Review: Epiphone Emperor Swingster
Epiphone first introduced the Emperor model in 1935 to compete with the Gibson Super 400 but this Swingster iteration is geared up for rockabilly rather than jazz and has its sights set squarely on Gretsch fans.
The Swingster’s Forest Green Metallic paint and gold hardware is a classic combination reminiscent of the Cadillac Green Gretsch Country Club, while the gold sparkle binding screams ‘Falcon’. Throw in the pickup covers and Chet Atkins-style Bigsby arm and the vibe is unmistakable, but the resemblance ends there because the body and headstock shapes, floral headstock inlay, block markers and pickguard motif are all classic Epiphone.
The Swingster is a true hollowbody guitar made from laminated maple, with a set mahogany neck and no centre-block or trestle bracing. Indian laurel is a perfectly acceptable fretboard substitute for rosewood, but this is the first time we’ve seen it with such attractive figuring. It’s shaped to a peak at the end, much like some of Gibson’s high-end archtops and acoustics, and has sparkle binding with multi-ply purfling to match the body. The neck also features a two-way truss rod.
Hardware includes a LockTone tune-o-matic bridge on a pinned wooden base and Grover Rotomatic tuners, while the familiar-looking control array features a potential ace up its sleeve in the form of series/parallel switching via push/pull tone pots.
It’s not entirely clear why Epiphone describes this neck profile as a ‘slim taper’, but we’re not complaining. It’s actually fairly deep and rounded, but very comfortable indeed. The wire Bigsby arm is curved for comfort too, and its angle and position are a revelation because it fits our picking hand perfectly. If you’ve only used flat Bigsby arms, you really should try an arm like this – just ensure that the two set screws securing it in place are nice and tight or you may find that it starts to rotate during use.
The Swingster’s unplugged performance is more than good enough for it to serve as a medium-volume acoustic archtop. The tone is full, balanced and punchy in the low mids, with mellow but clear treble and smooth sustain.
Plugged in, with the volume controls in their push positions the pickups default to parallel mode. It’s a clear, low-output tone that works well enough across all three settings but it lacks a little character and there’s noticeable treble loss when the volume controls are turned down.
Pulling up the tone controls switches the pickups into series mode, which offers a significant volume hike. The tone is fuller, more powerful and a bit more fun, but neither mode quite does justice to the Swingster’s unplugged potential. The best setting is in the middle with the bridge in series and the neck in parallel – but don’t expect the twang or throaty chime of a genuine set of Filter’Trons from these SwingBucker units.
We’ve been seriously impressed by the pickups in Epiphone’s Inspired By Gibson models and would happily trade the Swingster’s trick wiring for a pair of those. However, with the exception of the failing adhesive on the pickguard’s E logo, the standard of finishing and detailing on display here is a step above that range. This guitar looks and feels classy, the fretwork is outstanding and it’s a pickup upgrade away from being one of the best single-cutaway archtops available at this price point.
PRICE £699 (inc hard case)
DESCRIPTION Hollowbody archtop electric guitar, Made in Indonesia
BUILD Laminated maple body with set mahogany neck, laurel fretboard with 12” radius, gold sparkle binding with multi-ply purfling, 20 medium-jumbo frets, Graph Tech NuBone nut
HARDWARE LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge, licensed Bigsby tailpiece with ‘wire’ arm, Grover Rotomatic tuners
ELECTRONICS 2x SwingBucker humbucking pickups, 2x volume, 2x tone (push/pull for series/parallel), 3-way toggle pickup selector
SCALE LENGTH 24.7”/628mm
NECK WIDTH 43.2mm at nut, 55.1mm at 12th fret
NECK DEPTH 21.9mm at first fret, 23.7mm at 9th fret
STRING SPACING 35mm at nut, 52.1mm at bridge
LEFT HANDERS No
FINISH Forest Green Metallic (as reviewed) Black Aged Gloss and Delta Blue Metallic with nickel hardware
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