How’s everybody doing? In the last couple of
installments we’ve looked at Britain’s contribution to the special sounds of classic rock.
Now I think it’s time to bring our historical
journey back around to where rock ‘n’ roll
began—right here in the good old USA! I’ve
been listening very carefully to the various
speakers being made today and comparing
them to the speakers made in the heyday of
amplifier making: the ‘50s and ‘60s. During
this particular era and into the early ‘70s
there were quite a few US speaker manufacturers around. Many of these speaker brands
possessed their own unique voices. However,
some of these manufacturers stopped making guitar speakers entirely, or making the
proper recone kits for those speakers that
would eventually need repair. The end result
was that reconed speakers didn’t sound (or
react to your touch) at all like they did
before. This was a huge bummer.
done with some sort of Fender amp than
any other. A few different types of speakers
were used in those amps, depending upon
availability. Fender would use various brands
like CTS, Utah and Oxford if their preferred
Jensen speakers were not ready at hand. The
early tweed model amps are still coveted for
their creamy breakup and touch sensitivity.
What you usually hear in these models are
the American-made Jensen P12Qs. These
speakers sound really amazing, but they had a
tendency to burn up easily when the volume
was pushed too hard, because the voice coils
were wound on paper bobbins. As the Fender
amp lineup began increasing in power around
The Great American Sound
I will never forget a particular time in
my youth when I was at a jam session
where a saxophone player nonchalantly dropped a Shure SM58 microphone down the bell of his horn. I was
horrified at the sound we heard emanating from my Altec Lansing 417-8C
loaded Fender Twin Reverb—CLANG!
And then suddenly, NOTHING...
Man, was I pissed! I was unable to utter the
smallest of sounds. That afternoon I called
the dealer where I had purchased the Altec
Lansing speakers, and was given bad news.
They were out of stock and discontinued,
never to be made again. After many frantic
calls to various Altec Lansing dealers in my
area, I found out that nobody had them in
stock. In the end, I was forced to replace
the Altec Lansing 417-8Cs with JBL E-120s.
Did they sound like the 417-8Cs? Nope, far
from it. The JBLs were much brighter and
would not distort like the Altecs did. If any
distortion was introduced, the JBLs sounded
wimpy, thin and lacked body by comparison.
Keep in mind, this type of speaker had a
much higher power rating than what our ears
knew as the classic Fender sound.
It’s been suggested that more popular
recordings of the past (and even now) were
1954 P12Q. Photo by Dean Farley
1959, some changes started to happen. Leo
Fender decided that he wanted his amps to
have more headroom, so he switched from
alnico magnets to ceramic magnets to get
closer to what he was looking for. I don’t think
that anyone would disagree with me or have
any doubt that those early Jensen speakers represent the real, authentic “American
sound” as we know it. These days you’ll find
many an old tweed amp (or the blonde or
blackface models) that no longer have the
original speakers because of the paper bobbins burning up in the original Jensens.
In recent times, we’ve been seeing a lot
of amplifier companies claiming they can
recreate that great “American sound,” but
to my ears, these companies don’t have
the right sounding speakers with their
amplifiers. And this is one of those beyond-critical keys in creating the authenticity of
that old wonderful tone. So, if you have an
old original Fender amp hanging around
that dates anywhere from the early ‘50s on
up to the mid-‘60s that needs to come back
home, sonically speaking, you’ll more than
likely have a big problem getting it back
“in the pocket.” I haven’t heard any 12-inch
reissue speaker that sounds remotely like
those old original American made Jensen
Enter Adam Palow and Tungsten
Amplification of Grand Island, FL. Adam is
one of the most finicky people I have ever
met in the boutique amplifier business, and
he has succeeded in nailing this sound.
Adam and I did an interesting blindfold
test. He took two brand new open-back
pine wood 1x12” Tungsten enclosures, one
loaded with an original 1954 Jensen P12Q
and the other loaded with one of his brand
new Tungsten T12Q Weber speakers (made
by Weber to Tungsten specs)—straight out
of the box with no break in period. When we
settled down to do our testing, Adam asked
me if I could pick out the cabinet that had
the 1954 model P12Q in it. I listened very
carefully for a few moments as he switched
back and forth between the two enclosures
directly in front of us. When I pointed to the
cabinet which I thought contained the real
deal, I was informed that it was sitting in the
other cabinet! Wow...
I was completely stunned, because at best
the difference between the two speakers
was so minute it would have been harder
than splitting hairs to tell the two apart. The
treble was voiced correctly with the midrange
slightly scooped, and the bass was exactly
right. Please consider this a public service
announcement for those who own old amps
that need to be restored to their original
glory. If you feel you’re one of the players
with this dilemma, you can get fixed up! See
you next month.
is the chief designer of "Snake Oil Brand Strings"
( sobstrings.net) and has had a profound influence
on the trends in the strings of today.