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Hiwatt - What up with them?


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Recently, Rhett Shull posted a video of the Hiwatt sound.  Sounded really really good, but is it?  The video talked about how the first amps were labeled Sound City (which I think a couple members here have) but were early Hiwatt amps.  

I must admit, I'm rather intrigued with the amp.  I've known about the amp, and some of the player who used them.  But I associated them with bands from the 60-70's that needed a lot of volume to be heard.  Almost like a louder than a Marshall amp. 

Design-wise, it appears to be close to a Marshall/Vox thing.  Its circuit layout seems rather simple for what they are.

What are everyone's thoughts on them?  Are they just another British sound "flavor" or are they really their own thing?

I like the idea of a big transformer, big bottle amps.  Problem is where would I use them?  I'd have to buy something to attenuate the amp so I could use it at a reasonable volume.   According to Rhett, the 20 watt head is not the same sound....

 

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Well he’s right a 20 watt head isn’t the same sound. If only we could all be in band big enough to play stadiums so we could enjoy those big glorious amps. It’s alright with me though, 20 watts can fill up a small club pretty well and not require back surgery to get them from the car (or should I say moving van for a 100 watt head and two 4x12 cabs?) to the stage. 

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Townshend!!!

Never owned one, always wanted one.  Like Marshall, there  are too many flavors out there.

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Years ago I went to SLC guitar store and plugged my Les Paul in to a Hiwatt 100 watt into a Hiwatt straight 4X12 cabinet and I was floored by the tone of that amp, but it was EXPENSIVE!!! I never shelled out that kind of money for an amp, so it was not to be mine :(

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6 hours ago, rockabilly69 said:

Years ago I went to SLC guitar store and plugged my Les Paul in to a Hiwatt 100 watt into a Hiwatt straight 4X12 cabinet and I was floored by the tone of that amp, but it was EXPENSIVE!!! I never shelled out that kind of money for an amp, so it was not to be mine :(

Watching the video above, sounds like the "Hiwatt" sound must have the Hiwatt cabinet, not just any old cabinet will do.

For budget friendly people, I found Ceriatone does have a clone amp for much less. Their "Hey What" amp...http://www.ceriatone.com/series/model/hey-what/

Still too rich for my blood.

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A lot of people think because an amp has a high wattage rating that you can't use it in a smaller situation and before modern, now technically ancient designs, that had some merit, depending on where in the power curve of the amp the end-user chose to get "his/her" sound.   Each stage of an amp is part of a system chain that colors the output of the guitar pickup each based on its gain, power source stability, and filtering.  The result you hear is a summation of the chain with a final filter, the speaker, cabinet, and where you place your ear relative to the sound wave.  Hiwatt, like big bottle audiophile Marantz amps, did not saturate the pickup output in the earlier stages of the chain, so you get a high fidelity signal all the way through.  Hiwatt used inefficient Fane speakers which when driven hard would break up and color the sound wave to give the characteristic sound.  Inefficient does not mean beshissen, but the power delivered to the speaker is not accurately seen in the output of the sound wave.  There is a unique coloration.

A big bottle amp, referring to the output tubes, sounds much different when run is a triode mode (less wattage) than pentode mode.  Take any amp with a power selection and compare what you hear at the different wattage settings.  You will likely prefer the full power setting because the others do not deliver the full fidelity of the initial part of the signal chain.  You hear something not quite as warm, with a part of the bloom missing.   The point is greater power leads to higher fidelity even when it is not cranked.

I came close to taking a plunge in the Hiwatt pool, but didn't want to fight a front end designed for clarity, one which lacked touch sensitivity.  Listen to the guy's clips of mainly the guitar without effects and you will hear it die early, no sustain, which is part guitar part feedback within the amp.  My experience, yours may be different.

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I've had a few, they are great amps and since they (were? ) built to mil-spec, they were super reliable & easy to work on back in the day, for touring pros.

They sound glorious if you can crank them ( Townshend ), but they also make fantastic clean pedal platforms ( Gilmour ). Interesting Gilmour doesn't use Hiwatt cabs, maybe related to mars_hall's point above? Or he just had a bunch of WEM cabs already. He does tend to keep & reuse old gear.

I wish I hadn't sold mine, but had to pay some bills etc.

The Partridge transformers I think contribute to the sound.

My old Traynor YBA1 covered a lot of similar sonic territory, which somewhat justified selling the Hiwatts, but it's a bit unique.

