Swing Classic X

Although it’s the number-one guitar maker in its Korean homeland, Swing is just starting to establish its line in the United States. Dave Hunter reviewed the company’s Telecaster-inspired BST in the April 2007 GP, and now we have another “Swing-er”—this one modeled after a legendary Gibson single-cutaway guitar.

The Swing Classic X ($695 retail/$525 street) is a lighter and slightly more svelte instrument than the rock icon it evokes, weighing in at 7.6 lbs, whereas our “house” Gibson Les Paul Standard hits the scales at 8.42 lbs. For some players, the Classic X’s weight loss and trimmer silhouette will translate to less fatigue during three-set bar gigs and long rehearsals. Nothing else about the Classic X is shaved down, however, as its finish and hardware exhibit very high quality. It’s not quite up to the near-pristine excellence of, say, high-end Hamer and PRS models, but, outwardly, the Classic X’s construction is closer to custom-shop levels than to the build quality of in-expensive Korean guitars of the past. (One of Swing’s corporate mandates is to eradicate the memory of Korea’s early, quality-compromised budget bangers.) The black finish is ding, dimple, and scratch free; the vintage-style yellowed binding is unblemished; the pearloid fret markers betray no filler; and all hardware is tight, tough, and glitch free (no cracks, tool marks, or badly drilled/cut mountings). The frets are well seated, although a tad rough at the ends, and as some budget makers have started using highly polished, “hot-dog end” frets, I think it’s fair to expect such details from more manufacturers. A very nice touch is that the Classic X offers slightly recessed Volume and Tone controls that are still easy to turn with your pinky for volume swells and quick tonal tweaks.

From a purely fingers-to-strings aspect, the Classic X is almost too fun to play. The slim neck, medium-low action, and light strings encourage fast note flurries. It’s also a blast to propel churning and funky chordal workouts with near wild abandon, or spew riffs up and down the fretboard. Almost everything you attempt is translated with minimal effort—this certainly isn’t a guitar you have to fight in order to let loose your technique (although I do enjoy playing guitars that make you work for every note, as well). The Classic X is a great choice if you’re a live player who is expected to put on a show and still play well. Its 7.6 lbs won’t impede your rock-star leaps in the slightest, and the welcoming neck builds confidence as you’re soloing while dancing on the stage monitors.

For the sound tests, I carted the Classic X to a band rehearsal (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass, drums, vocals) where I plugged it into an Orange Tiny Terror and a Mesa/Boogie 1x12 cabinet, as well as a studio session where it mated with a Marshall JCM 900 combo, a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto, a Vox AC15, and an M-Audio Black Box USB preamp. To see how the Classic X maintained its impact and clarity while routed through various effects, I employed a Rocktron Utopia G100 multi-effects floorpedal, a Lovepedal Eternity Overdrive and Vibe, and a Tech 21 Boost D.L.A. and Boost R.V.B.

In both environments, the Classic X distinguished itself as a versatile little number that can blast rock, blues, country-rock, and metal colors convincingly, and even fake a bit of jazz. The EMG-HZ humbuckers are pretty ballsy—effortlessly slamming an amp’s front end when a natural overdrive was desired—and the Tone knobs for each pickup offer a reasonable level of frequency tweakage. There isn’t a wide enough sweep to produce vocal-like wah effects by cranking the Tone control to-and-fro, but you can diminish the snap on the neck pickup to evoke smoky jazz lines, or calm the mids on the bridge pickup to switch from a metal yowl to a hollower, old-school-blues sting.

The tonal differences between choosing the bridge humbucker, the neck humbucker, or both pickups together are a little bit more aggressive than on some other dual-humbucker guitars. The bridge pickup is appropriately biting—though not in any way shrill—and the neck pickup packs a significant amount of low-end emphasis. Using both pickups produces a nice balance between chunky bass and high-mid punch, and, as the neck position is so bass-centric, the middle-pickup position is actually more suited to blues-rock soloing than the neck position alone. In fact, with some help from your amp and/or overdrive pedals, you can use the neck humbucker to craft all manner of detuned, alt-metal riffage. For a soundtrack session, I kept the Classic X clean, and employed the neck pickup’s blossoming low-end to create a marvelously ominous drone—effectively making it unnecessary to double the part with an electric or keyboard bass.

When playing with the Eva Jay Fortune Band, however, I tend to live on the bridge pickup and crank my overdrive timbres. As mentioned earlier, the Classic X’s treble bites quite nicely, and it cuts through the band mix at practically any volume level. It played very nicely with the Lovepedal Eternity Overdrive, delivering everything from a Stooges-inspired manic growl to a more refined but still ballsy Mick Ralphs (in his ’70s Bad Company days) tone, depending on the pedal’s Drive setting. The Classic X’s clean sounds are slightly less vibey than those produced by my trusty Les Paul Standard or a brand new PRS SE Paul Allender Model—there’s a little more midrange snap on those guitars that adds a bit of snotty attitude to picked arpeggios and single-note lines. Still, I enjoyed the clean tones—even if I found myself adding a bit more snap and shimmer on the amp side of the signal chain. Overall, I was not disappointed in any sound the Classic X delivered, and I found that the guitar worked for just about every application I asked it to, with the admittedly unfair exceptions being big-box jazz and rockabilly timbres where a hollowbody or semi-hollowbody are essential tonal components.

If Swing is all hopped up about promoting the excellence of current Korean guitar craftsmanship, the company can relax. [Editor’s Note: Torin O. Torgersen and his Music Consulting Group are handling all Swing affairs in the U.S. as the firm establishes American distribution. Torgersen will personally answer all user questions—his e-mail is listed in the Spec chart—and work closely with the Korean factory.] Like the BST, the Classic X is definitely a professional-quality instrument that can hang with the big boys. Granted, inexpensive off-shore guitars have definitely come of age—the quality of many of the 35 budget guitars tested in our May 2007 solidbody roundup was rather astounding—and Swing enters a field where, more and more, buyer apprehension is a non-issue. Where Swing shows it smarts with the Classic X is that it designed a good-sounding gigging guitar with enough individuality to offer potential buyers a viable choice amongst budget, solidbody single cutaways. This guitar is light enough to accommodate stage antics, versatile enough to negotiate several stylistic genres (cover-band guitarists take note), and well-built enough to withstand van tours and clumsy “helpers.” All-in-all, it’s a pretty darn brilliant guitar that any country should be happy to claim as its own.