Swope Guitars Dakota Review
Crafted by a builder with a serious shop pedigree, this unique detour from the standard P formula is style-rich, tone-wealthy, and ultra-comfortable.
Recorded using a PreSonus FireStudio and PreSonus Studio One 3. All samples are with both volume and tone knobs dimed.
Clip 1 - Fingerstyle
Clip 2 - Palm-muted, playing with fingers.
Clip 3 - Pick
A well-designed, well-crafted tone monster.
If anything, that input jack.
Swope Guitars Dakota
As musicians, we’re dreamers. And we dream big: mostly about great tone, easy load-ins, and bright spotlights. There are also those pining for success in music on the other side—those who create the instruments for us. One such dreamer is Chris Swope, and the luthier cut his teeth in some of the most prestigious training grounds, including Sadowsky and Gibson’s Custom Shop, before taking the next logical step of striking out on his own.
Swope’s guitars have been seen with some of the most confident names in the business, from Nashville-session A-lister Kenny Vaughn to Webb Wilder to Eric Ambel to Ronnie Wood. (Yes, that Ronnie Wood.) Swope’s retro/forward designs, superb craftsmanship, and lust for great tone have made his name a trusted one in a very short time. So, what happens when a talented custom builder decides to build his first production-model bass? We had a chance to find out with the Dakota.
Swope Left for More
The 34"-scale Dakota seemingly jumped out of its G&G handmade Tolex case with a hint of mod, a splash of bourbon-soaked attitude, and yet a clean and proper appearance that would be suitable enough for a formal dinner. The bass is long on looks, for sure. Our test model was dressed in a tobacco burst with Swope’s “knock-around” finish, which is a light-relic job. It’s also available in a “drag-around” version, which, yes, is a heavier relic treatment. I personally appreciate the approach. Nothing pains me more than putting the first scratch on a new instrument, and especially one in the upper-budget range.
The offset/P-style design is a refreshing look at an old standard. The body is comfy as well. There’s a belly scoop on back of the lightweight, clear-grade alder body, which has a slightly smaller footprint than a P body, yet still feels balanced and familiar. Another interesting feature is the big, Swope-designed humbucker that gets away from the traditional split-P soup.
Swope In, Turn Up!
For this review, I used both a vintage Ampeg B18 “flip top” and an Eden CXC combo. The Ampeg has its own vibe, of course, and the Eden keeps tone representation fairly accurate with the EQ set flat. When I was just about ready to plug in, however, I became a little sad when I noticed the recessed input jack. It’s wonderfully old-school, yet for the “right-angle” guys such as myself, the cable just doesn’t seat as well. It could be I’m one of maybe three dozen players on the planet this would bother, so if this was going to be the worst part of my day, I simply moved on.
While I was letting the Ampeg’s tubes get warmed up, I plugged into the Eden, hit the obligatory low E, and let it ring. After a cup of coffee, a Danish, and a walk around the house, it finally stopped. Kidding aside, the Dakota does not skimp on sustain and feel at all. The bass is as natural as any I’ve played. The rosewood fretboard both feels and looks great, and the instrument’s setup was pretty much perfect. The little touches on the Dakota made me smile as well: the vintage-style top-hat knobs, the aged-bone nut, the aforementioned checked finish, and the triple-dot 12th-fret markers.
The Dakota’s pickup is really an interesting bird. (Full disclosure: I did speak with Chris Swope about the pickup design, and he provided me a little insight into the idea.) Swope wanted a big, P-like tone without hum (hence the big ’bucker), but also wanted to take it a step further. He makes his own pickups in-house on a CNC machine, which gives the closest degree of wind consistency possible from pickup to pickup. In a nutshell, he’s managed to capture vintage vibes in a big-sounding, boutique pickup, but one that will be virtually the same from bass to bass.
When I plugged the Dakota into the B18 (with my straight plug) … well, if I only had one tone to use for the stage or studio, here we are. I loved what was brewing: rich tone that sits in that darn-near-perfect, low-mid area. For me it’s that slice of heaven that’s usually reserved for vintage instruments. There are only two controls on the Dakota—volume and tone—and for me, I’d just set the tone knob full tilt and remove it from the bass. If you do want a little more thud, you can dial it down, but the tone all the way up gives point without being crispy and lets the pickup breathe.
While running through a myriad of styles, my ears were moved. Simply said, the Dakota is a wonderfully consistent performer. When I threw some heavier, drop-D runs at it and hit it hard with some aggressive slap, the bass didn’t flinch. Get some foam under that bridge and get to tracking, too. It can take it. Who will want to play this bass? I think the question should be who wouldn’t want to play this bass. Most any stage/genre at all would welcome the Dakota, and the FOH engineer will thank you for a tone he/she probably won’t have to fool with much. Bring the plectrum, the thumb, whatever. If you are a P fan, this is your horse. J fans, probably not as much, but you can come on over and barbecue with us. You likely won’t be disappointed.
The Dakota has the goods to make traditional P-bass lovers swoon. It has a rock-solid build, thundering tones, and small-batch craftsmanship that warrants the price tag. I would put the bass up against any in its (sort of hefty) price range. A slightly sticky egotistical negative about the Dakota is the size of the headstock, but the additional wood does mean added stability, so I can’t be that upset about it. Plus, it fits the body of the Dakota. Once this bass is plugged in and moving, it takes on its own identity and truly screams. We can’t reinvent the wheel, but the Dakota can make the drive a whole lot more fun.
Watch the Review Demo: