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This article was originally published in issue #14
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Love the idea of a mighty HiWatt guitar amp but just can't find the cash? What if we said you could get 'that sound' (or pretty close) from a very affordable new combo? Rick Graham plays very loud...
The past few years have seen the emergence of several venerable British amplification brands that had seemed to go dormant after their heydays in the 1960s and '70s. Take Hiwatt for example. Back in the late 1960s it became known as about the only viable alternative to Marshall - and it had a distinctly different sound, too. It lost its way after the death of its founder, Dave Reeves, but in the past few years, under new ownership, it has come back strongly, finding favour with a completely new generation of musicians including major bands like Coldplay, The Killers and the Arctic Monkeys - to name, as they say, just a few!
Hiwatt's strength was always the impeccably made vale/tube amp. Cleaner than a Marshall, with a biting sound and immense loudness, a Hiwatt was a force of nature - strong as an ox, as well!
But what if that sort of handbuilt valve sound is beyond your reach? The usual answer has been to buy a cheaper, Asian-built valve amp or, maybe, a solid state amp with a valve stuck in the pre-amp, the sales pitch being that it sounds 'like the real thing'. Only it rarely does, of course!
The other alternative, a 100 per cent solid state amp, has usually been thought of as a bit of a poor relation - fine for beginners or messing around with at home, but not ideal for gigs and rehearsals with a proper band. Well Hiwatt begs to differ so, sceptical as we were at GI Towers, we agreed to take a look at their latest offering n this area - the amazingly affordable (if not so catchily named) G550CMR.
This model comes from the company's entry-level Maxwatt range and is a solid state combo capable of delivering 50 Watts from a tidy little package. As a dual channel amplifier, the G50 should have plenty for its potential users to get their teeth into. The normal (clean) channel features a three band EQ stage of Bass, Middle and Treble controls as well as Volume. The Overdrive channel offers the same features but with the addition of a Gain control should you wish to turn up the heat. Hiwatt has also included a switch which changes the gain structuring from a 'classic' to a 'modern' voicing, which is a nice feature. The G50 also includes an onboard spring reverb feature which is controllable via the 'Reverb' knob on the front panel and is shared between both channels. The headphone jack, which allows for silent practice, can be found adjacent to this. At the rear of the amp you'll find several useful features such as a speaker out, which allows the user to hook up a cabinet of between 4 and 8 Ohms, a line out for direct recording and an input for the optional channel and reverb switching footswitch.
Build wise the G50 is a very sturdy piece of kit - in fact more like the sort of construction you'd expect from the next class up. Although it's not a back breaker, it has a weight which reflects the quality and sturdiness of the cabinet, a quality I find reassuring in an amp that is likely to be gigged hard - which I suspect this will.
To kick things off, I fired up the G50 with the normal channel engaged and it was clear from the outset that this is really where this amp would shine. Offering a big and full clean sound with an impressive amount of clean headroom through its single 12" speaker, the G50 performed very well with a very responsive sound and lots of volume on tap when needed. The three band EQ offered further scope for tone shaping but perhaps could have done with just a shade more, if I were being really picky.
Kicking in the Overdrive channel, the G50 does a very decent job of achieving Rock rhythm and lead tones, with plenty of gain to keep the metalheads happy. Dialling in a more low-gain, Bluesy, lead tone that was pleasing to the ear proved to be a somewhat elusive task but I've yet to find a solid state amp that can do that particular task well.
Does this matter? No. This Hiwatt isn't aimed at budding Joe Bonamassa tone purists, it's been designed for hard-up gigging musicians in Rock and Pop bands, who will love its affordable price, great sound and excellent build quality. It may not sound quite as distinguished as its bigger, valve/tube, Hiwatt brothers, but just look at that price! We reckon it's cracking value for money.