Watkins Westminster ‘Black Star’
WRITTEN BY: Tony Miln
UPLOADED: 6th Jul 2016
Only ten of these ‘Black Star’ Westminsters are thought to have been produced in the late 50s. So-called because the cabinet had a black with white stars covering – long gone on this one, sadly – see below for what it should look like (image courtesy of the peerless vintage hofner site).
Unusually, this 14w Westminster is powered by a pair of EL90 (6AQ5) valves, giving it a warmer, mellow sound. According to the late great Charlie Watkins, this made it ‘popular with jazz players’ at the time (given the short production run, the juxtaposition of the words ‘popular’ and ‘jazz’ is a interesting one).
With a classic 50s black plexi panel and two input channels – one with a very tasty tremolo (non-original footswitch included) – this is unmistakably a classic Watkins amp from their golden era.
When we acquired it along with a bunch of amps from Mike Crossey’s studio, it was sporting a pretty hideous red vinyl covering that had been very sloppily-applied and was barely-functional. We had a it serviced and stripped it back to bare wood ready for a re-cover, which never happened. Somehow this demure little amp kept getting overlooked – we always seemed to have other more important things to concentrate on – it moped around the ‘to-do’ shelves here at Soundgas.
Association with the words ‘mellow’ and jazz’ tends not to get anyone here at Soundgas hot under the collar, so she was barely-touched following her service and remained determinedly-unclothed. No ball it seemed for this sonic Cinderella.
Finally, as part of his continuing mission to tidy the place up, Gid stuck it under my nose and instructed me to write some words, so yesterday I plugged it in for the first time since it’d been serviced.
What I discovered was a superbly-warm and ballsy amp that was entirely-worthy of the noble name of Westminster (regular Soundgas folk will know I love these fab Watkins amps). It can be warm and mellow, but also has plenty of grunt and bite when pushed.
I found myself playing for much longer than I’d envisaged, and it ended up taking me down several unexpected musical pathways. You can’t ask much more of a piece of gear than that it encourages creativity and inspires your playing; throw in the fact that very few other people have access to this amp’s sound, and I believe it’s an absolute winner. It’s currently up for sale on the site – assuming I don’t have second thoughts and decide this is a keeper.
Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.