Watkins Dominator Reborn ? Any Interest

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by DestroyAllGuitars, May 27, 2005.


  1. DestroyAllGuitars

    DestroyAllGuitars Member

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    Dear Forum Members,

    I'm trying not to put the cart before the horse so to speak, but
    I have news that I think is now timely to share with everyone.
    Over the past few months I have been having a steady dialogue
    with a Mr. Charles Watkins of WemWatkins fame. I think he is
    now at a point where he is seriously contemplating stepping
    out of retirement and back to the workbench for a limited time.

    Charles Watkins was the inventor of the Copicat, the 1st tube
    tape based echo unit, but more importantly his crowning
    achievement was a 2 EL84 4 input 2X10" V front 17 watt combo
    called the Watkins Dominator. This was the amp of the British
    Invasion. On an average day in Charle's shop you would find the
    likes of Page, Clapton ,Beck, Harrison, Richards, Wood, Gene
    Vincent, Hank Marvin etc.... and later, the likes of Moore, May,
    Blackmore etc....

    This amp helped define a generation whose music was a mix
    of blues and rock, or maximum R&B as one group phrased it.
    The Watkins Dominator was the amp most used not only live
    but more so in the studio by the many legendary artists
    mentioned above. There was no 18watter with such a history,
    if you know what I mean. The Watkins Dominator is the sound
    you hear on most of the classic British rock albums of the 60's
    and early 70's.

    Anyhow, I'm posting all this to try and get a gauge of the level
    of interest there would be in the possibility of players and
    collectors to be able to have one of these amps reproduced
    by Charles Watkins himself and purchased directly. I'm in no way
    a business partner, but am acting solely as an advisor free of
    any charge whatsoever. I have no idea of cost or delivery time
    as I've only just gotten to the point where Charles is seriously
    considering a trip back in time to his workbench. I would like
    to be able to give him as much motivation as possible, hence this
    post.

    Here is a short description of the Dominator from Charles:

    This is the delectable and nostalgic WATKINS "DOMINATOR" My theory was that it would dispense sound equally to left and right. Whether that was true or not I never found out. But nobody cared, anyway. They'd plug their Basses, Rhythm, Lead and Vocals in to its four inputs and give it some stick. This amplifier took the fancy of the day just right. Colourful, reliable and slightly spectacular with a sound that only a couple of raw EL84's in push pull can give. I used to call it 17 watts for want of a better guess. I think it was more like 15 with a theoretical potential of 17.

    Below is my email of earlier today from Mr. Watkins:

    Dear Cliff,

    Suppose you're wondering why I've held on to your E. mail after rather brusquely, perhaps, not attending to your words.

    Something keeps buzzing me the way you speak.

    So I have to offer you the courtesy of saying that I am beginning to have 2nd and 3rd thoughts about what may transpire to be a lovely trip to the past.

    I'll let you know if I can surmount the other problems attending my current situation.

    Best regards

    Charlie Watkins

    (I have omiitted a few personal details from the email out of
    courtesy to Charles).


    I know that if I could show Charles letters and emails showing
    him the recognition and interest he so rightfully deserves, it
    would only help to motivate him to make the next step and just
    maybe, a good bit of history will repeat itself.

    Please feel free to email me your thoughts and feelings as I will
    pass them on to Charles ASAP and hopefully supply him with
    the motivation to approach his workbench one more time, health
    permitting.
     
  2. riverastoasters

    riverastoasters Member

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    I think this is the same "17 Watts" as appears as the title of Mo Foster's excellent book.

    I would think these days there would be a whole lot of interest in Domintor reissues.
     
  3. DestroyAllGuitars

    DestroyAllGuitars Member

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    This is the amp that Mo's book is named after.
     
  4. trisonic

    trisonic Member

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    I had two of those things - I always thought they needed more gain, but this was back in the late sixties, my memory may be playing me up.

    Charlie came to one of my bands gigs (we had one of his early big PA systems) he acused us of overdriving the amp(s), this was an all tube system, ah, those were the days......

    Back then (1973?) he looked like a mad proffessor - how old is he now?

    Best, Pete.
     
  5. DestroyAllGuitars

    DestroyAllGuitars Member

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    Trisonic, my best guess would be that Charles is now in his
    early to mid 70's.
     
  6. Robal

    Robal Supporting Member

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    There is an official WEM Dominator model available, according to this website:

    http://www.wemwatkins.co.uk

    Aircraft Amps came out with a Dominator version, and the company failed, as I recall:

    http://www.aircraftamps.com/

    I have a vintage V-Front Watkins Dominator. It is a very nice amp, but really a one-trick pony. The clean sound is not particularly good, but crank it up and the overdrive/distortion is prety cool. The original Elac alnico speakers in it really suck, IMHO. The Marshall 18 watt and the Vox AC-15 were overall better amps, IMHO.
     
