I recently got my hands on a brand new Reeves Custom 50 amp. Being a fan of the classic Sound City and Hiwatt tone itâ€™s hard not to have noticed all the raving reviews. I was both shaking with anticipation and a bit sceptic when I received the package. Would it live up to the hype? Would it out conquer my beloved Sound City?
OK, letâ€™s start with a rough history lesson. Reeves Amplification is named after Dave Reeves, the man who designed the old Sound City and Hiwatt amps. Dave started out in the mid 60s as a technician at Mullard. In 1966 he founded his own company called Hylight and designed the first line of amps for Sound City in London. In 1968 Dave cut relations with Mullard and Sound City, brought with him his original specs for the amps and Hiwatt was born. Dave Reeves created a unique amp that soon would be the favourite among many British bands in the 70s including Pink Floyd, The Who and Jethro Tull. Dave passed away in 1981. More on the Hiwatt history here.
Reeves Amps started out in 2003. Hiwatt was rapidly drifting away from their own legendary high quality status and Reeves wanted to bring back Dave Reevesâ€™ old specs and attention to detail. Around 2005 they finally broke through with a new line of Custom 50 and 100 that soon got serious recognition among guitarists. Reeves are located in Cincinnati, USA, with an exclusive worldwide distribution through their web site.
David Gilmour is spotted with his first Hiwatt as early as August 1969, only a couple of months after the amps were introduced (to the mass audience). Theyâ€™ve been heâ€™s main companions ever since producing the basis and foundation for his crystal clean tones. The Hiwatts featured in Davidâ€™s present rig was bought by his long time technician Phil Taylor in 1974. More on Davidâ€™s Hiwatts here.
The Reeves Custom 50 feature Partridge replica transformers (reverse engineered from original Partridge transformers), dual channel pre-amp with 4 inputs (2 normal, 2 bright) and controls for normal volume and bright volume, bass, middle, treble, presence and master volume. The back panel feature two speaker outputs, switchable 4, 8, and 16 ohm impedance switch and a 100V, 120V, 230V, 50/60Hz voltage selector. The output stage features 2 EL34 tubes and the pre-amp 3 12AX7 preamp tubes and 1 12AT7 phase inverter.
So, why a Reeves? You all know how much I love my Sound City 50 PLUS. Itâ€™s been with me since I started playing guitar some 20 years ago. It was starting to show serious signs of aging and I was beginning to get tired of constantly having to overhaul it. It wasnâ€™t an easy choice but I had to let it go. I didnâ€™t want to spend all my savings on a â€™73 Hiwatt and I sure wasnâ€™t going to buy a new one. After much research and helpful recommendations I decided on a Reeves Custom 50.
I really hate reviews that appear to be just an ass licking promo. I mean, come on! Isnâ€™t there something you can put your finger on? Now I find my self in a slightly awkward position… I canâ€™t think of anything wrong with this amp! I could end the review right here but Iâ€™ll try to carry on without sounding too biased.
This amp is loud! I dialed in the usual settings, cranked a chord and I felt like Marty McFly being blasted through the room! I soon found the sweet spot and started to explore the amp with the old Sound City cab loaded with 4×12â€ Weber Thames 80w speakers, my main Strat (Fender CS69 neck and mid and Duncan SSL5 bridge pickups) and Evidence Audio cables… no pedals at this stage. I also linked the inputs (patch cable into upper normal and lower bright and guitar into upper bright).
Thereâ€™s no doubt that the Reeves Custom deserves its place in the Dave Reeves family tree. It has that typical mid range presence, with all the headroom youâ€™ll need, tight punchy lower end and silky smooth highs but also capable of producing the warmest tube overdrive imaginable with the right settings â€“ spot on the old Sound City and Hiwatts. Of course, its exterior with the black tolex, the familiar font used for the logo and the chicken head knobs reveals its roots. Compared to my Sound City 50 Plus, the Custom 50 has slightly more mid range that smooths out high gain effects and the natural tube drive. Itâ€™s also a lot tighter and cleaner in the sense that thereâ€™s no flabby bass or strange hissing or buzz. It’s dead silent. The Reeves projects military precision in its purest sense. You can really feel and hear the quality of the craftsmanship. The tone is incredibly honest and transparent revealing every single detail in your playing forcing you to really concentrate on your technique!
Plugging in my pedal board brought even more life to the amp. I was a bit afraid that I had to spend weeks if not months breaking it in but the amp is already incredibly responsive and dynamic. The Tube Driver just melts when you find that sweet spot between the pedal and the tubes. The amp works effortlessly and the tubes adds a warm natural compression to the tone. With a huge grin on my face I hit the Muff and the amp starts to show some serious strength. I closed my eyes and pictured David standing in front of his wall of sound at the Oakland Coliseum in May 1977 delivering the greatest tones known to man!
Donâ€™t get fooled by this amp’s loudness though. Itâ€™s easy to dial in any tone you want. Setting the channel volume to about twice the master will give you a crystal clean tone with no break up. Increasing the master to around unity or more produce a warm natural tube distortion capable of some deadly tones! I like to find the spot right before it breaks. I want to be able to strum a chord and not being entirely sure if I heard overdrive or not. Thatâ€™s when the tubes start to work with the pedals and the guitar. I also link the inputs for a bit more presence and clarity.
It might be obvious but I think itâ€™s worth keeping in mind that this is not an amp for Metallica tones or small living rooms. All amps, and high wattage tube amps in particular, require some level of volume to sound its best. This, however, is relative to size. If you set a 100w tube amp at 2 it will still be too loud for your living room but too low for the tubes to start working and blending with pedals. The result is often a thin, harsh tone. However, a 5w tube amp, like the Fender Champ, can be cranked to 10 and still be within a reasonable level and youâ€™ll have the tubes nicely heated. Be sure to get an amp that fits your needs and setup and don’t be too blinded by what David’s using. See the Buyer’s Gear Guide: Amps for more tips.
Reeves Amplification offers superb customer service, super fast delivery and not least safe delivery. The amp was packed neatly with the tubes taken out of their sockets and placed in bubble wrap. This amp will stay with me as long as Iâ€™m playing guitar. No doubt!