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Swart Amplifiers | Midwood Guitar Studio

Swart Amplifiers | Midwood Guitar Studio

Swart Amplifiers | Midwood Guitar Studio

Guitarists and recording engineers alike know that the best studio amp is often small and tweed. There’s something about a tiny, vacuum-tube powered box pushed to its limits that perfectly captures the spirit of rock & roll. Before there were full stacks and arenas full of screaming fans, teenagers learned to channel their angst through diminutive combo amps that sounded their dirty best when turned all the way up. 

As a guitarist, engineer, and owner of a 24-track studio in Wilmington, NC, Michael Swart once boasted a huge arsenal of vintage recording amps. Each offered something different, some things that he liked, and some things that he didn’t. He increasingly began to pine for one amp that truly captured the rich, driven tone that he had locked in his head. Eventually, he decided to stop looking and build it himself, and the guitar world has been a better place since.

The Space Tone combines every desirable quality that one looks for in a boutique recording amplifier into a 5-watt package that’s both sonically and aesthetically inspired. This single-ended, class A masterpiece features tube rectification and the kind of breakup that weakens knees and opens hearts. Speaking of tubes, the Space Tone takes both 6V6 and 6L6s and is cathode biased. It’s worth reiterating that this amp is 100% valve powered, with 0 solid-states devices or diodes. The retro purity is further reflected in the cabinet design, which is finger-jointed pine. Visually, it’s part-Champ, part Supro, and part vintage suitcase (though the tweed has been lacquered for durability). It features one input, two knobs (volume/tube), and a 3db negative feedback and compression switch, as it otherwise produces no negative feedback. It sounds impossibly open, rich, and harmonically complex. This amp is a tiny window in a guitarist’s guitar/soul. 

The Space Tone proved an unmitigated success, prompting Swart to expand the roster. A batch of 5-watters followed that set the whole gear industry atwitter. The Atomic Space Tone Jr added a patented triode Space reverb that is quite possibly the most musical, lush, in-amp reverb ever produced. It comes on strong then bursts elegantly around each note like a warm drop of rain. The STR-Tweed added a 12” speaker and a second gain stage for even more fertile, touch-activated dirt. The STR-Tremolo added a mesmerizing trem that can be tailored with their unique 3-way EQ switch. Before long, they had conjured a veritable pantheon of tone. 

Next,  Swart Amps decided to expand the wattage for gigging purposes (though many artists were already playing large venues with one, sometimes two mic’d Space Tones). Inspired by an old tube Gibson Scout amp which packed 15 watts, reverb, and tremolo into a capable combo, Michael Swart designed the Atomic Space tone, a 12” speaker, 6V6 powered, portable forest of tone. When the AST or its feature-laden older sibling, the AST Pro, break up, the trees will rock. With the AST Master, the versatile middle-child of the family, you can control which branches you shake. 

Clearly, Michael Swart has a soft spot for the soulful 6V6 vacuum tube, but his fascination with all thing’s guitar led him to likewise revere the iconic EL84, the tube that powered the British Invasion of the 1960s. His Mod84 retains the harmonic thickness of the Space Tone family, but increased transparency and crystalline clean headroom. This amp is the epitome of elegance. It’s touch sensitivity and lush, entrancing reverb/tremolo make it a great choice for all kinds of music, from pop to jazz. Apparently, the original prototyped was housed in an old suitcase, which makes sense given that it’s designed to hold everything you need within its rectangular, finger-jointed cabinetry 

After whetting and satisfying all of our initial tonal cravings, Swart Amps turned their attention to those who crave more. More reverb, more wattage, more tubes, more amps! Some of the latest additions to the Swart lineup are simply mind-melting. Their Space Tone 45 features 6L6 power tubes, a fully convertible head cab, and clean headroom that extends straight through the ceiling and into the stratosphere. Their Antares seems perfect for ambient rockers, with firmer bass and deeper verb. Their biggest new stars, however, would probably be their ST-Stereo Head and Stereo Master 20. Both stereo models offer two amps in one chassis and come with matching stereo 2X12 cabs whose speakers are set at a 45-degree angle. It’s like Swart never wants us to leave our practice rooms. Immersive is an understatement. Enveloping comes closer. These amps envelop you. 

It’s uncertain what other sonic miracles Swart Amps is plotting to stun us with in the future, but the fact that they already have a host of pedals, and even their own ribbon microphone suggests that they place very few limitations on creativity. A master of retro-wise, highly-aesthetic innovation, Michael Swart keeps pointing to the sky while we keep staring at his finger. Swart understands that guitarists want amps as cool (or cooler) than their guitars. Transparency coupled with immense flavor sounds oxymoronic, but that’s what these fine amps offer. We’re proud to carry Swart here at Midwood Guitar Studio, and proud that they hail from our home state of North Carolina. Contact us about picking one up! 

May 13th 2020 Robinson Earle

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