This site is dedicated to Watkins / WEM / Wilson Guitars and WEM amps





This is a fine example of a Watkins Rapier 22. Early models had the name Hi-Lo on the tremolo plate (after 1968 this was Wilson) and a Rhythm/Solo toggle switch up near the neck pickup. A Rapier logo was inscribed into the scratchplate on the right hand side of the pickups and would have been originally gold but this has worn away on most guitars.There was also a decal of the Watkins logo on the headstock in later models. Early knobs were black or white with a concave chrome top. The Rapier model was produced from late 50s to late 70s. Most variations occurred after 1968 with the brand change to Wilson. 1969 price was £33

Rapiers were mostly produced in red but there are a few white ones about, the occasional natural wood and even a light ice blue. A few colour variations were made to special order for customers (see Sunburst picture below).

Thanks to Tim Cooper for the Rapier 22 photo


This is how they came out of the box in 1963, except that this picture was taken in 2005. A remarkably mint Rapier 33 appeared on eBay complete with original packing, instructions and hire purchase card for the first lady owner. There can't be many others out there in such good condition which is why I added this one to my collection.

The Rapier 33 has an extra pickup in a slanted middle position. Early models are painted red all the way up the neck and onto the headstock. Many people preferred the natural wood look and stripped their Rapiers down. The original tremolo arms were chrome plated. Since they were a push fit (not screwed in) many have lost their tremolo arms over the years. A Strat spare is a reasonable replacement although those have a threaded end and they may need some bending to make a comfortable playing position.

The Rapier above is finished in factory original Ice Blue

Pictures of # 51567 with toaster pickups circa 1964 from Nick Harling

Pictured above is an unusual Sunburst finish Rapier 33 body from Jon Hazelwood. It looks as if it dates from the WEM period 1964-68 by the toaster pickups, thick scratchplate and Hi-Lo trem plate badge


I have in my collection a left-handed Rapier which pre-dates the Strat shape which is so characteristic of the Rapier range. Serial number is 361 and this was an early example of Watkins guitar production before they settled on the definitive Rapier shape. Certainly by serial number 425 which I have, the better known shape was the norm. The early model is characterised by an almost symmetrical body, three a side headstock and pearloid scratchplate.

One of my contributors, Adrian has #17 a right handed version. Since writing the above, I have acquired an even earlier one, Serial #8 . In this model, the perloid scratchplate is a very thin sheet of veneer (which warps and shrinks alarmingly) applied to a thin plywood sheet. The serial number is hand written on the body in the control cut-out and again behind the scratchplate. This model is finished in mahogany "primitive" sunburst which looks as if it has been the original colour. There is a through neck construction and quite a high action.

Charlie Watkins solves the mystery:

Dear Reg,
"Now you've made my day, week - MONTH. Yes, I can tell you all about it. I was the prime mover in its design which I partly nicked from the U.S.A. 'National'. I designed the pick up and made the metal shell. But it was just a coil around a long magnet bar which left the 'off pole' areas a bit weak. Reg (Watkins) sorted the rest of it out in his own inimitable way. Spliced the neck with mahogany (I think) end to end to stop movement. This is the guitar which just missed being the first Brit solid by about a week. I think it was 1958. I have still got a model now. Love it. REAL nostalgia. "
Charlie Watkins

The Vibra model below is basically a Rapier Deluxe with a Tremolo fitted

More about the Vibra model on the "Other Solids" page



When the guitar company mutated into Wilson in 1968, a wider range of colours were introduced such as white, royal blue,yellow and gold. In 1969 a Rapier 33 would have cost £36.

This fantastic array of Wilson Guitars was at the Frankfurt Trade Fair early 70s

One variant of the Rapier 33 had a four position pickup selector switch rather like the Rapier 44. Pictures below courtesy of fellow enthusiast Geoff Gaskell.




The Watkins Rapier 44 on the left above is an early model #7829, pre-1964 with toaster pickups and non-trussed neck.

The Wilson Rapier 44 on the right (#17211) dates after 1968. It had been badly repainted several times before I found it in a Plymouth junk shop. I decided to reproduce the 'strat blue' which is very near to one of the factory colours, Ice Blue. I think it makes a refreshing change from red!

It is doubtful whether having four pickups was of any real benefit to the Rapier's range of tones but it certainly gave the guitar a dramatic appearance which would be regarded today as 'street cred' and it may have had some marketing value.

A variation of the 44 is the Circuit 4 (see Other Solids page) which was deliberately embellished to command a higher asking price (47 guineas !). There were more tone variation knobs and an oblong set of three push switches high up on the scrathplate to select the pickup combinations. Unfortunately these three knobs did not stand up to the test of time and most examples today are missing most of their knobs.



A trio of Rapiers belonging to Geoff Gaskell in 2003(with thanks for permission to use)

Blue 22 # 6237 ...........Red 33 # 5484 .....Natural 44 # 10857


Here are some more nice Rapier photos from John Clouston
White was an unusual colour for early Rapiers but a few seem to have escaped from the factory. They have tended to go cream with age. This photo of a later Wilson Rapier is from Mike Hember . The Wilson Rapiers had much beefier pickups. They look the same externally but are much deeper set in the control cavity and have heavier magnets and coil windings.

Below - another white Wilson Rapier 33 from Chris Hobbs

note the polyester cracks in the finish so typical of vintage Rapiers


Reg Watkins had great sympathy with left-handed guitarists who couldn't find a suitable instrument so about 10% of the guitar output was left handed. Above is a nice mid-70s Wilson Rapier with the much improved Schaller humbuckers. Below is a mid-60s Rapier 22 owned by Drew McFadyen

Another natural finish leftie Wilson Rapier

A good looking leftie Rapier 33 owned by Steve Walker



The Intellectual Property Rights for all Rapier Designs and the registered name Watkins Rapier were gifted to Reg Godwin in 2009 by Charlie Watkins and were officially registered.

Many thanks to Charlie for his generosity and confidence that I will uphold the originality of the design against duplication by others.

Strictly Copyright 2010 (c) Reg Godwin and individual contributors