DAVID KRONEMYER: This is a brief pictorial history of Hiwatt. Dave Reeves started making amplifiers in the early 1960s. In addition to trading as Hiwatt, Reeves also did work on a subcontracted basis for other companies such as Sound City and Solasound (which owned the brand name “Coloursound,” its most famous pedal being the “Tonebender”). Reeves formed Hylight Electronics in September 1966, which was Hiwatt for all intents and purposes. Hylight officially changed its name to Hiwatt in March 1970.
The earliest Hiwatts were built during the period 1963 – 1965. They are top-mounted with a white front grill and have a black-on-gold “cursive” plexi logo, see Picture #1. In 1966 – 1968 Reeves shifted to a front-loaded design with a “script” plexi or traffolyte logo, as shown at Picture #2. As with Marshall, there are transition models, which vary in some characteristics, such as the bottom two heads in Picture #1. Reeves also subcontracted assembly to smaller companies when the workload became heavy, which may account for the cosmetic changes that took place at various points in Hiwatt’s early history.
Picture # 1
During this period Reeves also manufactured various prototypes and supplied amplifiers directly to musicians. All of these probably were different, as they were designed and built for specific customers. Examples of these are shown in Pictures #3 – #6. Some models made during 1968 – 1969 had metal badges, as shown at the bottom of Picture #6. Reeves also sold some heads under his own name, as shown at Picture #5. This may have been due to a restrictive distribution deal, as was the case with Park and Marshall.
Starting in 1970 most models have a white-on-black traffolyte block logo, which is the “classic” Hiwatt look, as shown at Picture #7. Reeves entered into a manufacturing relationship with Harry Joyce, whose company put the heads into production. The two models for which Hiwatt best is known are the DR103 and the DR504 (“DR” being the initials of the company’s founder). The DR103 is a 100 watt class A/B valve head using an EL34 power tub output stage (it is a popular misconception that Hiwatts are pure class A). The DR504 is a 50W version. Both types were made individually with hand-laced wiring looms and point-to-point construction on tag-strips. This time-consuming method of construction gives remarkable dynamics, clarity to the sound and a sonic signature that is unavailable from any other amplifier. In addition to innovative circuit design with its radical tone-shaping capabilities, and meticulous wiring technique, other contributors to the characteristic Hiwatt sound are the output transformers supplied by Partridge, the most prestigious of British manufacturers; and the Mullard output tubes.
Reeves died in March 1981. Joyce died in January 2002. In April 1985 the UK company Music Ground bought the Hiwatt name and makes extremely accurate reproductions. Music Ground does not own rights outside of the UK and Europe. In North America and Asia it is owned by Fernandez, which has marketed an unfortunate line of pedals and accessories. In the early 2000s Fernandez sued Music Ground on account of Music Ground’s importing amplifiers into the US, allegedly in violation of its rights. Music Ground settled the case by agreeing not to do so in the future. Below is an interesting document that details the dispute in further detail. In April 2010 Music Ground evidently shut down and its future prospects are unknown. Vintage Hiwatts appear regularly on EB and elsewhere and if you’re looking for one those most likely are your best option.