Just the words ‘Rimrock, Arizona’ make this pale, typically sun-deprived Brit faint at the thought of how hot it must be in Swan Song’s workshop. Either luthier Nelson Joyce and his team have industrial-strength air-conditioning or they’re built like Vikings, though, because this sleek-looking 4 Directions bass – named after four of the American companies whose components comprise it – looks and feels as cool as the proverbial cucumber. That said, $2800 – which is about £1650 in ye olde English sterling – is hardly small change, so we expect bags of quality. Let’s run it through BGM’s rigorous road test and see how it stands up…
Rock-solid at a shade over 4kg without being a back-breaker, the 4 Directions is sleek to a fault, starting with that all-maple neck and fingerboard all the way to the control system. The headstock, reminiscent of a Telecaster bass or early Precision, manages to feel both retro and futuristic at the same time: figure that one out if you can. That may be due to the super-skinny Hipshot tuners, devoid of broccoli ‘ears’ as they are. Matt black hardware never goes out of style, right?
The build is pretty much flawless. The action on our review model was pleasantly low and the neck join satisfyingly tight; flip open the battery compartment and backplate and it’s all tidy, although as is so often the case with mid to high-price basses, we always wish that luthiers would use something tougher than fairly thin, eminently scratchable plastic for those compartment covers. The pickups, hand wound by Jason Lollar, a pre-eminent pickup expert and author on the subject, are relatively exposed in the absence of body-hugging covers, which means that thumb-resting isn’t quite as comfortable as it would be on, say, a Precision, but there’s no questioning their solidity or the firmness with which they’re sunk into the body. Elsewhere, Hipshot supply the thru-body bridge, Curt Mangan the strings and beneath the bonnet, Alien Audio the mighty preamp, which leads us neatly to…
Sounds And Playability
With the string spacing at the bridge a highly playable 16.25 mm, this five-string plays easily and with little demand on the fingers, helped along by the moderately slick, moderately slim neck profile. We’re not playing at 500mph for a change: this isn’t a shredder’s bass as such, although there’s room for speedy manoeuvres if you want to go in that direction. The neck is medium thick and finished with that ever-so-slightly grippy feel that has a fair amount of friction. Instead, both body (remember the thru-body bridge) and neck are designed to get you tons of presence, and when it comes to sustain and tone, this is where the 4 Directions comes into its own.
Check out the controls layout: you can’t help but have fun here. From the neck end, we have a master volume with – get this! – a pull overdrive. That’s right: pull the pot out and unleash a beast of a drive together with a volume boost. Experiment with degrees of rotation and you can switch between a warm, stoner-rock fuzz to a keener, more shrieked tone. Nifty. The pickup balance is next, before a tone control which – again, how cool is this? – incorporates a pull function that delivers a boost at 12khz. Essentially, using these two controls you can switch from clean to dirty tones and/or from supportive to soloing mode right there in mid-song, with no need to step on a pedal.
The other three knobs are bass, mid and treble, which do their job with the barely-restrained ferocity we’ve come to expect from active basses. Alien Audio, one of the four companies contained in the 4 Directions name – the others being Mangan strings, Lollar pickups and Swan Song themselves – have effectively put the equivalent of a Ferrari twin turbo into this instrument. If that doesn’t make you feel ready for battle as you step on stage, we don’t know what else would. But this isn’t all about macho, speaker-blowing aggression: in fact, roll pretty much everything off except a bit of top end and you get a cool, slightly weird, very understated tone that sounds a bit like the guitar intro to Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’. You weren’t expecting that, were you?
We love this bass, as you’ve probably figured out. When small companies operating at the absolute top of their game work in sync on a project like this, great things happen, and that’s the case with the 4 Directions bass. It’s not an instrument that sits responselessly on your lap, waiting for you to work on it: thanks to its hyperactive tonal abilities and the super-quick and powerful response of its controls, the 4 Directions makes you realise why it was they invented the active bass in the first place. Sure, its pricetag is a big one, and Swan Song don’t have the advantage of a heritage name for prospective customers to rely on – so you’ll be stepping into relatively new territory if you buy one of their basses. But do not hesitate to give them a try. You may just find that a Swan Song is the American bass you’ve been waiting for all these years.
Swan Song 4 Directions (also available as four-string)
Price | $2800
Made In | USA
Body | Alder
Finish | Translucent green, translucent red, solid black, natural clear; custom finishes available on request
Neck | Eastern maple
Scale | 34”
Neck join | Bolt-on
Width at nut | 1.75″
Fingerboard | Eastern maple
Frets | 24
Strings | Curt Mangan
Pickups | 2x proprietary single coil
Preamp | Alien Audio
Controls | Volume (pull for overdrive), pickup blend, tone (pull for 12K boost), bass, treble, mid boost
Tuners | Hipshot
Bridge | Hipshot
Weight | 4.2kg
Gig bag/case included? | Yes, gig bag
Left hand available? | Yes
What We Think
Plus Almighty tone options: we love the built-in overdrive and treble boost
Minus None, other than it’s expensive
Overall Keep your eyes on Swan Song: if all their basses are this good, we want more of them
BGM Rating Out Of 10
Build Quality 9
Sound Quality 9
Value For Money 8