Columbus, Indiana. A plain, red brick building lies nestled in an office park, parallel to a strip mall. Tucked away behind a bank and a dentist’s office, in the heart of prototypical Midwest America, lives the continuation of an amplification legend as unmistakably British as the Union Jack itself. Clayton Callaway, Mark Huss, and the son of the late Dave Reeves, Glynn, are continuing the legacy of loud that his father began back in 1964.
Originally conceived in 2006 after the trio met at the very first Vintage Hiwatt Convention hosted by Callaway, Hi-Tone Amplification gives form to their drive, dedication, and insatiable love for vintage Hiwatts. Between them, they have owned, played, and worked on hundreds of these legendary amp and cabinet specimens. From the classic, mean and clean DR103 100-watt heads to rare and unique one-offs, the Hi-Tone team left no stone unturned when it came time to researching the amps that inspired their new company. Today, their clients include J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., Dave Minehan of the Replacements, and Keith Nelson of Buckcherry.
“There are other amps that get relatively close, but we are perfectionists,” Callaway says. “We don’t skimp on anything. Fortunately we all have day jobs and we’re not relying on this to survive, so we’re not stuck dealing with price points and that kind of thing—we weren’t going to do it unless we did it right.”
According to Callaway, Hi-Tone aims to pay authentic homage to the work of the late Dave Reeves in everything from the point-to-point wiring down to the hookup wire. The original, Reeves-run Hiwatt was very much a family business. Big stars of the ’60s and ’70s used to hang out in the Reeves’ living room, and Daphne Reeves (Dave’s widow) was known to help Dave build his amplifiers—often in their own garage. Similarly, Glynn, Callaway, and Huss all wanted to maintain the family-run spirit of the original Hiwatt company, while maintaining the standard of bulletproof quality and reliability that Dave Reeves originally envisioned.
The massive, custom transformers that Hi-Tone commissioned from Heyboer after reverse-engineering vintage Partridge models are another key to replicating the headroom and might of vintage Hiwatts.
On a warm Friday afternoon, we sat down to speak with Clayton about the beginnings of his company, the history of Hiwatt, bringing the Reeves family back into amplification, and his mission to continue Dave Reeves’ work.
Who started you on this crazy journey—what was the catalyst for your Hiwatt obsession?
David Gilmour was definitely one of them. I was always a big Floyd fan, and I like most of the stuff from the Who up until around when Keith Moon passed away. I was starting to do research into both bands about 14 or 15 years ago, and this Hiwatt stuff kept coming up. In Indiana, where I’m from, most of the available gear is Fender, Marshall, Vox, etc.—especially back then, before the big boutique explosion happened.
When and why did you decide to begin Hi-Tone?
The first time we really thought of it was at the very first Vintage Hiwatt Convention, back in 2006. Glynn and Daphne came, and that was the first time I met them, as well as Mark Huss [Hi-Tone co-owner]. Glynn kept asking Mark when he was going to start building Hiwatts. I’m not sure if he was being at all serious, but that was probably the spark for me.
Did you and Mark know each other before that?
We first met in person at the convention, but a couple of years prior to that we had some email contact, because we were both obsessed with the old, real Hiwatts. He’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. He works in cybersecurity and knows everything about electronics—from 1950s and 1960s technology all the way to the latest and greatest high-tech stuff. He makes me feel dumb all the time [laughs].
Hi-Tone amps use a number of custom and high-end components, including SoZo capacitors (front).
How did the convention start—was it started by the Vintage Hiwatt Forum?
I started the forum a couple years after the convention started. There were a few guys from the old Plexi Palace Hiwatt forum that were talking about having a get-together. I can’t take credit for being the original initiator, but there was a handful of guys that said, “We need to do this,” so I just kind of made it happen.
Where did the first Vintage Hiwatt Convention take place and what was it like?
It took place here in Columbus, Indiana, at our local county fairgrounds. I rented one of the buildings—actually, the livestock pavilion [laughs]. It was a big, empty building with bad acoustics, but we could get as loud as we wanted and it was pretty secure. We had a pretty disappointing turnout—there might have been 12 guys over the course of the weekend—but I got to spend a lot of good time with Mark, Glynn, and Daphne. Daphne was right there from day one [with Dave Reeves and the original Hiwatts], helping him do basic stuff, and worked in an electronics factory up until a few years ago when she retired.
You seem to be quite close to the Reeves family.
That’s because of the convention. They initially came to see who was trying to profit from their name. Truth be told, they are pretty disgusted with people trying to claim their name or some kind of association and profit off of it. Glynn and I just hit it off. Obviously we had a lot in common with the amps and a lot of the classic British rock music. He’s a pretty down-to-earth guy, and he’s even more obsessed than me when it comes to this stuff.