Edited by bolero
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My limited experience of them was that the break up was somewhat farty and blatty.....not smooth like a marshall.

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Just now, rwinking said:

My limited experience of them was that the break up was somewhat farty and blatty.....not smooth like a marshall.

From my experience, not so much "farty", but definitely fuzzy. Was always more of a fuzz sound. But, like Marshalls, there's been so many variations of them over the years, ones experience could certainly vary greatly from anothers. 

It's one of those amps I've always wanted to build a variant of, just never quite got around to it.  

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2 minutes ago, rwinking said:

My limited experience of them was that the break up was somewhat farty and blatty.....not smooth like a marshall.

You clearly weren't playing it loud enough!! :D

Joke

 

There were some circuit changes over time. I preferred the early 70s models.

They worked well paired up with a plexi Marshall too.

 

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23 minutes ago, kbp810 said:

From my experience, not so much "farty", but definitely fuzzy. Was always more of a fuzz sound. But, like Marshalls, there's been so many variations of them over the years, ones experience could certainly vary greatly from anothers. 

It's one of those amps I've always wanted to build a variant of, just never quite got around to it.  

Hmm, seems rather simple layout... might be worth investing in or have someone invest in one for you to build....:drink_mini:

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Very, Very loud and they really don't break up.  Listen to The Who at Woodstock, very loud and almost anemically clean .  They aren't like Marshalls but they have a huge loud mid range.  Like a British-ish flavored Blackface Fender Twin.  I think they sound amazing with pedals (and I LOVE and I always use pedals) but in my opinion, they sound awful when they eventually fall apart when cranked (with limited to no break up). 

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Unlike some people above the breakup I heard was un-godly good! There are many variations of Hiwatts. It was cranked, and the break-up had the kind of smooth distortion and the punch you only get from big amps, and it sustained just fine. The one I plugged in was from the classic era, and there was no fizzy farty or fuzzy-ness about it. A close friend of mine wound up buying that amp. still has it, and he loves it. 

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Whomever above sort of compared it to a twin had my experience. I have a vintage twin with EV SRO coffee can magnets. 

1) in order to get it to break up, my ears would bleed.

2) The break up was far from smooth

3) It sounded great at three with a tube screamer and that was my rig for 20 years until I could not carry it. I still have it.

That was pretty close to my HiWatt experience. It was a classic and it did do well with  a tube screamer.

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1 hour ago, rwinking said:

Whomever above sort of compared it to a twin had my experience. I have a vintage twin with EV SRO coffee can magnets. 

1) in order to get it to break up, my ears would bleed.

2) The break up was far from smooth

3) It sounded great at three with a tube screamer and that was my rig for 20 years until I could not carry it. I still have it.

That was pretty close to my HiWatt experience. It was a classic and it did do well with  a tube screamer.

Are you 3 points about the twin or the Hiwatt? I have never heard a good Hiwatt that remotely sounds like a twin. The way they break up, especially jumping channel is totally unique, and that's what attracts me to them. The guy that built my Marshall may be building me a Hiwatt down the road. I want a 50 watter. First I need to source some original Fanes and some good transformers.

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I had a 50w too, that thing was amazing. In fact when I sold it, the new owner wrote me a long email about how blown away he was by the amp, and he couldn't believe I got rid of it.

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My $.02...Gosh guys, as a Hiwatt, Harry Joyce, and boutique HW circuit amp owner I'm shaking my head at some of the posts here.  

For my part have a 100w 4xel34 PA head  from the Hylight era, that weighs a lot less than my ceriatone 100w steel string singer D clone head, The Harry Joyce custom 30 puts over 450 volts to the plates...50 watt amp numbers...30 watts of squeaky clean headroom, overall easily is as loud as any non HW 50 watter any day.  And my Toad Suck Tones one of one DR504 circuit running Bendix 6384's also is a fantastic bass amp besides guitar duties.   The PA head is better than their guitar amps for guitar playing, particularly playing dirty with time based effects, the PA heads have an effects loop, huge advantage.  Plus 2, 3 4, or all the channels jumpered together can add some huge girth compared to most recorded HW circuit clean tones.

Stick vintage glass in the preamp if you have one of those circuits, chinese or russian pre amp tubes sound shrill and downright nasty in them.  Find some 50-60 year old shortplate Mullards for the front end in a Hiwatt circuit.  That PA head dimed with a Dumbulator in the loop will deliver small house volumes, harmonics out the wazoo and sustaining very, very well.  A simple interrupt fx loop allows a dumbulator to take care of the "has to be played loud to sound right" issue, gorgeous dimed type tones happen in the high 80's low 90's decibels all day, and yes, I have a meter.  

