REVIEW: Hiwatt T20

There’s something immediately comforting about even merely looking at the Hiwatt T20, in that kind of ‘I just want to put it in the corner of the room and gaze at it’ kind of way. A Hiwatt will do that to ya. The T20 is designed to provide classic Hiwatt tone for both old-school and modern musical applications. It packs a pair of EL84 power valves and a trio of 12AX7 preamp valves and it’s ready to unleash 18 watts RMS of power through a single 12″ Fane speaker.

Hiwatt points out that the T20 is similar to the hand-wired 20 watt Custom but is not quite as grown-up or refined as its big brother. Think of it as the ratty little bro who gets into scraps down at the pub, but has a heart of gold and will always help you move house. Now, the company says the amp is intended as an entry point for those not yet familiar with first-hand playing experience of the Hiwatt tube sound. That’s a pretty ballsy and important task for this self-confessed little bruiser, effectively making the T20 the equivalent of whoever it is that gets to greet the aliens when they land.

The controls are dead simple. There are two gain pots (normal gain and overdrive gain), a bass control, a middle control with a tone shift activated by pulling the pot out; a treble control; a master reverb; and a master volume. The reverb is footswitchable, as is the channel (although this isn’t made particularly clear from reading the back panel of the amp – the manual is more helpful), and there’s a line-out and a speaker out with a minimum impedance of 8ohm. There’s a groovy red jewel light along with chunky standby and on switches. and the look is finished off with a very Hiwatt basket weave grille and classic chicken head knobs. The only thing that looks slightly out of place is the channel select switch.

The T20’s clean sounds are suitable for everything from smooth jazz to jangly indie and rootsy rock, depending on how hard you push the channel. At higher volumes it can be made to break up quite pleasantly in that classic Pete Townshend way, while at lower volumes it’s a great platform for effect pedals. It’s no surprise that David Gilmour is such a Hiwatt fan – the clean sound is tough and full-bodied while still being clear and airy. A very difficult combination to achieve. Like all good tube amps it loves being ‘played’ rather than merely ‘played through.’ This becomes especially apparent when you perform particularly interactive techniques like fingerpicking, whammy shimmers and open string licks.

The overdrive channel is capable of quite a lot of gain but it sounds best at around 9 o’clock, where it sounds creamy and smooth. Higher gain settings bring on an almost fuzz pedal-like quality which is also a lot of fun, but a little more niche in its application than lower settings. Pulling out the mid control shifts its emphasis from low mids to high mids, and you can dial in some great lead sounds by cranking the high mids while dropping back the treble. Some great open rhythm crunch tones are available in low mid mode with higher treble values and lower gain ones, and it’s hard not to hit a few aggressive open chords and just let them ring out for the sheer joy of it. The reverb is suitably swimmy, although it lacks a little bit of character.

The T20 is not the be-all and end-all of Hiwatts, but it does its stated job of introducing Hiwatt virgins to the overall vibe of the brand admirably well. It’s loud enough for stage use and flexible enough for any style sound of modern metal, although an effects loop would certainly be a welcome addition.

[geo-in country=”Australia” note=””]This is an alternate version of a review which appeared in Mixdown magazine.[/geo-in]