  7. DestroyAllGuitars

    DestroyAllGuitars Member

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    There is indeed a modern Wem Dominator available, but what
    we are talking about here is a faithful reproduction of the
    original Dominator, made by Charles himself.

    I am by no means dispelling the virtues of the Vox AC15 or
    any Marshall that may have come down the line, as they were
    all fine amps, the AC15 being one of my all time favorites, and
    am not trying to make any comparisons. I'm simply excited by
    the fact that this particular amp that played such a crucial role
    in the developement of rock music may once again be available
    by it's originator.
     
  8. Roccaforte Amps

    Roccaforte Amps Member

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    Yours truely built the Aircraft prototype,
    the guy still owns the Wem name as far as I know.
    This should be interesting.
     
  9. DestroyAllGuitars

    DestroyAllGuitars Member

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    Doug, Charles does indeed still own the name but has not
    actively been involved for a while due to age and health issues.
    His shop continues to produce both versions of the Copicat,
    the regular and the Shadows version and they are also making
    a 36 watt amp, not very true at all to the Dominator, and they
    continue to pump out his line of accordions and PA equipment.
    They even have a midi accordion.

    I'm hoping this all comes together. The great news is that a good
    deal of his old buddies are ready to step to the plate, and that
    should be a wonderful source of motivation for him, but I
    would still love to see support from the general population,
    like ourselves, who reaped the musical and sonic benefits of
    his work.

    Doug, I'm sure you're aware that this was the amp all over the
    Faces "A Nod Is As Good As Wink..." album which was a major
    influence on the Crows and many other bad boy rock bands.

    I'm also lucky in the sense that I've gotten to work side by side
    with producers such as Andy and Glyn Johns who combined
    produced the bulk of the great Stones, Zep, Who, Kinks etc....
    albums and have been fortunate enough to tap into their
    knowlegde base.
     
  10. loverocker

    loverocker Member

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    Weirdly, Charlie Watkins claims not to like his old guitar amps: "bloody thing" he told me 4 years ago. Maybe I got him on a bad day? :confused:

    Despite that, I'd love to see him get his due; it's well known now that the Marshall 18W circuit is a Dominator rip-of). I've still got a WEM Custom 15 - same circuit in a different box - and it's a terrific amp.
     
  11. DestroyAllGuitars

    DestroyAllGuitars Member

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    loverocker, as you can see in his letter from earlier today it
    seems as if he is welcoming the thought of a "lovely" trip to
    the past. I know he has a great deal of fondness for the good old days in his shop. Who wouldn't with that history. I wish I had
    been there.
     
  12. Unburst

    Unburst Member

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    I still have my old WEM Dominator III stashed away, it's the amp I learned to play on.

    At some point the OT blew and I salvaged the Mullards for another amp but i've often though about resurrecting it.

    I'd love to see the original V-front Dominator back in production.
     
  13. Swarty

    Swarty Member

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    I'm wondering why old Chuck would need to be involved at all ?
     
  14. jreardon

    jreardon Member

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    Well I was there, and it was.

    I, along with many others in the 60's started with amps like the Dominator.. Most of us moved on to 'better' amps, such as AC30's and Marshall. My personal reason was I hated the tinny distorted sound from the Dominator. Still, I loved the Copicat
     
  15. raz

    raz Member

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    Things aren't always as they seem from the pictures. At the time of "the invasion," Marshall's production capacity was limited, and Voxes were prohibitively expensive. Neither were terribly durable. The Dominator had simplicity and affordability on its side.

    What it lacked was the volume and headroom necessary to keep up with an audience that exploded out of clubs and meeting halls into theaters, auditoriums at at time when PA systems weren't keeping up either. So the Watkins was superceded by the Voxes which couldn't hope to keep up with the Marshall and Sound City/HiWatt stacks.

    Now that we guitar players have gotten over our phallic stack fixation, the club audience has shrunk, and loud, reliable PA gear is also cheap, we've entered the golden age of low-watt amplification, and the Dominator circuit (as "improved" by Jim Marshall) has become highly respected. Hallelujah.

    Mine's a GDS.

    R
    A
    Z
     
  16. DestroyAllGuitars

    DestroyAllGuitars Member

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    Raz, so true. The weak point of the Dominator was on the
    live front where volume was definitely becoming an issue
    and the higher powered stacks eventually took over. The real
    beauty and importance of the Dominator in this chapter of music
    lay in the studio and recording front, where it's saturated sounds
    graced many a classic album. I'm sure there were sonic issues
    and imperfections in the amp but just as we deal with those
    issues on current production amps so did the players of that era.
    They were all experimenting with pedals, speakers etc.....
    finding tips and tricks to get the sounds that were in their head
    out of their affordable Dominator.
     
