Epiphone Emperor Swingster review

Meat and potatoes rockabilly machine with extra tonal gravy

  • £499
  • $1165
You don't have to be an Elvis fan to love this guitar.

MusicRadar Verdict

A great looking guitar with an amazing tonal range and fantastic playability - and all for a price you can't refuse!


  • +

    Righteous tones, playability and price tag.


  • -

    Could be too specialist for some.

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Naming a guitar the 'Swingster' is guaranteed to set quiffs a twitchin' in the rockabilly community. The guitar-slinging daddios and daddiettes in vintage denim are sure to blow a fuse when they see that big old f-hole stamped body and regulation Bigsby vibrato. The vibrato's old-school 'wire' handle will just tip them over the edge.

Before you write off this bad-ass looking box as a prop from the set of Happy Days, don't be too quick to judge. The Swingster has even more to offer than its appearance might suggest. Even if you don't dig Elvis…

"It's faultless playability and incredible tonal range promote its value as an instrument beyond its price."

The Swingster is basically an Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor-II model with added 'rockability'. We like the cool combination of the plain spruce top and the striking flame of the laminate maple back and sides that shimmers through the translucent black finish. The five-ply binding and nickel hardware just add to its vintage vibe.

The slim neck and 20 well dressed, medium jumbo frets make for great playability, although some may find the supplied wound G string tough to bend at first. Tuning stability is amazing thanks to roller bridge saddles and a set of Grover machineheads - wiggle that vibrato arm with impunity.

The guitar has a pair of SwingBucker pickups in the engine room, and the bridge unit is slightly overwound for added grunt. The twin push/pull tone controls activate the guitar's secret tonal weapon - the series/parallel wiring option.

For us, this feature boosts the Swingster's desirability into the stratosphere. 'Series' (knobs up) offers the regular tones we expect from a twin humbucker guitar; 'parallel' (knobs down) drops the output a little and produces a brighter tone like a singlecoil, all without compromising the 'bucker's humcancelling qualities.

Rockabilly, blues, jazz and country guitarists will enjoy the huge tonal range of the Swingster, as will anyone looking for some Johnny Marr style jangle. We were blown away. Nay, stunned.

This guitar oozes warmth while never losing clarity or focus; it can 'do' bright without ever becoming shrill. Tonally, that can be a tough balancing act but the Swingster nails it brilliantly. We're so sold on this thing, it ain't even funny.

Gretsch has had the 'essential rockabilly guitar' thing sown up for years. The Emperor Swingster is Epiphone's most accomplished challenge to that supremacy yet. Yes, it's beautiful to look at - that wire handle Bigsby is grade A guitar porn - but the Swingster is much more than just a pretty face.

This guitar's faultless playability and incredible tonal range (wide enough to cover most music genres) promote its actual value as a musical instrument way beyond its price tag. Frankly, we're just buzzed you can bag a tone monster like this for less than 500 sheets. Happy days indeed!

Listen to the Swingster being tested over at the Total Guitar site.