Emperor Swingster Hollowbody review by Epiphone

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  • Sound: 9
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 7
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 9
  • Features: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 8.8 Superb
  • Users' score: 7.4 (45 votes)
Epiphone: Emperor Swingster Hollowbody
6

Price paid: $ 699

Sound — 9
It was apparent to me when I first saw this guitar that Epiphone was directly combating the Gretsch 5120 Electromatic. Rather it was the other way around at first, I thought to myself, is Gretsch putting out a limited edition 5120?' Definitely not, this is Epiphone's answer to the market they have not been able to overtake. Epiphone over the years has earned not the greatest reputation in terms of what guitars they are putting out, the quality of them, and most importantly for us guitar players, a pretty lousy sound. I have always been skeptical myself, I owned an Epiphone Les Paul many years ago and once I was able to actually hear the differences in tone I had since not touched another. Well this one comes in and my friend Tyler at a Best Buy Music location tells me that I have to play this. I told him I already have my Gretsch 5120 that I am more than happy with, but I'll give it a whirl. I plugged into a Fender Blues Jr. and instantaneously knew that this was not the Epiphone of yesteryear. This was something new; this was the new direction of Epiphone. I could tell the guitar was crafted well but I was interested in the pickups as every Epiphone pickup I have ever played has made the amp sound as if it was under a foot of mud. Not this one! The SwingBuckers really sounded great, they were extremely clear, very bright, and had a rich and warm tone. Using the series parallel option was great and opened up a whole new plethora of tones. I preferred when it was in the humbucker position. It is not a high output humbucker whatsoever but it is extremely warm and coming through the Blues Jr. produced a very warm, rockabilly/bluesy tone. The nicest thing about it is that the tone was easy to achieve. I did not have to use my dial spinning wizardry on the amp to conjure this tone, merely everything at 5 across the board. The guitar responded well to both using a pick and finger picking. I never once was playing and thought that the notes were not ringing out. Overall I give the sound a 9 on this. I was very impressed with how the pickups reacted to the body of the guitar and especially how unlike the old Epiphone's, the tone and volume controls actually did something when you turned them.

Overall Impression — 10
My overall impression is a 10 and I will tell you why. I was shocked it was an Epiphone. This made me a believer again in a guitar brand with an amazing history. A company that once produced amazing hollowbody's and some of the most sought after guitars is back. The craftsmanship and tone of this guitar is something that really stood out to me. How well it was done and how good it sounded. I was shocked, that's why I am so impressed. If you are in the market for a Hollowbody guitar I would strongly encourage you to pick up this guitar and give it an equal comparison to the Gretsch. I know in my heart that Epiphone was targeting the market that Gretsch has and even more so that the Orange color is nearly identical. The fact that I am considering selling the Gretsch and gunning for this Epiphone should give you a clue which side of the fence I stand on.

Reliability & Durability — 7
Reliability and durability is generally an area where most haters of Epiphone say is just the worst. I have never had that experience with them and I cannot comment and how or if they were bad. From my feelings I really believe this guitar will be extremely reliable. If you take time to look at this guitar, from the binding to the special carving on where the neck meets the body, to the accuracy of the set neck, and to the setup and playability you will be thoroughly amazed at how this guitar is put together. As Epiphone as a company is turning the page and moving into the new direction of who they are I can see only strides in the right direction in everything that they do. Time will tell with the new Epiphone's. Until they prove themselves they earn a 7.

Action, Fit & Finish — 9
Breathtakingly beautiful. The binding, the headstock, the carving on the bottom of the fretboard all work towards making this a visually stimulating guitar. I am thoroughly impressed with how well they put this together. Unlike some Epiphone Custom Les Paul's I have seen with the binding mysteriously vanishing into the neck or other poor craftsmanship, the assemblers at Epiphone took their time and better yet had a good quality control team to ensure accuracy. The action on this guitar was stupid good. Best out of the box setup I have ever played. I was truly amazed by it. Everyone has a different action they prefer but I would say the overwhelming majority of guitar players would say this was just right! It is one of those things when you pick up a guitar in a store and everything about it just feels and looks right, this was it.

