Sound City: History Page 3

Sound City: History Page 3 1

What follows is based entirely on interviews I conducted with David Cottam, who used to work with Dave Reeves at Dallas Arbiter and at Hiwatt, and represents David’s opinion. I’m offering this as a possible explanation based on someone’s first-hand observations, and not as gospel. Also, some have suggested Dave Reeves was an employee of Dallas Arbiter, while others say he was a contractor only. I have no evidence of either of these stopires; all I could find was that Dave Reeves designed at least one of the Sound City amp models: the One Hundred (a.k.a. the Mark 1).

     According to David, the original business plan for Dallas Arbiter’s Sound City line was motivated by DA’s goal of becoming the single product source for music shops everywhere. Although this plan didn’t really come to fruition until DMI was born, and even then saw only limited success, the essential idea was that a band could walk into any music store selling the complete Dallas Arbiter line and equip everyone in the band with Hayman drums (a subsidiary of Dallas Arbiter and then of DMI) and Hayman guitars and basses, Sound City guitar and bass amps, and a Sound City PA system, complete with Sound City microphones, stands, etc.

    While this appears to have been a solid and logical business model (after all, who wouldn’t want to corner an entire market, let alone several entire markets simultaneously?), it was extremely controversial within the Sound City limits, and (according to David) particularly with Dave Reeves, who designed what would become the Mark 1 (Model “One Hundred”) amp. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

     In order to make this business model work, all the products Sound City sold had to be marketed at price points that made them attractive to buyers who often had little more than return bus fare when they walked into a music store. While this makes sense, the resulting costs of materials used and of workmanship applied to these products had to be held at reasonable levels such that retail costs of these same products could be correspondingly reasonable. Remember, a Sound City L100 stack with two 4×12 cabs sold for substantially less than $1000 at that time, which was unheard of in comparison to a Marshall stack of the same era, and Marshall was Sound City’s admitted competition.

     As a result, Dave Reeves felt that these limited production values caused products to suffer and that the materials used in the amp model he designed, and especially the workmanship that went into it, were less than they could have been given a less aggressive, more focused business model, and a subsequently more flexible budget for materials and manufacturing. It’s been suggested that what Dave Reeves disliked most was not necessariily the business plan itself; rather, it was the effects brought on by that plan: the lack of quality control. Dave wanted to create and build the best possible amps he could, regardless of cost, and he didn’t feel he could do this via Sound City’s business/manufacturing model. (Many feel he accomplished this with his Hiwatt amps.)

     Consequently, unable to influence the narrow direction he felt Sound City was taking his design, feeling powerless to boost the level of quality, and seeing no other alternative, Dave Reeves chose to pursue his nascient Hiwatt (and Hylight Electronics) company full time, using the model “One Hundred” as a foundational design for his company’s products.

     (Here is the Sound City “One Hundred” head that Dave Reeves designed for Arbiter Electronics and then modified for Pete Townsend. Here is an L100 Mark 2 that was possibly also designed by Dave Reeves.)

     Remember also that Reeves had designed the Sound City Mark 1 amp, so it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that what would become the DR103 shared many production and cosmetic similarities/features with Reeves’ corresponding and, in restrospect, semenal Sound City head: Partridge transformers, basic component layout, tone controls, exterior cosmetic appointments, etc.

     Here is a side-by-side comparison of the wiring in a Hiwatt DR103 and a Sound City L100 Mark 3. It’s pretty scary how similar they really are!

     In fact, and for a short time, Sound City speaker cabinets and Hiwatt speaker cabinets were manufacturered by the same OEM supplier: the Glarev Company, which was run at the time by Henry Glass. This use of a shared OEM supplier explains why, for a brief time, Sound City and Hiwatt 4×12 cabinets had so many similar aspects: basic design and construction materials, rear-panel bass-reflex porting, Tolex and piping, and speaker types, in particular, Fanes.

     Ultimately and ironically, Sound City would end up copying, but without a great deal of success, many of Dave Reeves’s Hiwatt design elements in their subsequent lines of guitar and bass amplifiers. (Similarities extended to each company’s basic amp categories as well: e.g., DR504 vs. Sound City 50 Plus; DR103 vs. Sound City L100; DR201 vs. L/B200.) And most importantly, and possibly most telling, Sound City would resort to using particle board to reduce costs while Hiwatt continued using multi-ply wood.

     But to get back to the most important aspect of this discussion, it really was little more than a fundamental difference in vision between a man who ultimately showed a great deal of vision, versus a company that he felt showed very little. So reticent was Dave Reeves to hurry Hiwatt’s manufacturing processes or to cut corners simply based on costs, that David Cottam suggested to me that Hiwatt could have sold hundreds of products beyond what they did sell. In my interview with him, David Cottam said he had once told Dave Reeves that if Hiwatt could just ramp up production, “we could sell five DR405s a week.” And now maybe we also know why “fewer than 100 DR405s were built.”    Top     History Page 1     History Page 2

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