Tuning Your Sound – Speakers

Some people consider amps to be appliances; I’m not one of them.  They claim that your sound comes from you and your guitar.  That’s true, up to a point.  Without the amplifier, no one is going to hear you or your electric guitar.  Without a speaker, no one will hear what you, your guitar, and your amp, produce.

Just as tires are the most important safety feature on an automobile, the speaker is a key ingredient of your sound.  Many tube amp players “roll tubes” – change tubes to get a “better” sound.  Perhaps that money would be more well spent by choosing the right speaker for your needs. The sound coming out of the speaker is what people actually are hearing.  To neglect the speaker is to discount the final, and vital, link in your sound chain.

My first amp had an Eminence OEM Fender Special Design 12” speaker, the one that comes standard on many Fender tube amps.  It sounded good.  Nice, rich tone, with lots of chime.  I loved the tone, but wanted something a little louder to make up for a lack of headroom in a ‘50s tweed style guitar amplifier.  After much research, I selected an Eminence Cannabis Rex.  According to Bill M,, the Fender Blues Jr. expert, the Cannabis Rex is “very efficient, one of the loudest speakers you can put in an amp, and it pushes out pretty, round bass notes really well.”

After installing the new speaker, not only was the amp louder, the difference in tone was startling! It was almost like getting a different amp.  While changing from a JJ 12AX7 to a Tung-Sol to a Mullard to an Electro-Harmonix may produce a noticeable change in tone, changing to a different speaker will most definitely produce a change.

Please note that the amp still sounds great, and I always get compliments on the tone.  It does sound different than it did before.  What was gained was loudness, more bass, a more full tone, and the highs are still crystal clear.  What was lost is that chimey sound.  While louder across the spectrum, the Cannabis Rex has a less pronounced midrange dip and high end peak, and more bass, and it doesn’t have that double high end peak of the vintage Fender Special Design.  As Bill M states, “This is the warm/clean jazz speaker!”

If there’s something you don’t like about your amp, or you want it to sound different, instead of spending $60 or more on new tubes, research a different speaker.  One of the best resources I’ve found is on the BillMAudio website speaker comparison.  He compares the Fender Special Design (Eminence) with speakers from Jensen, Weber, Eminence, and Celestion, giving good descriptions of the various speakers’ attributes.  His advice is that the speaker should be the last mod, after you have tweaked your amp for best tone.  I come from a standpoint that your amp already is working fine.  Maybe if you start with the right speaker, you won’t need to mod the amp so much.  You have to make that decision yourself.