#1
Hi.

So... GAS got me again. A few weeks ago this guitar showed up for sale on a local Facebook ad - I'd heard of Watkins amps but didn't know they made guitars. I just assumed it was going to be total junk and ignored it. But then, for whatever reason, I got curious and decided to check it out, thinking "The asking price is £270, if it's at least as good as any modern guitar I could get for that price, then it's a fair deal". Tried it on sunday night, was pleasantly surprised by it, and it also turned out the seller was the guy who used to run the local music shop where my dad bought his Rickenbacker 4001 back in 1979! There were a couple of issues, but he corrected them and delivered the guitar to me on monday morning.



It's a Watkins Rapier 22, made in England circa 1965 (according to the seller). Watkins/WEM are better known for their copycat tape delay units. It was a pretty cheap guitar, costing around £25-30 in old money, and there were 3 versions offered - the 22, with 2 pickups, the 33, with 3 pickups and the 44 with... well, just guess how many pickups! Most were finished in this sort of imitation fiesta red finish, like Hank's stratocaster, because this guitar was intended to be an affordable alternative to the strat, from an era in which it was literally impossible for the average consumer to get their hands on an american made guitar. It's hard to tell from the photo but there's a lot of checking/cracking in the finish which can only really be seen up close.



Here's a closer shot of the body - which is made out of.. I have no idea. It's super lightweight, whatever it is, and very small, too. About 3/4 the size of a strat body, and about as thin as an SG. The pickguard is quite thick and the "rapier 22" lettering is stamped into it, rather than being a decal which can wear off over time.

The control layout is pretty straightforward once you know how it works - there are individual volume knobs for each pickup, and a tone control which is only connected to the neck pickup. pickups can be switched on and off individually using that weird black box which has two very small plastic slider switches sticking out of the top of it - a black one and a red one. weirdly, the red one is for the neck pickup and the black one is for the bridge - seems a bit ass-backwards given their respective positions, but... that's the way it is. the toggle switch is a "rhythm/solo" switch. Solo mode is essentially bypassing the switch entirely, whereas Rhythm mode reduces the output and filters some high treble out of the sound. It's effective for both pickups, and is actually pretty useful.

The tremolo system (called "Hi-Lo" for some reason) is... okay. It holds tuning relatively well when used for some subtle vibrato effects, but it doesn't handle much abuse. It doesn't have the range of a strat tremolo, and functions more like a jaguar/jazzmaster trem. The bridge is fixed in place, although it rocks back and forth when the trem is used. The string height can be adjusted but not the intonation - With 9-42 gauge strings the 12th fret octave is a little sharp across all strings, but I intend to put some 11 gauge strings on it which should correct this. This guitar was clearly not designed for light gauge strings, as light gauge strings weren't really available at the time.



Here's a pic of the headstock, which is about twice the size of an average strat or tele headstock! no string trees or anything either, so there's a very shallow angle that the strings pass over the nut/zero fret, and a lot of excess string between the nut and the tuners too. The headstock is angled back slightly. These tuners hold the thing in tune fairly well although they are a bit stiff and could probably use some lubrication. I presume the chrome plate covers up the truss rod access, although some of these guitars didn't have truss rods.



One last pic here, showing how thin the neck is, the almost flat fingerboard radius and - do you notice anything that's missing here?

Anyway - how does it perform?

Well, it's a cheap guitar. It's solidly built, has a nice feel and good action, but I'd be lying if I said it was a "great" guitar. I certainly wouldn't want to pay a vintage premium for one (Some have sold for as much as £800! That seems absurd, to me! You could get a really good used strat for that!). But It's definitely something I can use. One shortcoming I'm really noticing is that there's not much resonance or depth in the tone - without turning this into a "tonewood" debate, it almost seems like the body is contributing nothing to the tone. It's all wire. This is especially noticeable when playing single note lines higher up the fingerboard - in addition to lacking sustain, it's also very thin and hollow sounding up there. This is not really a problem for me, though, in this case I see it as part of the character of the guitar - a limitation to work around.

It's not all bad, though - Weak high notes aside, it has an extremely strident, surfy twang, with a detailed, sparkling top end that's quite unlike anything else I own. Particularly on the bridge pickup. I think I'm going to be using this guitar quite a lot for recording. It stays very crisp and defined with distortion, but also generates a lot of hum, too. Also, the bridge and neck pickup combination is out of phase, and in conjunction with the tone control that only affects the neck pickup, I can get some pretty unique blends of different tones. One thing I like to do is dial all the top end out of the neck pickup until it sounds like mud, and then switch in the bridge pickup and blend them together so that the sparkle and spank of the bridge pickup is left intact but the neck pickup sort of adds a bit of "growl" to the low end.

