Clip 1 - Swinging groove. Volume at 75 percent, tone at 75 percent.
Clip 2 - Driving picked rhythm. Volume at 75 percent, tone dial dimed.
For appreciators of all things punk, the arrival of a Mike Watt signature bass seems long overdue. Even if you haven’t heard his distinct musicianship and frenetic playing with acts like the Minutemen and Firehose, you’ve most certainly heard his influence elsewhere. (The Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example, dedicated 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik to him.) In addition to helping lay the musical groundwork for punk and alternative rock, Watt’s inventive DIY approach to modifying his equipment continues to inspire musicians to tinker with their own gear.
Designed from the ground up with Reverend’s Joe Naylor, the Wattplower is the sum of Watt’s decades-long love affair and experimentation with short-scale basses. The double-cutaway, short-scale design has its roots in Watt’s favorite bass of the past—the early ’60s Gibson EB-3—but its material differences and Watt-approved mods make it a unique animal.
I’ll get right to the point: The Wattplower is a fine-looking bass. The satin emerald-green finish of our review model balances understated sheen and candy-like sparkle, akin to a ’70s Oldsmobile Cutlass. If you aren’t into green finishes, the bass is also offered in an equally tasteful, satin yellow finish.
The Wattplower is comprised of a korina body and a 5-piece korina/walnut set neck that’s crowned with Hipshot Ultralite tuning machines. The 21-fret rosewood fretboard sports a ship-anchor inlay on the first fret as a tribute to Watt’s father (a Navy sailor), a “Wattplower” inlay on the 17th fret, and glow-in-the-dark fret markers along its edge.
I was impressed with the level of resonance and how alive the Wattplower felt when I played it unplugged. The 30" scale made the bass very comfortable to play while standing and it caused no strain against my wrist when I grabbed lower notes. For a short-scale bass, its balance was unexpectedly on point. That said, the strap-button positioning behind the neck joint allowed the body to tip forward a bit when I wasn’t holding it in place.
The electronics are a straightforward affair consisting of a Reverend P-Blade ceramic split-pickup and a pair of control knobs for volume and tone. The mid-body positioning of the pickup echoes a mod that Watt performed on his ’63 EB-3 (which was sadly stolen while on tour with the Stooges), where he routed the body to reposition the neck pickup for more clarity and punch. Thanks to the Hipshot A style bridge with a sustain-enhancing brass spacer, the bass can be strung through the body or top-loaded.
One Reporter’s Opinion
Eager to put it through its paces, I plugged the Wattplower into a Gallien-Krueger 400RB head connected to an Ampeg 8x10, set the amp’s EQ controls at noon, and dug into some loose rock riffing in the lower registers. I was immediately taken aback by the tone, which delivered an ample and focused midrange supported by a generously thick low end. The neck’s comfy profile and smooth, satin finish made playing feel effortless, and the tuning held like a sunken rock under hard and heavy picking. The Wattplower’s neck is truly one of the more satisfying necks I’ve played on in recent memory. In fact, the only thing that prevented it from being acompletely joyful experience was having to hold the bass against my body to keep it from tipping forward, which wouldn’t have been an issue if the left strap button had been placed, perhaps, on the end of the upper horn.
The P-Blade pickup conjured up an interesting take on the classic P-bass thwomp, albeit with a more modern and relentless predilection towards a pummeling low end. But despite having such a strong focus on the lows and low mids, the tone didn’t suffer from the congested, woofy gurgle that sends many players running away from shorter-scale basses.
The Wattplower is capable of pretty exceptional clarity and it could be argued that the use of korina plays a big part in that. The decreased string tension that comes with shorter scale lengths typically deadens high-end response, and, as a result, makes it much more difficult to coax that satisfying snap that long-scale bassists enjoy. Since the Wattplower’s korina body and korina/walnut neck have somewhat brighter tonal properties than, say, the mahogany build of Watt’s favorite EB-3, the effect on the tone’s treble range was quite noticeable.
With the tone rolled all the way up, slap and pop techniques and driving flatpicked grooves alike revealed a high end with enough presence to be heard, but not so much that the attack ever became harsh around its edges. And even after I piled on a ton of distortion courtesy of a modified Rat and a Bass Big Muff, the tone still managed to retain a level of definition that would have been respectable from a standard-scale bass under the same conditions.
The Reverend Wattplower is a pretty killer bass that delivers tones as unabashed as its name implies. Like Watt himself, it wears its past influences proudly, but offers something wholly unique in return. Even when you look past its high marks in playability, muscular tones, and jaw-dropping beauty, the bass is just extremely fun to play. Its tones could benefit from a little added warmth and refinement, but again, its purpose isn’t to sound subtle. If you’ve tried short-scale basses in the past and were disappointed by a lack of definition and bite, you should consider giving the Wattplower an audition. And if you’re a rock bassist who already favors shorter-scale basses, chances are good you’re really going to like this one.
Watch the Review Demo: