Custom Hiwatt 100 Signature Series DG-103

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour has been using Hiwatt amplifiers in one capacity or another (sometimes just the power amp sections) since the early ’70s. The DG-103 Signature Series head ($3,399 retail/street N/A) is basically a classic 100-watt DR-103 amp with a few modifications based on Gilmour’s input. In fact, it’s all about his input. Rather than the DR-103’s two Normal and two Bright inputs, the DG-103 has one of each, and a third, Linked input, which provides a tidier and more efficient alternative to the common practice of running a jumper cable between the Normal and Bright inputs to take advantage of both. Otherwise, the DG-103’s controls mirror those of a DR-103, and its beveled edges, white piping, and tasteful graphics endow it with the same understated elegance.

Inside, you’ll find the impeccable attention to detail that is a hallmark of classic Hiwatt amplifiers, with every connection cleanly executed by hand—much like in the days when the legendary Harry Joyce (who worked for Hiwatt founder Dave Reeves) wired them up. Particularly conspicuous are the huge Partridge transformers that are key to the Hiwatt sound (and the head’s considerable weight), along with five giant, German-made electrolytic capacitors.

The DG-103 was accompanied by the equally classy looking SE-4123 4x12 cabinet ($1,999 retail/street N/A), loaded with custom-built Fane speakers. The cabinet, like the head, is constructed of heavy-duty marine-grade plywood, and detailed with matching white piping, and a stylish woven grille cloth.

I tested the half-stack using an early-’90s PRS McCarty, and a mid-’70s Fender Strato-caster. Plugging into the Normal input yielded loads of low-frequency oomph, chunky mids, and smooth high end, whereas the Bright channel produced a somewhat thinner sound, with an edgier “top,” as the Brits say. The Linked input basically acts as a line mixer, allowing you to blend the Normal and Bright sounds by adjusting their individual volumes. The Bass, Middle, and Treble controls offered moderate, but well-voiced tone-shaping capabilities, and the Presence control added overall sheen.

The first thing I noticed was how loud the amp was. Then, in order to get an appreciable amount of overdrive, I had to crank the channel volumes nearly all the way up, and turn the Master Volume past half, which set the walls a’ shaking. Enduring the sonic onslaught paid off, however, in waves of glorious tone. The clean sounds were huge, bell-like, and bursting with overtones, while the crunchy sounds were wonderfully full-bodied, and raging with classic-rock grind and squawk. What’s more, no matter how the controls were set, the DG-103 responded beautifully to playing dynamics and incremental adjustments to the guitar’s volume, and highlighted even the most subtle aspects of my playing.

My only concern with the DG-103 is that, early in the testing, the amp made odd noises, and momentarily lost level when really pushed. However, I was unable to recreate the problem on repeated occasions, so whatever it was remains a mystery. With that sole caveat, I cannot recommend this tone monster highly enough.