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Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Stephen McSwain



Interview with Luthier Stephen McSwain, McSwain Guitars-1

Interview with Luthier Stephen McSwain, McSwain Guitars – 

How did you get your start in music?

I actually got started in music very early.  My family is a very musical bunch and we were always singing together.  I was in the church choir as a kid, then on to the high school chorus, where I was introduced to classical music.  I was a 1st tenor and was fortunate enough to travel to Vienna Austria to perform.  After borrowing other friends’ guitars and teaching myself a couple chords, I finally got my very first guitar of my own…. a 1943 Martin 00-18 that my uncle had bought after he got out of the Navy.  It needed some repairs, so my dad bought it off of his brother and had it repaired for me as a Christmas gift.  That was the moment of no return!  HAHA!!  I burned through two Walkman tape players to learn some Zeppelin and Boston tunes and never looked back.  I continued to play in bands through college and afterwards.

Are you still an active player?

I still play guitar every day and once in a while will get up and sing a couple of cover tunes whenever the chance arises, but I’m so busy with the guitar business and being a dad and husband that there’s no time to actively play in a band.

How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass?

Right after I finished college, I moved back to my hometown (Gastonia, NC) to start work as a medical supply salesman.  I lived at my parents’ house for a couple of months until I found a place.  In addition to my family being very musical, they were also very artistic, so I was incredibly fortunate to get the best of the musical world and the art world as a kid.  While I was there, I pulled out all of my old carving tools (Dremels, exacto knives, etc..) and bought an aftermarket Strat-style body.  I carved a bunch of faces and vines into the guitar and sent it to Steve Vai.  One of my best buddies from college (we played in the same band together) had gotten Steve’s number.  I called Steve Vai and sent him the guitar.  He called back a couple of weeks later and said he loved it; it’s still on his website today.

Carving Style

Carving Style

After this 1st guitar, I started buying boards of mahogany and cutting the bodies myself.  I went to every show that came through Charlotte, NC and would try to sell my guitars to anyone that would give me a minute.  I met the guys in Alice in Chains and sold them two guitars.  Once I had a couple of known bands under my belt, it got easier to get in front of other known bands.

I built my first bass around 1994 for Bobby Sheehan of Blues Traveler.  It had their signature Black Cat and other animals carved into the top. I also built a P-Bass sized GUITAR for Chan Kinchla with the Blues Traveler Black Cat too.

Interview with Luthier Stephen McSwain, McSwain Guitars-2-Gunnar bass front

How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthier? Who would you consider a Mentor?

I basically taught myself to build guitars and basses by taking other guitars apart and putting them back together.  I bought a couple of books and learned guitar electronics too.  George Amicay, an incredible artist who used to work for Fender Custom Shop, was a big influence for me.  He encouraged me to really go for it and start focusing on guitar building full-time.  Also, I give HUGE credit to my parents for giving me the opportunity to explore music and art.  Without them… I probably would have never even known where to begin.

How do you select the woods you choose to build with?

I always look for interesting grain patterns.  I don’t always go for the super straight grain woods.  I like unique characteristics in the woods I choose.  I also like to use repurposed woods when I can.  I feel like giving a piece of wood a second life imparts good energy into the guitar or bass.

How about pickups? What pickups did you use in the past? What electronics do you use right now?

I have used a lot of different pickups in the guitars and basses.  I started out using Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio.  Now I am using Arcane.  Rob Timmons tweaks his Triple Clone humbuckers for me and they are incredible.


Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?

I’ve built instruments for Slash, Stev Vai, George Lynch, Jared Leto, Duff McKagan, Steve Jones, Been Moody, Tommy Lee, John 5, Vernon Reid, Chan Kinchla and Bobby Sheehan of Blues Traveler, Ben Moody of Evanescence and We Are the Fallen… and many more.

How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?

The bass I built for Bobby Sheehan was a one-of-a-kind bass.

What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?

