I have a personal connection to the new Reverend Wattplower bass, and that connection reveals one of my all-time fave BP-staff moments. Way back in 2003 (I think), we had arranged for Mike Watt to visit our office while he was in town supporting the Red Hot Chili Peppers with his band the Secondmen. Those were early days for me at BP, and one of my bass heroes spending the day at our office was further evidence I had scored The Coolest Job In The World. I had been a Watt fan since my early high-school days, when, knowing I was a budding bass player, my mom’s ex-L.A.-punk co-worker first passed along a Minutemen tape. Watt’s confidence, integrity, salt-of-the-earth DIY aesthetic, and aggressive, innovative, and ambitious style of punk bass resonated deeply, a counterbalance to the more manicured and occasionally superficial music I also owned. Moreover, he was from San Pedro, a working-class harbor town adjacent to the L.A. suburb where I grew up and where I spent a lot of long weekend afternoons trawling pawnshops for cheap guitars.
Watt arrived mid-day, and I was overwhelmed and awe-inspired. Like many of the greats, all you need to know about Watt’s personality is in his playing. He is a force, rhapsodically extolling the virtues of Coltrane one moment before lamenting having spilled his tour van’s pee jar the next. Every digression is nested within another, beguiling his audience through sheer force of will and earnest commitment to his core values. It was in this charismatic haze that Watt asked if someone there might be able to fix the bridge on his Gibson EB-O, the only bass he brought for the gigs. He had installed a new Badass bridge, but had neglected to file the string slots. I nervously volunteered. Picking up the bass was revelatory: It was one of the hardest-to-play basses I’d ever touched. The action was insanely high. It had terrible balance. It was way punk. After doing the job, I handed off the bass, spending the next week pleased with myself that I’d helped fix a bass that played an arena that night. A bit later, Watt thanked me in his voluminous Hoot Page blog. He called me “Paul.” Ouch.
I don’t hold it against him, and I’d do it all over again, but I’m still glad that Watt now has a beautifully built and playable signature bass like the Reverend Wattplower to call his own. He deserves it. Clearly taking its inspiration from an early-’60s Gibson EB-O like Watt’s, the Wattplower is a refreshing new alternative to the long-scale Fender-inspired basses that now dominate the contemporary market. It’s as eccentric as its namesake, too. Beyond the 30" scale, the Wattplower has a Fender-esque four-on-the-side headstock, a P-pickup with blade-style polepieces, a set neck, and a host of Watt-inspired aesthetic details, like the 1st-fret anchor inlay, a wattplower inlay at the 17th fret, and on the back of the headstock, a sticker with a California map, with San Pedro starred and the word watt.
Even though the Wattplower is vintage-inspired, Reverend smartly upgraded many of the aggravating old-school components that plague old Gibsons. The hardware is top-shelf Hipshot, with Ultralite tuners and an A-style bridge that allows for through-body stringing. The top-hat knobs look trick, and they control smooth-turning pots, themselves a part of a clean and well-shielded control-cavity assembly. The instrument’s construction is further proof that South Korean-made basses are increasingly competitive with anything else out there, save bespoke high-end instruments. The fretwork was superb, the low-profile shallow-C neck felt just-right, and the trussrod functioned flawlessly.
The Wattplower just begs to be plugged into an equally aggro and quirky amp, so I started my testing with an early-’70s all-tube Sunn 190L. I also used a variety of other, more hi-fi alternatives. No matter the amp, the first thought I had about the Reverend was, Man, this is a fun bass. Something about the size and simplicity, coupled with the easy playability and strong and focused tone, made the Wattplower a grin-inducing joy. While it excelled at Watt’s assertive and full-throttle style, it was also capable of surprisingly delicate and syrupy funk tones. Short-scale basses, with their decreased harmonic color, are great for deep and thick sounds—just right for neo-soul and R&B. The Wattplower also loved the pick; it balanced well and felt like a great all-night option for any rock player looking for an alternative edge.
While he may not always get the attention he deserves, Mike Watt has long been one of our instrument’s best and most creative advocates. While there are some signature basses of questionable provenance, nobody can deny Watt’s bona fides. And Watt, if you want to drop me a line to thank me for the kudos, the name is Jonathan.
Neck: Five-piece korina/walnut
Neck width at nut: 42mm
Fingerboard radius: 12"
Scale length: 30"
Tuners: Hipshot Ultralite
Bridge: Hipshot A-style w/string-through-body option
Controls: Volume, tone
Made in: South Korea
Pros: Excellent construction; charming aesthetic; versatile tone
Bottom Line: Those beguiled by Watt, or by short-scale basses generally, should welcome this sweet new option.