This is a very funky little bass from a relatively new UK based luthier called Chowny, founded by Stephen Chown. The ‘SW’ in the name refers to UK session bassist Scott Whitley, currently touring with Big Country. Aside from his session work, Scott is very active online via his YouTube channel and website, as a reviewer, instrument demonstrator and educator. He also happens to be an aficionado of short scale basses, and when I came across him online a few years ago, he was working on a project to design and manufacture the ultimate short scale bass, based on his extensive experience with these instruments over the years. Fast forward a few years, and having designed and built a couple of prototypes and early models of what he called the SWB, and with demand for his instruments growing, Scott handed over responsibility for manufacturing the SWB to Chowny. There are several versions of the Chowny SWB available, including a passive model and a fretless model, and more, such as a 5 string, in the works. This particular model that I own is the ‘Pro’ model, and features a few upgrades from the standard model, including monorail bridge units, active EMG pickups and laminated neck and body with a fancy wood top.
First impressions are that it’s a very pretty bass. The body is small and ergonomically pleasing, reminiscent of an Alembic Stanley Clarke shape. Having owned an Alembic short scale, though, I can say that I find that the Chowny balances better, probably as a result of the ever-so-slightly elongated top horn. The body is also satin finish, rather than lacquered, which gives it a nice tactile quality. The fittings, from the monorail bridge units to the open-back Wilkinson tuners, are all excellent quality. The neck fit is perfect, the neck itself is narrow - similar to an Alembic Stanley Clarke again - but fast and comfortable, and the carving and finish on the body and head are beautiful. The controls are a three-position pickup toggle switch, volume, and active bass and treble cut and boost on a stack-knob. The sound is bright, articulate and punchy, very modern-sounding, even bell-like, which makes it great for melodic and slap styles, but the eq is well able to tame the top end enough to make it convincing in a rock or even reggae setting. Even with the very light gauge strings that I prefer, it doesn’t suffer from the dreaded ‘floppy-string’ syndrome that many short scales can have. And it gives you the option to fit your strings either through-body or top-loaded in the monorails.
The SWB Pro has a few little quirks, though, or things I might change if I had the option, but please understand that these are entirely subjective - just my personal preference. For example, I’m not a big fan of the headstock on this - as anyone who knows me is aware, I’m not a big fan of headstocks AT ALL (!), but I would have preferred a smaller, more modern-looking headstock shape. While the balance of the bass is fine as it is, a smaller headstock might have improved it even further. But my main issue is just that, in my eyes, it doesn’t quite fit with the style of the body, and it is a little too reminiscent of a Rickenbacker headstock for my taste. I would have preferred closed-back tuners, too, but possibly the open-backed ones save a tiny bit on weight to help the balance?
The angled pickups are quirky, and to someone who likes to rest his thumb on the top edge of the pickup when playing fingerstyle, it might feel a little odd at first. But I understand that the angle actually helps with the evenness of note response, tone and timbre across the strings.
The placement of the strap pin on the inside curve of the upper horn also seems a strange choice - it means the strap has a very awkward break point over the end of the horn. My preference would have been on the end of the horn, like most basses, or even on the back of the horn, similar to the placement of the strap pin on the back of the neck heel on Alembic small bodies. But again, I imagine there is a reason for this, probably balance-related, and that other more conventional locations were tried and rejected during the design phase.
While the setup out of the box was good, over the next few weeks, as the neck acclimatized to the Irish weather (I believe these basses are put together in India, so there is something of a climatic difference), I found myself adjusting the set-up on an almost daily basis. This is now settling down, and I imagine it’s something that a lot of new basses experience: it just takes a while for the bass to work out it’s not a tree any more!
Regarding the electronics, while they are undeniably very versatile, I would have liked to have had some kind of mid control, ideally a parametric sweep, included. Again, though, it’s not a deal breaker, since you can make these kinds of eq changes on your amp, if necessary, rather than on the bass itself.
I also felt that the black plastic EMG knobs that it came with felt a little cheap and let the bass down visually, so I replaced them with some chrome ones to match the rest of the hardware - an easy enough upgrade.
And finally, it’s interesting to note that the ebony fretboard actually extends beyond the end of the neck by about 0.75cm. Visually, it’s nice, perhaps a subtle nod to the instrument’s double bass ancestor, but ergonomically, it’s actually slightly uncomfortable for me when I slap, since I do that very close to the end of the fretboard - I find my finger coming into contact with the lower corner of the fretboard every time I go to pop the G string. Again, it’s simple enough to get used to this over time, but it’s an adjustment I would rather I didn’t have to make, and I can’t see any practical reason why that additional bit of fretboard should be there.
However, as I said, these tiny gripes are for the most part probably only specific to me, my tastes, my technique and my style of playing, and will certainly not apply to everyone. And in any case, the excellent quality, great tone and versatility, and sheer playability make it an absolute pleasure to play, so I would have no hesitation in recommending it.
You can see and hear my Chowny SWB Pro in action here and here.
And you will find Chowny’s website here.