Features — 9
This guitar has the Bigsby wire arm tremolo which gives this thing serious playability, Epiphone SwingBucker pickups which are the best sounding Epiphone pickups I have ever heard, beautiful binding all throughout the guitar, and three fantastic finishes. Style: Single-cutaway archtop Body: Laminated maple/birch Top: Select spruce Neck: Set 3-piece hard maple Scale length: 24-3/4" Neck profile: Slim-tapered Fingerboard: Rosewood Fingerboard radius: 14" No. of frets: 20 Fingerboard inlays: Thumbnail Inlays Nut width: 1-11/16" Neck pickup: SwingBucker Bridge Pickup: SwingBucker Controls: 1-Neck Volume, 1-Neck Tone (push/pull series/parallel), 1-Bridge Volume, 1-Bridge Tone (push/pull series/parallel), 3-way toggle pickup selector Hardware: Chrome Tuners: Grover Imperial Style Bridge: Floating rosewood bridge (Pinned) Tailpiece: Bigsby vibrato with wire arm Finish: Polyurethane

44 comments sorted by best / new / date

    rocknroll93
    now im going to hope and see if the local music store gets them in. sounds like it would be right up my alley.
    Slap-happy
    joshuanorris wrote: problem is, in Australia, the Gretsch 5120 is around the $1,300 mark, even though our dollar is now the same as the U.S. dollar, so i guess that we will get ripped off by our retailers here, which will just force us Aussies to by these from the states off the internet and not have to pay any ridicules taxes or mark-ups.
    Unless the retailers get their way with this GST on online purchases. I'll happily hunt one of these down when they are on sale over here. I fuly expect the price to be disproportionately high, though.
    jesse1994
    Epiphone used to be in grinding competition with Gibson, until gibson bought them out to make more cheaper guitars.
    guitarguy_tom
    this sounds like a nice guitar...im using a epi les paul 56 gold top...and that thing rocks, makes a few gibson's look not as great. i havent had any epi problems yet..
    ranbat
    I tried one out recently and they are amazing guitars in any price point. Probably one of the few Epis I would buy nowdays and I've owned a few.
    joshuanorris
    For the price $699, you could easily throw on a Bigsby B7 series, two TV-Jones Magna-Trons or Super-Trons, update the pots/condensers and wiring, get an Adjustomatic bridge and a Carbon/Teflon nut and some Grover lockers and you would still be paying under $1300 bucks, which is the price for a Gretsch 5120. And if the reviewer is correct and the craftsmanship is good, then it should stay in tune and be a much better axe than spending the $1,300 bucks for a stock standard Gretsch which made in China anyway. BTW, i have a TV-Jones Plus bridge pickup and a Bigsby B3 that i just took off my Pro-jet if anyone in Australia's interested ;....sorry, couldn't help myself!
    sparkeyjames
    decoque wrote: looks a bit Gretschy
    Yep it was probably built to directly compete with the 5120 electromatic series hollowbody. I see the price is exactly the same.
    shaofu0424
    i thought they were tv jones pickups from the pic... interesting direction epi is taking with the swingbuckers... thanks, will try one out soon... peace...
    joshuanorris
    problem is, in Australia, the Gretsch 5120 is around the $1,300 mark, even though our dollar is now the same as the U.S. dollar, so i guess that we will get ripped off by our retailers here, which will just force us Aussies to by these from the states off the internet and not have to pay any ridicules taxes or mark-ups. [/quote]
    sparkeyjames wrote: decoque wrote: looks a bit Gretschy Yep it was probably built to directly compete with the 5120 electromatic series hollowbody. I see the price is exactly the same.
    joshuanorris
    ...and the Bigsby i have is the B50(from Projet) and the pickup is a TV-Jones Classic Plus bridge...would look the goods on one of these Epi's.
    Slap-happy
    In fact I have just checked the Allans + Billy Hyde website and this guitar is listed at $1499.00. Bargain! FFS...
    gbgg9409
    barden1069 wrote: Epiphone over the years has earned not the greatest reputation in terms of what guitars they are putting out, the quality of them, and most importantly for us guitar players, a pretty lousy sound. I always thought that Epi hollow and semi-hollow bodies were really damn good for the price range. The Sheraton II is a damn good instrument.
    I love the Sheraton, but the new ones leave a lot to be desired as regards to craftsmanship. I saw a youtube video of some guys replacing the pickups on a Sheraton once, and the stock pups ended up being two Epi Les Paul neck pups. Which is probably why they sounded so muddy. I liked Epi before they started manufacturing in China.
    Syncopat1oN
