Whether it’s power or an impeccable pedal platform you seek, this upscale take on Dave Reeves’s 50-watt Hiwatt circuit is a rock-solid performer. The PG Hylight Custom 50 VR504H review.
Punchy, powerful, rich and dynamic. High-quality construction. Inspiring “alternative British” disposition.
Expensive. Hard to swap preamp tubes.
$2,999; VE212F cab with Fane A60 alnico speakers $1,649
Hylight Custom 50 VR504
Ease of Use:
Although they were viewed as upstart rivals to fellow British amp makers like Vox and, in particular, Marshall, the original Hiwatt creations were very different animals. Big, bold, punchy, powerful, and capable of being very loud and clean, they were the product of an audiophile-like approach to guitar-amp design and construction, and they fast attracted a cult of heavy and famous followers as a result. Several manufacturers have honored the early Hiwatts with their own versions in recent years. But the new British maker Hylight aims squarely at the heart of the ethos that drove Hiwatt founder Dave Reeves—right down to the old-school point-to-point wiring and the name Reeves first gave to his fledgling business before it became Hiwatt.
Hylight Electronics, which was resurrected by Andrei Nicula in 2018 after acquiring the Hylight name, builds British-made versions of the original circuits—though they add a few modern features like effects loops. They’re all rendered with high-quality components, and muscular enough to fill an arena with sound. The 50-watt, EL34-driven Hylight Custom 50 VR504H is built in homage to the original Hiwatt DR504 circuit. It’s a great amp by any standard, but as an alternative to the most common amp voices out there, it’s full of possibilities.
Custom By Name
It’s hard to blame the uninitiated for thinking the original Hiwatts were Marshall wannabes. The similarities in aesthetics and control-panel layouts were certainly enough to suggest Marshall’s inspiration. Under the hood, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Dave Reeves’ circuit for the original 50- and 100-watt Hiwatts—replicated here in Hylight’s Vintage Reissue Series—were unique at almost every stage. The tone circuits differed substantially, and where Marshalls loved to get dirty, Hiwatts aimed for maximum power and headroom.
The Custom 50 is faithful to that design philosophy. It generates a conservatively rated 50 watts from a pair of EL34 output tubes. It’s also wired up with four ECC83s (aka 12AX7s) in the preamp and phase-inverter stages. Controls include normal, volume, and bright volume for each of the two channels, plus shared bass, treble, middle, presence, and master volume dials. (Hiwatt amps had master-volume controls as far back as the mid ’60s—well before Marshall added the feature.) The rear panel features a mains voltage selector, effects loop send and return, mains and HT fuse sockets, dual speaker outs, a 4-, 8-, and 16-ohm impedance selector, and a line out.
The head itself is robustly built and hefty. It measures 24.75" x 9.75" x 11" and weighs 41 pounds. Inside, the narrow turret board is neatly hand-wired with a tidy single row of yellow polyester Vishay capacitors and mostly carbon-film resistors. A second board hosts the bigger power resistors, diodes, and some of the smaller filter caps in the power supply and output stage. Transformers are made in England by Trans-Tronic to original Partridge specifications.
On the chassis’ top side, there’s a metal plate to electronically shield the big output tubes from the smaller preamp tubes—just like vintage amps of this type. The shielding is great for keeping the amp quiet, but it makes replacing the tubes more difficult. Switching the EL34s means navigating a tight space, and you have to remove the entire chassis to swap the ECC83s—a pain for habitual tube-switchers out there. All in all, though, the Custom 50 is impressively and sturdily built. It definitely evokes the workmanship that typifies the glory years of British amp manufacturing.
The accompanying Hylight VE212F speaker cabinet, by the way, is a 2x12 enclosure made from Baltic-birch plywood and loaded with a pair of optional Fane A60 speakers—a newer Fane design that players dig for its clarity, dynamism, and balance. (Fane speakers have become all but inseparable from Hiwatt legend.) The cabinet is nearly a closed-back design, save for the narrow lower port that improves distribution of more low-end content.
Whether you put humbuckers, P-90s, or Fender single-coils in front of the Hylight, it’s as punchy, powerful, and dynamic as its inspiration. With the master volume reined in and the preamp volume up high, the Custom 50 will elicit many flavors of crunchy classic-rock grind depending on the guitar and pickups. At these settings the P-90s in my Novo Serus J are full of bark and bite, while the PAF-style humbuckers in my Nik Huber Orca sustain and sing at surprisingly civilized volumes. The amp also benefits from jumping the normal and bright channels, by routing a short cable between their number 1 and number 2 inputs, which enables you to blend the two channels together and push the output section even harder.
Where many classic British amps can have a sizzly side to their personalities, the Hylight’s EQ profile is a bundle of midrange thump, tight low-end wallop, and high-end chime. As much as anything, though, the Hylight is a monstrous clean machine that stays bold, tight, and crisp as you push the volume—almost daring you to test its limits. And man, it gets loud in the process.
Cranked and raging is where this amp shines. It’s also where you’ll find the brash, clanging Townshend tonesof Live at Leeds, and David Gilmour’s wailing lead sounds. Just like Gilmour, you may find the need for overdrive or a fuzz to get those extra-dirty high-octane lead tones. But as you’d expect, the Hylight is happy to accommodate such additions to your signal chain. I tested the amp with Tsakalis Six, Gas FX Drive Thru, and JHS Angry Charlie overdrive pedals, and each of them worked beautifully.
The 2x12 cabinet is also an impressive creation, and it sounds as solid and gutsy as its robust construction implies. The alnico-magnet Fane A60 speakers are a tasty, upmarket choice here—blending ceramic-like guts and aggression with alnico sweetness and dynamics. They’re rich-sounding, responsive, and feel especially versatile.
The Hylight Custom 50 VR504H is an impressive homage to the original Hiwatt 50-watt amps. It’s also a reminder of what made those amps so original and potent. It’s a dynamic alternative for guitarists looking for classic Brit-stack tones, and dishes more thump, clarity, and headroom than most amps from the Marshall or Vox camps. That headroom and full-frequency responsiveness make it a willing partner for pedals of all kinds. But it also sounds great completely naked, even at low volumes. The Fane-loaded VE212F cabinet is a delicious pairing, too, at all levels. At more than 4,500 bucks for the whole head/cabinet setup, it’s a spendy rig. But, in terms of Hiwatt authenticity and power, it certainly delivers on its promise.
Watch the Review Demo:
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.