TONE TIPS FROM THE ROAD
Speakers: The Ultimate “Amp Mod”
One of the most dramatic mods guitarists
can make to an amplifier to personalize
their sound is to change out the speakers,
especially in older vintage amps—but also
in newer models, especially economically
priced amps that may have been fitted with
an unlabeled, “generic” or “OEM” speaker.
This is a subject many have covered, but
thought I’d add my personal perspective,
since I’ve been trying and buying many different speakers over the years.
There are dozens of options and brands
available, whether you’re buying new,
used or vintage. Familiar brands such as
Celestion, Eminence and Jensen are available from most music stores or online retailers. There are boutique speaker manufacturers like Tone Tubby, Avatar’s Hellatone
series, Weber and Scumback. There are also
many vintage names besides the big three
above to add to the list: Fane, Altec, JBL,
Oxford, Utah, etc.
A Few Things to Consider...
Usually (not always) a higher wattage
handling speaker—let’s say 30 to 75 watt
range—means a clearer, broader frequency
range from lows to highs. Lower power
handling—roughly 15 to 25 watts—may be
more midrangy, with less defined lows and
quicker breakup. Do you go for super clean?
Historically, players would gravitate towards
JBLs, Altecs and EVs rated for 100 to 200
watts. If you have a higher-wattage combo,
around 100 watts or more, definitely buy a
higher rated speaker or get proper advice.
Buying a new speaker
is relatively easy…
well, sort of.
seventies, which are very cool, along with the
JBL E120 & K120 series.
Buying Used Speakers on eBay
Avoid speakers with tears or punctures. If it’s
been abused and worn out, it’ll most likely
end up on eBay.
Avoid recones altogether, unless you can easily return if you don’t like them.
Ask if the speaker makes a rubbing or scraping noise when you push the cone in and out.
If so, avoid like the plague.
Make sure the seller has listened to the
speaker at time of auction, not “two years
ago and it worked great then.”
Make sure they’re properly packed for
shipment! Double-boxing is preferred. I’ve
received a couple of DOAs due to the seller’s
Buying a new speaker is relatively easy…
well, sort of. There is no true way of knowing the end result until you’ve had a chance
to actually hear it in your amp. But most
companies now have extensive info and
even soundclips on their websites to help
make your initial decision a little easier. You
can also pay attention to hearsay, check out
You Tube demos, and listen to other friends’
amps. It might also help to try out a few
different amps at the music store, paying
attention to the speakers in each. Or ask an
amp tech whose opinion you trust.
Vintage amps can be brought back to life
or made even better. For instance, Ampeg
combos from the late sixties and early seventies I’ve picked up have suffered from
tired or aged speakers, a couple having
blown almost immediately. They sit around
for long periods, cones dry out and glue
separates. It’s to be expected. A lot of times
the speakers were underrated relative to
the amp’s output. Sometimes all it takes is
one modern-day power chord to send an
old crusty speaker to its grave, so don’t be
surprised. Just wait until you drop in a new
speaker. You will never have imagined your
old amp could sound so good.
Also make note of the “SPL” or
“Sensitivity” rating of a speaker, which usually ranges between 96–100dB, the latter
being louder. Some old speakers from the
sixties must have had a rating of 50dB! I’m
exaggerating, of course, but when these
are replaced, the amp’s volume and tonal
spectrum can increase dramatically. Is your
combo too loud for your gig? Consider
dropping to a lower sensitivity rated
speaker. Make sure you match the speaker’s
impedance rating to your amp’s output
impedance, most often either 16 or 8 ohms.
As for personal faves, I’m more of a Celestion
guy. The G12M- 25 has great crunchy
midrange. The G12H- 30 Anniversary and
Heritage 55-Hz has more clarity than the 25,
and is good for clear, clanging rhythms. Blue
and Gold Alnicos have that “in your face”
Alnico mag crunch. Vintage 30s and G12T-
75s in Master Volume amps are great. I love
vintage Jensens in my Fenders, namely the
higher wattage Concert or Vibranto series
from the sixties. I’ve also experimented with
Altec 417s from the late sixties and early
Install the speaker immediately upon receipt
to check it out, with the agreement that you
can return it if there are any issues.
Beware of the “whizzer” cone Some Fanes
and Celestion G12Hs from the late sixties
and seventies had this additional cone in
the center of the speaker over the voice coil
that accented the highs, usually for PA or
bass guitar use. They generally sound terrible for guitar.
I’ve had decent luck buying vintage Jensens
on eBay. Vintage Celestions can be a relatively safe bet, as they were a sturdy speaker
in the first place. My luck with buying old
Altecs has not been good, as they don’t age
well and are therefore fragile. Your best bet
is to find these speakers in an old Ampeg or
Fender cab, as opposed to one-off sales. A
lot of old Altecs and JBLs listed on eBay have
been reconed. I’d be wary.
Peter is co-founder of 65amps.