1. Ready to rumble! A hollowbody Epiphone Emperor Swingster. 2. Officially called the “Wire Handle,” this is the trem arm Chet Atkins preferred on his
Bigsby. The guitar’s overwound SwingBucker pickups have alnico 5 magnets and switchable series/parallel coils. 3. The Swingster’s flame maple back is
impressive. 4. A close-up of the flame maple sides. Note the sexy 5-ply, black-and-white binding on the top and back.
One guitar missing from my collection all
these years is an orange Gretsch 6120,
a classic made famous by the likes of Chet
Atkins and Duane Eddy. I never seem to find
one at the right price—but hey, that’s how
BFS (Bottom Feeder Syndrome) works, right?
However, while searching the ’Bay recently
I ran across this baby, an Epiphone Emperor
Swingster. It’s sort of Epiphone’s version of
the Gretsch 6120. I’ve bought other 6120
wannabes before only to be disappointed by
their woeful sounding humbucker pickups.
You see, Gretsch guitars use double-coil pickups
with both coils wired in parallel, while
everyone else wires them in series in order to
reduce hum and noise. The Gretsch method
may be noisier, but it produces a way-cooler
sound for certain types of music, like rockabilly,
country, and hillbilly jazz.
On the Swingster, Epiphone does this
by allowing the player to pull up on each
pickup’s tone control to select between
that pickup’s parallel and series mode. That
feature alone made me want to try one out,
so off to eBay I went. After some searching,
I found this one from a seller who wanted
$500 or best offer. After going back and
forth a few times, we agreed on a $435
price with free shipping.
Bottom Feeder Tip #2864: Never be
afraid to make an offer when you see “or
best offer.” All they can say is no.
When my Swingster arrived, I was really
blown away with the flame maple sides and
back, which looked a lot better in person
than in the pics. And, as advertised, the
pickups could easily be switched between
series and parallel mode by simply lifting
up on the tone controls. I also dig the cool
Chet Atkins-style Bigsby tremolo. This
baby can do everything from rockabilly to
country to blues ... even rock, as long as
you watch your stage volume. After all, it’s
a hollowbody. Can you dig it daddy-o?
So is it a keeper? Yeah, for now anyway.
It comes the closest to a Gretsch of any
non-Gretsch I’ve tried so far. Maybe one
day I’ll own a 6120. But for the price of
the real deal, I can buy six or seven other
guitars. That’s just the way a bottom feeder
thinks and I can’t change that.
is a founding
member of the
trio. He also does guitar
clinics promoting his
namesake G&L signature
model 6-string, and produces
artists and bands at his studio in
Asheville, North Carolina. You can contact
Will on Facebook and at willray.biz