I gotta be straight up — I’m not the biggest fan of signature basses. I often find that these instruments have been tweaked aesthetically or electronically so much toward one individual’s preference, they are a bit useless in most contexts. Take the Gene Simmons Axe bass, for example. Unless you’re going onstage with your fellow face-painted rock & roll warriors spewing blood and fire, you’ll just look and sound out of place (but, hey, you’re ready to chop wood when the gig ends). I’ve also seen signature basses that are far too expensive for anyone but a collector; I once reviewed a signature bass that cost over $14,000. Over the years, however, I’ve found some notable exceptions. For example, I am a proud owner of a 1995 Fender Roscoe Beck V, which I will never part with, and the Sire Marcus Miller basses are amazing as well. Both of these examples follow my three key rules when it comes to designing signature basses: make the instrument friendly to a wide variety of styles, don’t go overboard on the “signature” part regarding looks, and keep it affordable to players on a modest budget. Reverend’s Mike Watt Signature bass, the Wattplower, delivers in two of these areas (subtle signature looks and affordability), but, in this case, I don’t mind that it has a specific tone, since its aggressive sound casts a wide-enough net within rock genres.
If you aren’t familiar with Mike Watt, stop reading and spend a good hour on Spotify familiarizing yourself with his music. Start with the Minutemen records, visit some Firehose and the Stooges, and then dig into Mike’s solo works — he is one prolific player. Once you’ve done that, come back and read on.
When I first went play the bass, I noticed that due to the instrument’s shape, the shoulder strap has to connect to the back of the neck joint. Usually I don’t dig this type of setup, as it often makes the bass feel imbalanced, but that didn’t occur here. Everything felt perfectly balanced. If you haven’t played a short-scale instrument, you might think that the shorter neck makes it feel weird, but I haven’t found that to be the case. I own a Danelectro ’58 Longhorn reissue, and I never feel awkward when switching between it and my Fender basses. It’s different, for sure, but not difficult to adjust to at all. The same was true with the Mike Watt bass — I took right to it.
The distinctive tone of this instrument definitely pays tribute to Mike’s sound and approach; it’s got growl for miles. No matter how I set the tone knob or where I played in relationship to the pickups, the growl spoke loudly and with attitude. That’s by design, for sure. You’ve got a volume and tone knob, and that’s it. Someone wanting something more subtle or versatile in tone might be unhappy — but then who would be considering this bass who wasn’t into the ethos of its signature artist and the genre in which he performs? As such, I loved it. It begs you to play certain styles of music over others, which was just fine with me. I tried it out on some punk tunes, but I also found it fit well within one of my favorite genres of all time: ’90s grunge.
The Reverend’s pickups are custom, and they sound like it. I discovered that the sweet spot for me was directly over the pickup, as this gave me an even blend of a bass-forward, deep-throated tone combined with an articulation that would cut through the most guitar-heavy of mixes. If I played back by the bridge, like I do on my Jazz Basses, the tone was too lightweight; too much in front of the pickup resulted in a loss of that aggressive articulation I was digging. Through it all, the bass growled no matter the position, whether I played with fingers or with a pick.
The bass proved so inspiring to play, I kept it out for a number of days and continued to try it out in various genres. Again, it’s not ideal for more mellow tunes without some thoughtful amp adjustments, but I didn’t mind that. In the end, the bass seemed well suited for gigs that demand an in-your-face aggressive tone on the low end. Also, when playing it, I easily forgot it was a short-scale instrument. That’s how a short-scale bass should be: I don’t want to be constantly thinking about its scale length.
The best compliment I can give this instrument is that when I put it back in its case (which is also custom and quite lovely) for shipping back to Reverend, I was a bit sad. While I have a host of nice basses, I have nothing like this, and that’s saying something. Like all well-designed instruments, this one inspires you to explore and test its character through the music you enjoy. So, if you play rock of any style, I encourage you to find a Mike Watt signature Reverend bass in a store near you and explore until you find some new paths in your music.
Pros Well balanced, lightweight, beautiful design; awesome bottom-heavy, growling tone
Cons Some might object that it does not offer a wide variety of tones, but, as I point out below, that is not negative in this context
Bottom Line A kickass, aggressive, short-scale bass that totally delivers.
Body Solid, korina
Neck Three-piece korina, medium oval shape, bolt-on
Scale length 30"
Pickups One P-style, passive
Fingerboard Blackwood Tek
Fingerboard radius 12"
Frets 21, medium-jumbo
Nut width 1.65" (42mm)
Controls Volume, tone
Tuners Hipshot Ultralight