Boutique Luthier Debuts “Stealth Star” Guitar
Stephen McSwain started building guitars in 1992 as a hobby in Los Angeles, California. He became a luthier as a creative outlet that flexed his wood carving abilities that began with an old Dremel and Exacto carving knife as a child.
McSwain’s initial builds were for personal use, but he found great success with his first commercial build: an electric guitar with hand-carved faces intertwined with vines on the body. As a testament to his craftsmanship, the guitar was given to guitarist Steve Vai, who reportedly still has it in his studio to this day.
McSwain finds inspiration for his guitars from the timeless models and creative, one-off ideas. Since his humble beginnings, McSwain has relocated to Portland, Oregon, where he hosts collectors, clients, and musicians to tour his studio and get a sneak peek of his latest builds.
The latest model McSwain has brought to market is unique in both design and build, using aircraft aluminum to create the stunning “Stealth Star.” We sat down with McSwain to talk shop and get a unique look at the Stealth Star.
What was the inspiration for the Stealth Star?
I have long wanted to build a guitar with an aluminum front, back, and aluminum “skinned” fretboard. Most of the metal top guitars that I’ve made have rivets that are bullets, stars, screws, etc., and some incorporate old analog aircraft gauges. I wanted this design to be super clean and shiny with very little distress. I settled on stars for the rivets around the perimeter, the paint on the wood is a matte hot rod car paint, and the combination of the black matte color and polished aluminum made me think of a Stealth Bomber hence the Stealth Star.
Can you talk a bit about the construction of the guitar?
The Stealth Star body is made of tone-chambered mahogany and walnut and is a larger version of the SM-2 body. The neck is a three-piece mahogany set neck, with a maple fretboard under the aluminum laminate. The fretboard is bound with our patented Tone Layer, which is a flat aluminum bar that is contoured around the fretboard as binding. The pickups are Arcane Triple Clone humbuckers that I split the coils with a push/pull pot. I’m able to source the aircraft aluminum fairly easily, utilizing a metal supplier here in Portland. I found that the most challenging aspect of building the Stealth Star was getting the aluminum laminated to the maple fretboard then fretted. I had to be very careful not to gouge or scratch the aluminum as it is a softer metal, so if it gets scratched, it takes a ton of labor to buff it out. The Stealth Star is a super-versatile guitar that has warm tones with incredible punch and sustain because of the aluminum.
I see the first series sold out. Do you have plans to release more Stealth Stars?
Generally, I build to order, but a few more of the Stealth Stars are on the way. I like to limit my designs to small batches so that they are special to the collectors. There is something to being able to say, ‘I have number three of five of this design ever made.’ With that said, if anyone wants one, reach out!
Any new projects in the works that you’d like to share? Will we be able to see you at The NAMM Show in 2022?
McSwain Guitars will be offering basses for the first time as a limited production series soon, and most of our guitar designs will be available as a bass. I have built a few basses over the years but have never offered them on the website. I also recently finished a smaller body version of the vintage flame maple design using a SM-1 body. We are excited to be back at The NAMM Show in January 2022, be sure to check us out at the Boutique Guitar Showcase. We can’t wait to be back.