I build each guitar and bass one-at-a-time which makes each one unique unto itself.  I use a lot of metal tops on my instruments, that gives the tone a really cool top end.  Combined with the warmth of the wood, the metal gives a really nice sustain and brightness.

Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?

I built a metal top bass with .357 bullet shells around the perimeter.  It has a hot rod metal flake finish on the back that is burned and completely distressed.  It looks really cool and plays great!!!

Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?

YES!!  KEEP AT IT!!!! It takes a lot of time and patience to get to where you want to be.  One crucial piece of advice that I tell young Luthiers starting out… create your own shape body and headstock!!!  Most builders (including myself) start out by building a Strat or Tele clone and get stuck there.

Interview with Luthier Stephen McSwain, McSwain Guitars-3-Gunnar Bass headstock

What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?

Play as many guitars or basses as you can before you buy!  Don’t necessarily follow trends or play what your favorite Rockstar plays.  When you pick up that “special” guitar or bass… you’ll know.  It’ll speak to you.

What is biggest success for you and for your company?

For me personally… the biggest success was getting my work in the hands of some of the biggest players on the planet.  These guys have all bought my guitars.  That instilled an incredible amount of confidence in me to keep going.

Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design? Or maybe some new gear amps, etc.

I am always designing new concepts.  At the moment, we are building a completely new website and doing a social media push to get out in front of as many people as we can.  The new models will be featured on the website and can be bought direct or through select dealers.  We are also going to be offering a brand new line of KILLER basses.

What are your future plans?

I will keep building for the rest of my life.  I always “jokingly” say that I retired in 1996 when I quit the suit and tie job to start building guitars/basses full-time!!!  I’m one of the lucky ones that GETS to go to “work” everyday doing what I absolutely love.

Is there anything else you would like to share that we have not included?

If you are starting out as a builder… Be honest, be humble and maintain your integrity.  There are a million ways to cut corners… make sure that you don’t compromise quality!

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Interview with Luthier Stephen McSwain, McSwain Guitars-5


Gear News

New Gear: Spector Doug Wimbish USA Custom Series Basses



Doug Wimbish, pictured with the new Spector Doug Wimbish USA Custom Series basses

Spector offers Doug Wimbish USA Custom Series basses…

Spector, a leading authority in bass guitar design, unveils two new Doug Wimbish USA Custom Series basses. Synonymous with bass excellence since 1987, Wimbish collaborated with Spector’s USA Custom Shop to create the DW-4 and DW-5 models, echoing the iconic instruments that have been favored heavily throughout his recording and performing career.
These signature basses faithfully replicate Wimbish’s originals, down to the smallest details like neck contours and nut widths. Customized EMG pickups, developed in collaboration with Wimbish, capture the distinctive sound that has shaped his monumental musical impact. These models invite players to explore the feel and response that have defined Wimbish’s signature style over the years.
Available in 4-string and 5-string versions, each model boasts unique features & finish options. The DW-4 comes in Amber Stain Gloss and Black Stain Gloss options, while the DW-5 offers Dark Blue Stain Gloss and Faded Natural Gloss. Every purchase includes a certificate of authenticity signed by Doug Wimbish. Wimbish comments, “Spector took the time to get every little nuance right, and that to me is dedication and being thoughtful enough to know ‘I want to nail it,’ and they did. I’m able to pick these instruments up for the first time and play them like I’ve already had them for years.”

For more information, visit

Photo: Doug Wimbish, pictured with the new Spector Doug Wimbish USA Custom Series basses

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Bass CDs

New Campaign: Alberto Rigoni, Nemesis Call – Queens Of Strings



New Campaign: Alberto Rigoni, Nemesis Call - Queens Of Strings

Italian bass master and composer ALBERTO RIGONI is thrilled to announce his brand new project “Nemesis Call – Queens Of Strings”.

Nemesis Call – Queens Of Strings features a super talented drummer from Japan (TBA) and tons of female guitarists such as SAKI, Giusy Busetto, Alexandra Zerner (TBC) and many many others (TBA). Furthermore, Alberto has also launched a Fundraising Campaign for the project. 20% of the income will be donated to Lega del Filo d’Oro, an Italian association that helps deaf and blind children!

