Clayton Callaway and Mark Huss of Hi-Tone Amplification are quite possibly two of the biggest Hiwatt nerds that ever lived. Forging these near perfect recreations of vintage Hiwatts with modern appropriations and conveniences, they are without a doubt the sweetest, fullest, and most dynamic amps I have ever played, true to the legacy of Hiwatt’s Creator, Dave Reeves, as well as approved and endorsed by his family.
Hiwatts are historically powered by EL34 power tubes, but the DR-30/15 is powered by four 6V6s, a power tube usually used in old American circuits, such as Fender amps. But don’t let that fool you; this amp is all British. Upon pulling this beast out of its box, I was in shock at the utter size of the head. Clayton has said that the 30-watt transformer in this amp is the biggest he’s ever seen, and I can attest to that. The head is a proverbial tank, both in size, looks, and function. Usually, I’m very touchy and delicate with my gear, but I had no problem smacking around this monster of an amp, because the build quality is simply outstanding. The 2x12 cab is loaded with two DR-F speakers that are a product of painstaking research by some of the biggest Hiwatt fanatics in the world. They are specially made for Hi-Tone by Eminence Speakers in nearby Kentucky.
I never plug straight in. As a writer for Tone Report and a lover of all things stompable, it’s hard to imagine a world without any of my colorful little boxes. When I got this Hi-Tone, I was overcome with this strange feeling to plug directly in, and just get the feel of this amp. Flipping on the hefty switches, and setting all the EQ to noon, I played the famous four note tune of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” The sound that rung out in my house was utterly glorious. I could not believe that that sound was my guitar. The notes were right there coming out the speakers the instant I hit the strings, and it commanded such a presence and warmth that I had never experienced before. I could actually feel the notes, as opposed to just hearing them. I sat there for what felt like hours, just playing and enjoying the sound of my guitar and amp. The next day, with a fresh set of ears and the pedalboard plugged in, I took it through its paces. This amp is quite a bit louder than any 30-watt amp I’ve played, and has clean headroom even completely maxed out (Try this setting at your own risk, it’s VERY loud). The amp has two channels, Normal and Brilliant. The Normal channel has a fair bit of thump and warmth to it, and is very even in its frequency response. The Brilliant channel is more accentuated in the high end, and can be a bit too bright for some. Linking the two channels via patch cable, and mixing the two on the control panel gives you the best of both worlds, with a detailed high end, warm and clear mids, and a deep bass. The EQ controls are extremely powerful and versatile, and have a very wide range of tones on tap. Prepare to spend a lot of time tweaking, because almost every setting on this thing sounds amazing. I had to purposefully try to make this thing sound bad, and it was nearly impossible. The DR-Fs in the 2x12 cab have an almost-natural reverb about them, and the sound that comes out of the amp is accentuated with punchiness, clarity, and detail that is mostly in part to these incredible speakers. They are very clear and revealing, yet not sterile or lifeless in any way.
Being the clean headroom monster that Hiwatts are famous for, the Hi-Tone is an amazing pedal platform, taking boosts, overdrives, distortions, delays, modulations with complete conviction. Every single pedal I threw at this thing sang, and the Hi-Tone took what was great sonically about whatever pedal I chose and amplified it (as a good amp should do). There is almost no coloration, but just that hint of character added to clean boosts and transparent overdrives that makes them sound more open and warm. Running a Big Muff through this thing, you can understand why David Gilmour continues to use them to this day. A Strat with a Hiwatt and a Big Muff is an incredible combination, and if you’ve tried Big Muffs and never really bonded with them, test out this gear trifecta and tell me with a straight face you don’t love it.
Words cannot describe how much I love this amp. Like the vintage Hiwatts that preceded it, this thing is a “lifer,” and will most likely outlive your guitar, your pedals, and maybe even you! It’s got tons of clean headroom, punchy warmth, and a presence about it sonically and aesthetically that just fills up a room. Every note you play is right there behind you, and every little detail and nuance of your playing bursts out of the DR-F speakers in spades. It is built incredibly well, and has a great look and feel that will be right there behind you on the stage, in the studio, or wherever your journeys take you.
What We Like: Incredible build quality and solid construction. Very warm, punchy, and clean sound. Insane amounts of clean headroom. Very versatile, and can take any pedal with ease.
Concerns: Can be a little too loud for home or bedroom use. Some players may not like not being able to easily break up.