NAMM 2017: Stephen McSwain Talks Designing and Building Custom McSwain Guitars

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New to NAMM this year at the Boutique Guitar Showcase area was custom guitar maker McSwain Guitars of Portland, Oregon. Founder, Head Designer and Luthier, Stephen McSwain, explained how he started his guitar business and his approach to building his custom guitars.

“I’ve been building since probably 1992 and I’ve always been enamored by guitars and, of course, I’ve been playing all my life. I couldn’t really find a guitar that I liked and that fit me and what I was looking for design wise. So I bought a guitar body and started carving faces into it and ended up getting it out to Steve Vai. That was my very first guitar. So Steve has my first one which is instant legitimacy, fortunately!”

McSwain continued on with his vision and went backstage to concert after concert in Charlotte, NC trying to get his guitars in the hands of musicians. He went to Aerosmith, Prince, Van Halen, and many other concerts and ultimately bands like Living Color, Alice in Chains, and Korn started buying his guitars.

In ’98, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream. “I literally started deep diving into building every aspect of the guitar. First and foremost, the way I approach my building is it has to be a phenomenal playing and sounding guitar. There’s a million guitars that look beautiful and they’re cool, but there are certain things that you don’t really like the way they feel. I literally have my hands on these guitars for hundreds of hours and then I know every single centimeter of that guitar. So I know it’s gonna play and sound perfect. Then you go crazy with what it looks like on the outside.”

McSwain incorporates aluminum, distressing, waxing, genuine .357 magnum bullet casings, stars, custom sterling silver skulls and many other items to his designs. He has carved designs and even guitars utilizing old oil cans. You can check out the McSwain difference HERE.

He spoke with us about his Red, White and Bullets flag guitar and wall display, as well as his Black Flag guitar.

For more on Stephen McSwain and his guitars, visit


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