Daniel, I agree, the dirty tones are sensational.    RE: the comments regarding lack of sustain...at "lower mid" gain settings the circuits do a crashing brief distortion  with an agro pick attack, that smack splat is best fixed by less gain, more master.   The touch is more snappy in response than many amps because of high preamp voltages, huge iron, and lots of capacitance in the circuit.  

But if your fingers have real touch you have everything, the Hiwatt circuits demand well trained fingers with acute touch sensitivity.  You screw up... everybody sees you naked.  When you are on, though, oh, the glory!  IMHO a Hiwatt demands to be played daily as the player's main squeeze, and will reward spectacular favoritism with fantastic, wide, deep sound palettes of sonic tapestries.  I wish I was that kind and skilled of a player!

Edited by 212Mavguy
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33 minutes ago, 212Mavguy said:

My $.02...Gosh guys, as a Hiwatt, Harry Joyce, and boutique HW circuit amp owner I'm shaking my head at some of the posts here.  

For my part have a 100w 4xel34 PA head  from the Hylight era, that weighs a lot less than my ceriatone 100w steel string singer D clone head, The Harry Joyce custom 30 puts over 450 volts to the plates...50 watt amp numbers...30 watts of squeaky clean headroom, overall easily is as loud as any non HW 50 watter any day.  And my Toad Suck Tones one of one DR504 circuit running Bendix 6384's also is a fantastic bass amp besides guitar duties.   The PA head is better than their guitar amps for guitar playing, particularly playing dirty with time based effects, the PA heads have an effects loop, huge advantage.  Plus 2, 3 4, or all the channels jumpered together can add some huge girth compared to most recorded HW circuit clean tones.

Stick vintage glass in the preamp if you have one of those circuits, chinese or russian pre amp tubes sound shrill and downright nasty in them.  Find some 50-60 year old shortplate Mullards for the front end in a Hiwatt circuit.  That PA head dimed with a Dumbulator in the loop will deliver small house volumes, harmonics out the wazoo and sustaining very, very well.  A simple interrupt fx loop allows a dumbulator to take care of the "has to be played loud to sound right" issue, gorgeous dimed type tones happen in the high 80's low 90's decibels all day, and yes, I have a meter.  

Daniel, I agree, the dirty tones are sensational.    RE: the comments regarding lack of sustain...at "lower mid" gain settings the circuits do a crashing brief distortion  with an agro pick attack, that smack splat is best fixed by less gain, more master.   The touch is more snappy in response than many amps because of high preamp voltages, huge iron, and lots of capacitance in the circuit.  

But if your fingers have real touch you have everything, the Hiwatt circuits demand well trained fingers with acute touch sensitivity.  You screw up... everybody sees you naked.  When you are on, though, oh, the glory!  IMHO a Hiwatt demands to be played daily as the player's main squeeze, and will reward spectacular favoritism with fantastic, wide, deep sound palettes of sonic tapestries.  I wish I was that kind and skilled of a player!

 "...sonic tapestries." ... thats a hook. Who doesnt want that?

 

 

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9 hours ago, JeffB said:

"...sonic tapestries." ... thats a hook. Who doesnt want that?

Yes, weaving sonic tapestries through aural landscapes of vibratory waves make it all worthwhile. 

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I whish I could have had the half of the experiences you all described
never played one and I'd like to try one....maybe when I'll buy my cottage on the highlands

my2p:

I think I'd mention Jimmy Page at Royal Albert Hall (1970) tone and configuration with two stacks

Jimmy Page and Hiwatt…. TIME TO SPILL THE BEANS!!! | The Les Paul Forum
 

interesting resources could be https://hiwatt.org and http://www.royalamps.com/home.html
 (no affil)

Edit: just watched the video and noticed it's mentioned

Edited by Gianluca
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13 hours ago, Yooper said:

Yes, weaving sonic tapestries through aural landscapes of vibratory waves make it all worthwhile. 

Or as Frank Zappa put it, "air sculpture".

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On 10/22/2022 at 4:40 AM, 212Mavguy said:

My $.02...Gosh guys, as a Hiwatt, Harry Joyce, and boutique HW circuit amp owner I'm shaking my head at some of the posts here.  

