Body wood: Figured Maple
Top & Back wood: Goncalo Alves
Neck type: Neck through
Neck materials: Curly Maple, Brazilian Cherry and Goncalo Alves
Fingerboard: Ebony with snail shell block inlays
Scale length: 32”- 35” fanned frets
Pickups: Watson Dual Coils
Preamp: Audere 4 band 18v preamp, switchable split coil + serial + parallel
Hardware: ABM chrome, Neutrik locking output jack
Finish: High Gloss Polyester Resin clear-coat with custom paintwork on the back
Weight: 10.25 lbs
My first encounter with Watson Guitars was at NAMM in ’09. Their booth was brimming with beautiful and unique looking instruments and warm inviting smiles, courtesy of the husband and wife team of Alex and Tere Watson. They recently sent me one of their creations to check out; a fanned fret 6 string headless model, which registers off the chart on the ‘wow factor’ scale. A 6 string fanned fret headless is an engineering feat by any standard, and Watson does a great job of elegantly navigating the inherent design and playability hurdles. Most importantly though, this is a players bass, not just a cool looking design project.
The Watson features a maple, cherry and goncalo alves thru neck, and flamed maple body wings which are capped top and back with rich and subtle goncalo alves. The neck shape was fast and sleek, and had a high gloss poly finish, as did the entire bass. Bold snail shell block inlays adorned the thick ebony fingerboard, which added to the basses overall impressive aesthetic, and were expertly inlayed with no visible gaps or seams. Fretwork was fantastic; the bass showed up with super low action, and was buzz free. I found the necks’ thin front-to-back profile, wide string spacing, and medium fingerboard radius to be very comfortable and fatigue free.
Electronics-wise, Watson outfitted the bass with a pair of their own house built humbucking pickups, each of which are switchable between split coil, series, and parallel configurations, offering a formidable array of choices. The 4 band Audere preamp features excellent components and a broad range of tonal control in a very high quality, transparent sounding package. Individually staggered ABM saddles allow for the fanned scale length at the bridge, and I found the Watson headless system slick, easy to use, and made quick work of string changes. Because the Watson doesn’t require double ball strings as some headless basses do, string options are greatly increased. A high quality Neutrik locking jack was nice to see for its peace of mind factor and high quality feel.
I was able to play the Watson in a variety of settings, and had a great time putting it through the paces. Having owned a fanned fret 6 in the past myself, I remembered what I liked so much about that configuration: the B sounded great at 35”, but the high C measured 32”, which makes it sound much more musical and less twangy, to my ears (this is often the Achilles heel of 35” scale 6 string basses). The string tension felt very balanced top to bottom. The Watson dual coils sounded great; slightly aggressive, clear and articulate. The bass had a nice grunt and texture to its sound that helped it sit very well in a busy mix. The electronics felt abundantly solid and were dead quiet in almost all settings. Watson uses magnets to hold the cavity cover and battery cover in place, and I am starting to think all basses should have this feature. No more fumbling with tiny screwdrivers, no more stripped screw holes, etc…
Ergonomically, this bass is sort of the opposite of the wavy organic shapes that many boutique basses strive for, opting for more of a utilitarian, functional aesthetic, which it accomplishes without seeming overbuilt or bulky. The body still felt comfy and inviting, although its squarish edges and flat surfaces added some overall heft. This in my opinion helped the streamlined, diminutive silhouette of the body feel substantial, and helped to balance the feel and weight of the wide neck. One thing I struggled with was the Watson’s inability to sit in any stand. Between the bottom bout’s radical cutout that allows for the tuning post access, and the headless neck, there was no stand I could get it to safely sit in. I tried a bunch of different styles, none of which offered a safe harbor for the Watson. (Watson responds: we have been able to get “hugger” stands in the marketplace for our headless instruments. Also, due to its small size, this instrument fits into just about any guitar case on the market.)
It’s pretty obvious that this is not a bass for your average P bass purist, or Jazz bass stalwart, so I will skip the “its looks aren’t for everyone” speech. Clearly this bass is visually arresting, and thus is more appropriate for folks who want a dramatic looking instrument that breaks the mold with an adventurous and unique look. To me, the coolest thing about the Watson is that underneath its wild and unconventional exterior is a beautifully crafted and masterfully built bass that plays remarkably easily despite its daunting fanned fret layout, and offers a flood of wonderful and usable tonal options. Alex and Tere Watson offer a variety of body shapes and styles that range from ultra sexy carved single cutaway designs, to even more outrageous original body shapes, and even their take on a Thunderbird design.
For more info, or for pricing, visit Watson on the web at www.watsonguitars.net