So yeah, I think I've said enough now - It's a reasonably nice playing guitar with an interesting tone, a few shortcomings, but for £270, I'm happy with it. It's a cool, unique piece of british rock 'n' roll history!
Happiness is a warm Vox AC30
#2
very cool. seen that name mentioned more than once by british gutar hero types when asked about their first guitar.
#3


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#4
Sweet HNGD reminds me of the 60s/70s Japanese guitars that many of us old timers cut our teeth on!
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#5
it looks fiesta red!

congrats blomp, i know you'll put it to good use.
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#6
Now just get a Dominator and you can have the ultimate Watkins rig!
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#7
Quote by H4T3BR33D3R
Now just get a Dominator and you can have the ultimate Watkins rig!

I actually have every intention of getting one of those early "v-front" dominators at some point - they have a really cool sound with quite early breakup on the tremolo channel. I'm not in a position to buy one for a while though because I also just bought an alto saxophone

Plugging this guitar into my '64 Vox AC30 definitely has some vintage 'magic' to it - it's a completely authentic 1960s british rock 'n' roll tone. It's a great combination, and even makes those thin, sustainless high notes sound like they are meant to sound like that! I have a gig tonight and I'm tempted to use this guitar but it probably sounds too tame for some of the heavier stuff
Happiness is a warm Vox AC30
#8
Quote by Blompcube
I actually have every intention of getting one of those early "v-front" dominators at some point - they have a really cool sound with quite early breakup on the tremolo channel. I'm not in a position to buy one for a while though because I also just bought an alto saxophone

Plugging this guitar into my '64 Vox AC30 definitely has some vintage 'magic' to it - it's a completely authentic 1960s british rock 'n' roll tone. It's a great combination, and even makes those thin, sustainless high notes sound like they are meant to sound like that! I have a gig tonight and I'm tempted to use this guitar but it probably sounds too tame for some of the heavier stuff


If you get one of those old Dominators I will be forever jealous
Quote by Axelfox
my mom and i went to a furry con and on the second day she said she didn't come and pay money to go see dumb shit.


Quote by JustRooster
I incurred the wrath of the Association of White Knights. Specifically the Parent's Basement branch of service.
#9
Well, I did use it for the first set - the guitar handled it fine, I just had a few difficulties with the really thin strings that I haven't got around to changing. This guitar wasn't really designed for thin strings - the nut slots are cut very wide, I would imagine it would've originally been shipped with 12-52 gauge with a wound 3rd at an absolute minimum, and the bridge is positioned for more accurate intonation with heavier strings, so it starts to sound a bit sharp around the 12th fret and above with the 9-42s that are on it (they feel lighter than the 8-38 gauge strings I put on one of my SGs a while ago). I'll try some 11s and see how that goes.
Happiness is a warm Vox AC30
#10
Thank God! I thought it was going to be a Burns Black Bison! HNGD! Enjoy the hell out of it!
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#11
It is a little bit burns-esque, now that you mention it. I think lots of UK guitars from the time were like that, with thin necks, flat fingerboard radius, small frets and a zero fret, with the nut simply acting as a string spacer. And of course, a very bright and kinda thin tone that has incredible clarity and note separation, without being shrill and ice-picky.

Nobody has noticed/commented on what is missing in that neck pic yet
Happiness is a warm Vox AC30
#12
holy fuck no side dots?

i'd be so screwed.

that thing screams surf rock to me blomp.
Why don't they make mouse flavored cat food?
Last edited by gregs1020 at Nov 29, 2016,
#13
Quote by gregs1020
holy fuck no side dots?

i'd be so screwed.

that thing screams surf rock to me blomp.

You got it - It only really bothers me if I end up thinking about it. I can be playing just fine like nothing's different, and then randomly notice the lack of side dots and start freaking out about it and getting totally lost.

Yeah it's incredibly surfy sounding, in fact it out-surfs my Jazzmaster
Happiness is a warm Vox AC30
#14
i would be putting dots on there myself, just to prevent a mishap. there's enough distractions when playing out.

any chance of getting some clips of this bad boy through the vox?
Why don't they make mouse flavored cat food?
#15
I'll try and get some clips done but it's difficult at the moment as I'm starting to re-decorate and de-clutter the house.

Put 11 gauge strings on it on wednesday night, intonation is a lot better now, but I did have to correct an issue where there was a build up of some solidified crud in the 3rd string's nut slot preventing it from making proper contact with the zero fret I thought I was gonna need to use a wound 3rd string if I wanted it to play anywhere near close to in tune, but now it's fine with an unwound one.
Happiness is a warm Vox AC30
#16
Quote by Blompcube
I'll try and get some clips done but it's difficult at the moment as I'm starting to re-decorate and de-clutter the house.

Put 11 gauge strings on it on wednesday night, intonation is a lot better now, but I did have to correct an issue where there was a build up of some solidified crud in the 3rd string's nut slot preventing it from making proper contact with the zero fret I thought I was gonna need to use a wound 3rd string if I wanted it to play anywhere near close to in tune, but now it's fine with an unwound one.

i feel you there. i'm between places and trying to finish a strat build i've had going for 10 months.

funny thing about the nut! plenty of years of grime build up can cause havoc, maybe that's why the old guitars sound so good! lol. no worries if it's a pita, just thought it would be cool to hear.
Why don't they make mouse flavored cat food?