Not a lot of people know that North Carolina, home to some of America's most beautiful scenery, is also America's number-one producer of sweet potatoes, and its second-biggest provider of Christmas trees.
Another interesting fact we think should be on North Carolina's official website is that the state is home to a disproportionately large number of very talented guitar-amp manufacturers, including some of the USA's top boutique names, among them Swart.
We have a medium-sized combo from this highly respected builder, the Swart MOD84.
The amp features a Celestion Creamback G12 loudspeaker, which is the hot loudspeaker of the moment, it's one of Celestion's best-sounding drivers since the Vintage 30 and a firm favourite with many boutique brands.
The Swart is finished in lacquered tweed, with a distinctive dark stripe edged with black stringing. The tweed fabric has been cut and laid to a very high standard – it can be difficult to work with, but great attention to detail has been paid to this sample. We like the combination of the TV front and stripe, which combine to maintain that vintage feel within their contemporary look.
The Swart uses a heavy-duty turret board for its small components, with neat and tidy cloth-covered hook-up wiring to the front and rear panels and valve sockets. The soldering and wire-routing is impeccable, with high-quality parts giving the Swart a very vintage feel – and smell!
The MOD84 fires up smoothly, with practically no background noise, bar a little hum on the valve-rectified Swart that quickly disappears as the voltages stabilise. We tried out a number of different guitars with both amps, including an old Strat loaded with Duncan Alnico Pro IIs, a PAF-equipped Les Paul Standard, an original '72 Les Paul Custom and a Fender Custom Shop Nocaster.
The Swart MOD84 is Swart's first design to use the EL84 and it delivers a superb tone with more than a hint of AC15, which can be subtle or in-your-face, depending on which EQ switch setting you choose.
"The Swart MOD84's superb tone has more than a hint of AC15, which can be subtle or in-your- face, depending on which EQ switch setting you choose."
We tend towards the middle position for the best balance of gain and treble. The MOD84's effects are especially cool; the reverb (called 'Space' by Swart) is warm and spacious. Powered by a clever circuit that uses a 12DW7 dual triode (basically half a 12AU7 and half a 12AX7), the drive, decay and tone are all tuned for a great all-round effect that works equally well for surf crashiness or jazz-club ambience.
The tremolo circuit has an organic warmth that pulls you into its 50s Americana vibe. From slow menacing pulses to a fairly fast stutter, the effect is one of the best tremolos we've heard.
With the volume pushed up, the Swart's valve-rectified power supply begins to sag just enough to add a warm, natural compression for a subtle three-dimensional effect, with sustained notes seeming to gain a little level before they slowly tail off, and punchy chord playing seems louder while requiring less effort.
The Swart is an exciting and very satisfying amp to play through. We liked the Swart's earthy drive tones and loved its evocative tremolo. It's a great amp and beautifully put together. Like many boutique designs, the MOD84 is dialled into a particular tone and response – and within this range, it sounds superb, with great touch sensitivity.