  17. Phloored

    Phloored Member

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    Hey, I love my aircraft "atomic 20". It has the most glorious clean sound and can really get loud too if need be. Sparkly clean if I want. I usually run it with the master all the way up and just crack on the gain to give it a nice sparkly clean sound. The distorted side can make some raucus good sounds as well. If the dominator was as good as this then it is one cool amp.
     
  18. Robal

    Robal Supporting Member

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    If price and market demand are factors, consider this: One big difference between the vintage Watkins Dominator and the vintage Marshall 18 and Vox AC-15 is that you can buy a vintage Dominator for much less money than a Marshall or Vox.
    For a survey of going prices for the Watkins Dominator I see
    http://britamps.mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/watkins/price.html

    That's about $800 to $1,400 for a vintage Dominator I. An original 18 watt Marshall or Vox AC-15 would go for several times that price. As a result, good clones of the Marshall 18 watt or Vox AC-15 can sell for $1,500 - $2,500 and still be in demand because they cost substantially less than the originals. How much can you get for a reissue of a vintage Watkins when the original can be bought for $1,000 or so? (That's what I paid for my circa 1963 V-front Dominator that had been gone through by Plexi Palace; I paid over four times that for my mint 1963/64 AC-15 Twin). Bottom line, IMHO, the market demand for a reissue Watkins Dominator will depend on its retail price to a large degree, and how it compares to the relatively low prices paid for the originals.

    Also, except for the earliest years, the Dominator was a printed circuit board amp (even by 1963), that was a cheaper, entry level amp alternative to the nicer handwired Marshall and Vox 2xEL84 amps. Would the reissue also be a PC board amp? If it's true point-to-point wired design, like the 1950's version, it's probably going to be fairly labor intensive, i.e., expensive, to make and would have to be priced accordingly.

    If the prices for vintage Dominators rise substantially, then the above consideration change, obviously.

    I am not saying this to discourage you, because the V-Front Dominator I is a great little amp and a new version -- with better speakers and more ample clean sound -- would be a nice alternative. I still think it's one of the coolest looking amps, too. Best of luck if Charlie and you elect to pursue this. I'd be very interested in checking it out.
     
  19. rreiser

    rreiser Supporting Member

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    I think it would be great if Charles built some amps. Maybe he could even use better parts or improve the amp if that can be done. I have never heard the amp in person but a friend I trust really liked it. Bottom line is I applaud Charles for his past work and I feel it would be good for him to create it again. Never quit.
     
  20. DestroyAllGuitars

    DestroyAllGuitars Member

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    Robal, the idea would be for Charles himself to build the
    original handwired Dominator with some better quality
    parts and speakers. This is not a situation where he'd be
    tooling up for a significant run of product, in fact, I would
    imagine that the entire run of product, should this happen,
    would be fairly small when compared to the numbers being
    put out by today's boutique builders.

    In terms of price, it's way too early to get a handle on that.
    Charles would first have to step to his bench and drawing
    board, finalize the layout and then we can cost it out.

    This is an opportunity for a great piece of history to repeat
    itself. This is one project that I believe truly blurs the lines
    between collectors, players, producers etc..... I want one
    for all 3 of the prior mentioned. As a producer and player, it
    would be dream come true to have one of Charles's hand
    made amps in my studio, and although I'm not a collector by
    any means, I would have to admit that this is one piece that
    I would treasure as a centerpiece or conversation piece in
    my studio or home.

    The bottom line is that we would have an opportunity to have
    one of these classic amplifiers built by it's original designer. This
    opportunity will never happen again in regard to the Dominator
    as age and health factors are playing a huge part in all of this.

    This would be the last great Hurrah and I certainly want to be
    part of that should Charles be able to overcome a few last
    hurdles and get back in action. I have been the one coaching
    and coaxing him to this point and now it's entirely up to him
    to take the next step. I'll be there regardless of cost or time,
    as I could not put a price tag on this. Charles is one of the original
    bad boys of boutique building and he will have my support 100%

    Where would we be if we abandoned all our mentors and elders?

    I'm posting all this just to get a gauge and see how many people
    would be interested in being part of this strictly based on the
    possibility of owning one of Charles's creations. This is not about
    bang for the buck or which amp is better than that amp, it's
    purely about history here. A good amount of star players, old
    friends of Charles, have committed their support and I'm simply
    trying to extend this offer/possibility to others. If this happens,
    we could be looking at 10 amps, 100 amps or who knows what.
    Again it's too early to tell, but logic dictates that this will be a
    rather limited event.

    Robal, I'd like to thank you for your input, interest and support. It
    means a great deal to me to have somone with your knowledge
    giving me some additional perspectives on all this. Please hit me
    with any further ideas and thoughts you may have as they will
    all certainly be taken to heart and I will keep you posted on any
    and all updates from Charles. Thanks so much.
     

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