HYLIGHT GOES INTO GEAR
It is unclear as to when Peter Webber joined Hylight as its sales manager, but he was the man responsible for putting the amps onstage and in the studio with The Who, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, The Small Faces, Manfred Mann, and countless others. Dave Reeves did all he could to keep production up in the New Malden garage to the dismay of the neighbors bothered by the noise (one imagines he did test the amps in there as well...), but by 1971 it became evident Hylight needed help and Dave picked up the phone with the aim of locating a subcontractor for the wiring duty.
At the end of the line Dave connected with Harry Joyce, a British navy instrument contractor from Walton-on-Thames who was at first skeptical and somewhat reluctant, but who eventually agreed to take the job as long as production did not exceed 40 units per month. Dave Reeves was already meticulous about chassis-wiring quality, but Harry Joyce took things a notch further into the realm of regimented perfection, thus making Hiwatts the most neatly laid out and serviceable amps in the field. Harry Joyce would remain in charge of wiring the bulk of the amps up to until early 1984. (All Harry Joyce-wired amps are highly sought after and can be recognized by the tech’s initials on the top edge of the chassis, followed by the Harry Joyce name and other code letters. If the initials HJ precede the name, it is likely that Harry himself wired the unit, but be aware of forgeries.)
With the wiring secured, the next step was for Hylight Electronics to find a larger facility for the design, assembly, testing and marketing phases, and in late January 1972 the operation moved to the small industrial area of Kingston upon Thames (a stone’s throw from New Malden) known as Park Works, in an old bakery building at 16 Park Road, where it remained until some time after Dave’s passing in early 1981.
The firsts of the DR405s (a 400 watt all tube all purpose behemoth,) the STA50 and STA400 slaves, as well as the SA212 and SA 412 combos and the DR506 PA (10 inputs/400watts) appeared at around serial # 4000 or early to mid 1973. Until that point most of the production comprised of the DR103, 504, 201, CP103 models, the STA100 and 200 slave amps and the DR512, DR112, and DR203 PA mixer/amp combos. (Because of the lack of reliable data and the fact that many units are unaccounted for, the dates of release is at best an approximation and will consequently be adjusted as time goes).
Mark Huss (of Hi-Tone amplification), the authority in Hiwatt lore, divides the Hylight era into 3 zones, 1966 to 1974, ’74 to ’77 and ’77 to 1981, each representing minor shifts in design and/or the addition or phasing out of models. Based on my experience, most of the design alterations happened in the preamp circuitry but rarely affected the general tone and feel of the amps, and perhaps the most radical of them were in going from four inputs to two and swapping the turret-type solder points with printed circuit boards in the late ‘70s. Overall, the line remained consistent if for the introduction of a few new models such as the SA112, SA115, SA112FL, SA115FL, and the 100 watt SA212R (reverb/vibrato) combo, as well as a few heads with switchable inputs (i.e. DR103S, DR504S).
Something rarely mentioned is the fact that production suffered a drop in Hylight’s later years. The company produced an average of between 1,000 and 1,500 units per year from 1971 to 1979, but in 1980 and 1981 the output fell to around 500 units a year, numbers that coincided with the introduction of PCBs and lesser quality potentiometers; a move most certainly aimed at cutting down on production costs. There may have been other unexplained factors behind the need to cut costs, and most likely behind what later led to the collapse of Biacrown. I know for a fact that the ‘70s were rough in the UK and the black market was rife with stolen goods. I also know that many a DR103 and DR504 “fell off the back” of the delivery trucks throughout Hylight’s history and how these amps were put back on the market at ridiculous prices. Management was poorly equipped to deal with such heavy losses and often looked the other way. In other words, employee criminality was through the roof and I dare say that this oversight on the part of the administrators was just as pivotal to the sagging revenues. I worked in South Wimbledon and Morden at the time and I know what happened at Hylight, for that level of organized thievery was pretty much systematic everywhere across the entire UK industry…