. They are wired through master Volume and Tone controls with a 3-way selector and a pullup switch on the Tone pot to throw both pickups together in series for a thick humbucker tone. Tested through a Tone King Imperial MK II combo and a custom-made JTM45/Plexi-inspired head and 2x12 cab, the GTO exhibited loads of character and a full-throttle liveliness at all settings. Swope’s goal of thick-yet-clear sound is admirably attained in this guitar, and its gutsy Telemeets- Jazzmaster attitude gave it outstanding versatility, yet throughout the testing this guitar continually declared its unique personality.
The GTO was equally at home with clean country picking through the Tone King and cranked-up classic rock via the Marshall-style head, retained great note definition with any of several overdrive pedals kicked in, and drove speedy riffs home with authority without ever mushing out or losing its low-end solidity. The series-’ bucker setting warmed out the overall tone and added considerable beef, yet still without a hint of mud. Playability was superb from all angles, and, although I’m more partial to late-’50s neck profiles than those with early-’60s inspirations, I found myself enjoying this one immensely, and bonding with it easily. Bottom line, the Swope GTO is a groovy creation all-round and it earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
NUT WIDTH 1.656"
NECK Maple, C profile
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale
FRETS 22 medium-high
TUNERS Gotoh vintage-style staggered height
BRIDGE ABM 3256 hardtail bridge with through-body stringing
PICKUPS Two custom Swope GTO single-coils
CONTROLS Master Volume and Tone, 3-way switch, pull up Tone knob for both pickups in series-humbucking
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.2 lbs
KUDOS Great build quality in a stylishly rugged original design. Thick yet articulate tones courtesy of excellent in-house pickups.
CONCERNS Pickup switch positioning might take getting used to.