    Yo, I just bought one two days ago and I'm planning on using it in two bands, a Punk/Rockabilly band and a Gypsy band. I was immediately impressed with the tone and feel of the guitar, I've had an Epiphone Les Paul Classic for 6-7 years now and I've actually always preferred the muddy pickups for the kind of music I like to play but the Swingbuckers are not like any Epiphone pickups I've played. Having the coil-tap functionality to switch between the various settings is fantastic, it gives you tons of options and make the Swingster incredibly versatile. One of the coil-tap knobs actually fell off of mine, but I'll be replacing the cheap standard pots that it comes with anyways. It's definitely a stab at the Gretsch Electromatic/5120 market, especially with the Gretsch Orange one like mine but in most countries the Gretsch will be a lot more expensive if not twice the price of the Epiphone. I'm playing through a Fender DeVille Blues Deluxe, 4x10, tweed and I'm enjoying the hell out of it. I've played the competition Gretsch a ton, one of the players in my band has one, and right now, I'm honestly enjoying playing the Epiphone more. I'd say that when it comes down to it, if you want a Gretsch then buy a damn Gretsch, if you're looking for something cheaper, a bit more versatile and something that's not a Gretsch, then the Epiphone is a pretty rad guitar. My 2 cents.
    telegramsam123
    I've owned this guitar for about a month. I agree with this review and doubt if the 'guy is gettin' paid' for it. It's just a great guitar. Mine had a cosmetic flaw on the back that you can't see unless you examine the back very carefully. It's a couple of drip marks in the finish, no biggie. Paid $500.00 W/O case. One of the best guitars I have ever owned, I'm playing for 40 years. One of the best things about it is the acoustic sound, this box freekin' chimes. One of the best acoustics I've owned, I practice and play with it all the time w/o an amp.....love it!!! Plugged in every p/u selection is great. What an unbelievable tonal palette. Even thru a bass amp it sounds great. Trust me if you try it you will want to buy it. CAN'T PUT IT DOWN
    OldmanandtheC
    Bought a Swingster two weeks ago. Definite shot at Gretsch. Great guitar. Epi steps up quality here, not like my Casino that does actually buzz under the bridge. Tone pots have wide range of control and selecting parallel/series by pushing and pulling gives you gobs of tones. Spruce top adds warmth to "Swingbuckers." Full hollowbody means put some distance between you and your amp or employ notch filters. Good luck getting a case. Epi's own Swingster case leans on the Bigsby post, even with the bar removed with two allen nuts (wouldn't a thumbscrew been a better choice?) Great tones, very comfortable neck, sounds great through old Ampeg valve or Line6 Bogner (yup, I like to save bucks, too)!
    ugfoofan
    I play in a rock band and I'm looking for a new guitar but i cant choose between a gibson 335 or this guitar. The heaviest songs we play are more punk, would this guitar be up fo the task or should I just get the gibson?
    UncleNobby
    After much research and several hours sitting in a booth playing guitars, I bought the white pearl Limited Swingster.I have only one regret, its not for me its a Christmas present for my 90 year old Jazz guitarist father. He will love it, who wouldn't
    paul.d.pearce
    Very happy with my Swingster! Play it daily. It currently has flat wounds on it which reduced the sustain on the lower 3 strings but has good tone. Tuning will go out if you "divebomb" the Bigsby to much but thats a Bigsby thing. Custom Shop finish is excellent (better than the Gretsch in the same price range). Switches are a bit noisy but the Series/parallel pickups give an added bit of versatility. But in the end I would not buy another the Canadian made Godin 5th Avenue has a far better sound and quality for a bit more money !!
    william.konietz
    Tried 12-52 flat-wounds and i.m.o. think the tone and lack of bendability limits the guitar to traditional Jazz. Replaced them with 11-49 HALF-rounds and WHAT A DIFFERENCE! Guitar felt like I was playing 10-47 rounds on my Les Paul. And they're less than half the price of full flats!
    simpro14.5
    You made me want one dude!! I always wanted an hollow-body, and I will make sure to try it
    BigJulieWasDead
    Looks good. I've got a couple of Epis - a les Paul copy I bought in the 90s which, I agree, had terrible pickups - they squealed badly when you cranked it so I ended up swapping them. Nice body & action though. The other is a 60s hollowbody which sounds magic - has never fed back through any amp at any volume. I've been looking about for a new guitar, will definitely try this out when they make it to Australia.
    rferrari1
    I have a Swingster Royale pearl white. I had been playing acoustic s for years for my own amusement. a bit of history, Baldwin Organ bought Gretsch and Chet Atkins pulled his endorsement Gretsch Tennessean, Country Gentleman, became Tennessee Rose and Nashville made by Gibson. Does the Swingster sound Gretschy. Oh Yeah Gibson has a very good insight into the details of this type of archtop Hey Chet signed off on the Tn rose & Nashville. Now Gretsch is owned by Fender run by the Gretsch Family again The Chet Atkins line is back home. The Swingster is a unbelievable instrument that shows its Gretsch influence.I had to use much less pressure than the acoustics .... med jumbo frets good action comfortable neck. can't beat it for the money. great fun
    ThatFlyingThing
