The best way to find out what an amplifier is really like........ask someone who's using one!
Darell Higham talks about his red Reissue Dominator. Click here
for the link to his Youtube video.
CG From Florida USA owns and uses one of the first reissue Dominators. He has been using this for some months now, and I think it's safe to say "he likes it".
Subject: Watkins Dominator Reissue 2x10 V-Front
Reviewer Background: 4 years of DIY amp building, former volunteer moderator for the Watkins Amp Building forums & SEwatt.com
Purchased From: BritAmps.co.uk
The Watkins Dominator was the original 18watt EL84 amp circuit that Jim Marshall copied, which is the amp most often copied by today's DIY builders; so. that makes Charlie Watkins the true father of the modern 18 watt amp in my book. These reissues are recreated under the scrutiny and license of the man himself, and the amp even has his autograph on it to prove it. So, this rare and precious beauty of a hand crafted 2x10 Watkins Dominator Reissue features the look, the bling, the knobs, and control panel graphics from the 1963 Watkins Dominator model in a new powder coated chassis and a two tone gold tuxedo; but the amplifier circuit itself is a recreation of Charlie Watkins' favorite Dominator circuit, which was the last of the tagboard versions of the Dominator before the change to printed circuit boards of the early 60's.
This amp sports a Tremolo Channel (with footswitch pedal) and a "Mic" channel. The Tremolo Channel has Lo/Hi impedance inputs, tremolo speed and depth, a single "Tweed" style tone control, and a volume knob larger than the rest that makes for quick and easy tweaks. The "Mic" channel is really a slightly higher gain guitar channel, also with large volume knob and a single tone pot, but of a slightly different configuration which gives it a warmer voicing than the Trem channel. The "Mic" channel has Lo and Hi Gain inputs, the latter benefitting from a mild gain boost via the use of parallel input tube stages. This is not modern high gain. This is old school boosted gain without any grid stop resistors on the input tube's control grids, which can cause excessive RF noise with single coils. No brakes on this bad boy! And no tone sucking channel switching relays or gain sucking TMB tone stack, either. Just pure tone getting from your fingers and strings straight to the speakers. And quite possibly the finest Tremolo ever created. It's no wonder Jim Marshall copied this amp and not the Vox. I'll give it a 10 because it's got exactly what I need, and nothing I don't need. Including excess weight. This amp only weighs 34 pounds!
To Die For! At low volume, the warm clean tones I get from this amp are far more sensitive to pick attack than any of my other amps, which makes this amp a dream come true for an old fingerpicker like me. Put the Trem channel (the "clean" channel) volume up to about 7, and the amp hits its sweet spot for great power tube compression and distortion where you can roll back the guitar volume for cleans at the same output level which is very loud and gig-worthy. The "Mic" channel's Hi Gain input offers even more hard core saturation on "7" that's just dripping with sweet harmonic fatness and detail. It's nicely fat and round on the bottom without being flabby. It's got all the sparkle and chime I could hope for without being screechy bright. And it's got the most luscious and vocally mids I've ever heard from a guitar amp! Exceptionally well balanced throughout the bandwidth of a guitar's range of tones.
The tremolo is truly useful. From choppy stutters to a slow and subtle swirl, it's got more up its sleeve than one might imagine from such a simple effect, and I've come to rely on it more than I ever imagined I would. It's that good! Compared to my homebrew GDS 18watt Marshall 1974x clone (the very 18watt amp circuit that Jim Marshall snagged almost verbatim from the Dominator, by the way), this IS the same amp with the same tone, except for some extremely important differences. Marshall changed the layout, which made the tremolo more unstable and slow to start rolling at lower settings. The Dominator's tremolo is very stable and reliable without the quirks, and it starts doing it's oscillation business right away. On a strictly amp tone comparison standpoint, this reissue Dominator is not as hi-fi sounding as my Marshall clone. The reissue Dominator uses similarly high quality components, but it was designed to elicit the perfect balance between punchy response and a slight smoothing of the fast transients in the tone. That definitely gives the Dominator the edge for sounding more like a vintage guitar amp should sound: Lo-fi, smooth, and exceptionally musical! Just like the originals.
But it's Charlie Watkins' V-front cab design that was the final critical factor of the tone equation, and the very reason that I bought this amp! You simply cannot get a cabinet like this anywhere else! Best of all, it really works wonders with 18watt circuit and speakers, like they were all made for each other. They do create tonal magic together. With the cab elevated, the 2x10 V-front design does indeed spread my tone throughout my converted 2-car garage/man cave. I can walk around the room playing my guitar without noticing any of the obvious changes and flat spots in my tone that I get from my 1x12 18w combo. To say I'm impressed with that factor would be a gross understatement. Charlie Watkins, you sir, are THE ORIGINAL true genius of amp design.
With all due respect, this Watkins Dominator Reissue benefits from compliance with modern safety regulation through the use of a grounded electrical cord and other details that not only serve to make it quieter, but also safer to use than an original Dominator. The new chassis' also has a hard powder-coat finish which should out last the original painted chassis by many years. The extremely high quality workmanship of Chris Uff from EVA (English Valve Amps) is so top shelf that the chassis makes Orange amps look like plain old vanilla. The 2x10 V-front cabinets are handcrafted to exacting original Dominator spec, and pictures of the cab construction can be seen in detail on 18watt.com's picture gallery. Even the Radio Spares-style transformers are handmade boutique quality stuff commissioned specifically for these reissues. I have no doubt this amp will still be singing its sweet songs long after I'm gone from this earth.
Ease of Use:
Couldn't be easier. Volume and Tone. Or, Volume, Tone, Trem Speed and Depth. The tremolo is footswitched on and off. Tube swaps are a no brainer because this amp is cathode biased (think Vox's class A hype). Cathode biased amps will never need a bias adjustment after a tube swap. This amp is truly Plug and Play!
Super friendly folks. Very responsive to questions, and very quick to ship orders. Considering the extremely high quality of construction in all regards, and the fact that amps built on RoHS-compliant resin-based turretboards will rarely, if ever, need servicing; I doubt they'll ever see these amps in their shop again. I told 'em to forget the warranty cuz I couldn't stand parting with it now anyway. Yeah. It's THAT much a keeper!
Overall, I'd have to say that the more I play this reissue Dominator, the more I am genuinely falling in love with this amp! It seems to love all my guitars and pedals, that's for sure. I've got about 300+ hours of playing time on it now, and I guess maybe I'm finally beginning to truly understand exactly why the original Watkins Dominator earned such a lofty and highly respected reputation for quality of tone. It had to be an impossibly lucky coincidental combination of the perfect 18w amp circuit being created at just the right time to get mated to the most perfectly suited iron, and built into the most uniquely perfect cab stuffed with exactly the right speakers it needed to let the magic out in the nicest of ways.
Watkins, WEM, Dominator, Westminster and Clubman are registered trade marks of Watkins Electric Music Ltd.