For my part have a 100w 4xel34 PA head  from the Hylight era, that weighs a lot less than my ceriatone 100w steel string singer D clone head, The Harry Joyce custom 30 puts over 450 volts to the plates...50 watt amp numbers...30 watts of squeaky clean headroom, overall easily is as loud as any non HW 50 watter any day.  And my Toad Suck Tones one of one DR504 circuit running Bendix 6384's also is a fantastic bass amp besides guitar duties.   The PA head is better than their guitar amps for guitar playing, particularly playing dirty with time based effects, the PA heads have an effects loop, huge advantage.  Plus 2, 3 4, or all the channels jumpered together can add some huge girth compared to most recorded HW circuit clean tones.

Stick vintage glass in the preamp if you have one of those circuits, chinese or russian pre amp tubes sound shrill and downright nasty in them.  Find some 50-60 year old shortplate Mullards for the front end in a Hiwatt circuit.  That PA head dimed with a Dumbulator in the loop will deliver small house volumes, harmonics out the wazoo and sustaining very, very well.  A simple interrupt fx loop allows a dumbulator to take care of the "has to be played loud to sound right" issue, gorgeous dimed type tones happen in the high 80's low 90's decibels all day, and yes, I have a meter.  

Daniel, I agree, the dirty tones are sensational.    RE: the comments regarding lack of sustain...at "lower mid" gain settings the circuits do a crashing brief distortion  with an agro pick attack, that smack splat is best fixed by less gain, more master.   The touch is more snappy in response than many amps because of high preamp voltages, huge iron, and lots of capacitance in the circuit.  

But if your fingers have real touch you have everything, the Hiwatt circuits demand well trained fingers with acute touch sensitivity.  You screw up... everybody sees you naked.  When you are on, though, oh, the glory!  IMHO a Hiwatt demands to be played daily as the player's main squeeze, and will reward spectacular favoritism with fantastic, wide, deep sound palettes of sonic tapestries.  I wish I was that kind and skilled of a player!

I was waiting for you to chime in here Mav, and your post is exactly what I was waiting for! You should post some gut shots of your beauties!!!

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  • 4 weeks later...

Dan, I'd rather drive to your studio and do the shooting and vidding there, or have you stop by my home in Heber and shoot there.  Your superior skills are needed.  Plus we can have a ton of fun being gearhead rascals... rolling a bunch of amps and Heritage guitars. 

RE: the Fane speaker thang...no, you don't need that brand and model of speaker to get the Hiwatt sound, today, in my opinion.  I have an old fane ceramic of the type that was used in the old Hiwatt Cabs, it's a wider range speaker than most guitar speakers, almost like an Altec in it's frequency response.  I also have a Fane AXA 12 alnico, that model is more musical sounding in distortion than the ceramic one.  For the money that one went for it had better sound good!  I've noticed in my readings that there is way too much following the herd amongst the Hiwatt owner community IMO, particularly on the speaker thang.  Today more choices are available than in the older glory days.  You'll need to spend some serious money, though.  The Scholz sugar cone is the make and model of boutique speaker expressly designed for Hiwatt amps, if they are still being made today.  The Harry Joyce amp builders came up with it a few years back.   The Hiwatt centered tone chain needs some semi serious money to do up with integrity, unless you are an amp crafter...But still lots of money.  

The thing that floors me about both my old Hylight PA head and particularly about 90's Harry Joyce head is how you can use then as a clean pedal platform and how gorgeously those circuits express effects through the speakers.  Hiwatts make effects sound better than they should, magical, particularly distortion pedals.    

If you are jonesing to own a Hiwatt,  know that they are among the loudest amps built for their wattage ratings...strongly consider to get one made for you by HI-tone here in the USA, hugely respected boutique builder, or have Nik at Ceriatone do one up for you...but have it built with an effects loop.  You'll spend a grand or two less than for a vintage unit and get great tones and reliability.  

Why?  Because the use of an effects buffer in a simple interrupt effects loop, particularly a tube C-lator or solid state, very compact Klein-u-lator from Ceriatone... will allow usable venue volumes with all the "loud amp" tone goods and then some.   Fuchs makes a tube reverb pedal that works like an fx buffer but also has reverb built in... nice sounding and pretty slick build, but again, $$$.  The tones won't be rolled off on the top like when an attenuator is used, and power tube tube life is unaffected, unlike when using an attenuator.  Attenuators can not only destroy tubes over time, but are hard on power transformers and some circuit parts, overheating causes problems.   You choke the chicken too much it's gonna die. 

Boutique amps for boutique guitars! 

Boutique guitars for boutique amps!

 

 

 

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