    THE one and only hollowbody that actually converted me; I actually swore to myself I would never buy one, but my local guitar shop got one of these in and I couldn't set it down. The bigsby isn't a floyd obviously, but on the other hand, it definitely offers a more old-school feel and provides comfortable resistance to your dives. And on top of all this, he's right: you will never hear an Epiphone as gorgeous as this.
    xharass_natox
    I like the look and I'll try it out if I see one but I'd swear this review was written by someone being paid by Epi.
    J.S.L
    man, what a beautiful guitar, I will consider buying one.
    thejester
    xharass_natox wrote: I like the look and I'll try it out if I see one but I'd swear this review was written by someone being paid by Epi.
    i definitely am not being paid by epiphone, i wish i was. i was honestly just that impressed!
    thejester
    papajohns44 wrote: nope i think you are being paid
    ha, wow when you put it like that, yes i am being paid, but no no im not. in all seriousness though, i really liked this guitar. i would have put all 10's if i was endorsing or being paid by epi
    barden1069
    Epiphone over the years has earned not the greatest reputation in terms of what guitars they are putting out, the quality of them, and most importantly for us guitar players, a pretty lousy sound.
    I always thought that Epi hollow and semi-hollow bodies were really damn good for the price range. The Sheraton II is a damn good instrument.
    thejester
    barden1069 wrote: I always thought that Epi hollow and semi-hollow bodies were really damn good for the price range. The Sheraton II is a damn good instrument.
    I agree that their hollowbody's are better, I was talking about the brand as a whole, furthermore, I found pickups in their entire lineup to be lackluster, including their hollowbody's.
    TheTwoSteps
    Really? Forums like these are people's opinions and should be all about respect. Calling someone son, when you yourself are 18 and the UG Reviewer is 25, is plain ridiculous. And the reviewer is right in the respect of Epiphone pickups; they do sound muddy and are crap. You would know this if you had anything other than an Epi LP and a Fender solid state amp . . . Check out the reviewers gear - I think he may know something about Epi's vs. Gibsons.
    Flagon wrote: Epiphone sounding lousy? When was the last time you cleared your ears son? The 90's?
    yiggysaw
    I got mine a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say that I fully agree with this review. The sound is incredible and has got a wide range. Don't hesitate if you're thinking of getting one! The Swingster is just beautifully crafted throughout the whole guitar!
    2Seth0
    Would this guitar be good for some lead distortion? or is it just a good bright guitar for more bluesy and clean sounds? OR both?
    thejester
    2Seth0 wrote: Would this guitar be good for some lead distortion? or is it just a good bright guitar for more bluesy and clean sounds? OR both?
    i think it depends exactly what you are looking for. im not sure what you mean by lead distortion? it can get heavy but keep in mind all hollowbodys with distortion/overdrive get feedback squeals that are deadly. this is more tailored to warm bluesy/rocabilly but it can definitely get dirty, but not sure if it will be dirty enough for what you are looking for
    Flagon
    Epiphone sounding lousy? When was the last time you cleared your ears son? The 90's?
    Jj795
    Who ever write this review has just sold me on this guitar
    scion_of_glory
    Warm and clean, does it sound reminiscent of an acoustic? clean tone like a fender? good with surf?
    thejester
    Jj795 wrote: Who ever write this review has just sold me on this guitar
    glad i could help. check it out in person before buying if you can, but its great!
    scion_of_glory wrote: Warm and clean, does it sound reminiscent of an acoustic? clean tone like a fender? good with surf?
    i mean the hollowbody will reverbarate tones from the strings but its a very electric acoustic, not a jazzbox, so it is definitely an electric but the hollowbody gives it a very warm "open" sound. this does have humbuckers so not as clean as a fender in my opinion but i believe this could get a great surf tone. i would play this out of my deluxe reverb and it would stay really clean right on the edge of breakup. especially using the series parallel option you can really get this to clean up nice. check out the video on this page: (http://www.epiphone.com/news.asp?NewsID=... it goes through all of the tonal possibilities
    thegreasefire
    I mostly play metal, so this probably wouldn't be the greatest for that, but I love the sound of a good hollow body. I've wanted to get one for quite a while now, pretty much for playing around and using it for things that aren't so metal. I'm gonna have to check this one out.
    william.konietz
    When I switched to the half-round strings strings I noticed a buzz that didn't disappear when I raised the action. Turns out the buzz was coming from the roller bridge. I attribute it to the lower tension from the smaller gauge strings. I replaced the roller bridge with a Rocking-Bar-Bridge, which has far less moving parts and not only was the buzz gone but sustain was improved, which I attribute to both the elimination of the buzz plus the greater mass of the bridge bar.