Alberto shares:
“Hello friends and music lovers! I’m Alberto Rigoni, an Italian composer and.. a BASS GUY! Between 2008 and 2024 I released 13 solo albums, spanning from progressive, rock, ambient to funky and experimental music, which also features contributions from musicians such as keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) drummer Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) and Marco Minnemann (the Aristocrats), keyboardist Kevin Moore (ex Dream Theater), singer John Jeff Soto (ex  Goran Edman (ex Y. Malmsteen), bassists Nathan East, Stu Hamm (Joe Satriani), Nik West (ex Prince) and many others. I’m also bass player for BAD As, Sunset Groove Society, Kim Bingham, The Italians bands and co-producer of Mistheria’s Vivaldi Metal Project.”

Alberto on the new project Nemesis Call:
“Even if my latest album “Unexpected Lullabies”, dedicated to my newborn Vittoria Parini Rigoni, will be released on June 4th, 2024, when Vittoria came to life I felt the need to compose new music (yes, I really can’t stop!!!!!). This time will be quite challenging because I’m willing to release an instrumental ambient/prog/rock/metal album, that will feature a talented and young drummer (TBA) and tons of female guitarists (that’s why I will call the album “Queens of the Strings”) such as Alexandra Zerner, YOKA and many others (TBA/TBC)). It won’t be easy to manage all such great musicians but I will make it!! Are you ready to face a new prog experience? The album will be released in Digipack CD and in high-quality digital format approximately at the beginning of 2025.”

The Fundraising Campaign:
As an independent artist, Alberto is looking for supporters who can help him reach the budget for the production (recordings, mix, mastering, artwork etc.) of this new album and has started this fundraising campaign that will end successfully on October 15th, 2024.

Get further information about Alberto Rigoni’s new project Nemesis Call Fundraising campaign at

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Bass Videos

Artist Update With Bassist Derek Frank



Artist Update With Bassist Derek Frank

Bassist Derek Frank…

Many of you will remember the last time I chatted with Derek Frank was back in 2017. The main thing that impressed me was how busy Derek was and how he juggled playing with many huge acts.

Now, I am happy to hear that Derek launched a new album last March titled “Origin Story” where he digs deep into his roots and pays homage to Pittsburg.

Join me as we get caught up after all these years and hear the details about the new album, how Derek gets his sound, and his plans for the future.

Photo, Stephen Bradley

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram



TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @foderaguitars @bqwbassguitar @lecomptebass @xvector_basses @vuorensaku_guitars @phdbassguitars @meridian_guitars @sterlingbymusicman @ramabass.ok @overwaterbasses

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Gear News

New Gear: Alberto Rigoni Signature Bass, the VPR5 by Gaetano Costanzo!



Internationally renowned bassist ALBERTO RIGONI (soloist, BAD AS, Vivaldi Metal Project, TwinSpirits, etc.) is proud to announce the release of his signature bass VPR5 made by renowned Italian luthier Gaetano Costanzo!

Alberto Rigoni Signature Bass, the VPR5 by Gaetano Costanzo!

Internationally renowned bassist ALBERTO RIGONI (soloist, BAD AS, Vivaldi Metal Project, TwinSpirits, etc.) is proud to announce the release of his signature bass VPR5 made by renowned Italian luthier Gaetano Costanzo!

The bass is entirely handmade in Italy, without the use of CNC or other machinery, and has rather special features. The VPR is a 5-string bass (but also available as a 4-string) with 30 frets, Seymour Duncan pickups, Music Man Alnico style, passive electronics (volume, tone and a switch to select series/parallel/single-coil mode), alder body, and American maple neck and fingerboard. Gotoh tuners that ensure perfect intonation. The bass is totally painted white (nitro finish) but other colors can be requested. The VPR has a weight of about 2.9 kg and suitable for any genre.

For more information contact or visit online at or

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