Everything you need to know before you buy or upgrade a guitar speaker for your amp or cabinet!
Guitar players are forever in pursuit of a ‘sound’ that supports their creative expression and sets them apart from other guitar players. But tone is a complex and multi-faceted notion influenced by various components of your guitar, effects chain, technique, and amplification.
Ask any experienced guitarist or technician and they will tell you that your guitar amp speaker undoubtedly plays a crucial role in shaping your tone. Yet, most guitar players can easily get caught up in guitar models, string gauges, pedals and pickups and often overlook the possibility of customizing their guitar amp speaker to improve their tone and overall sound. Well, this article aims to acquaint you with all the aspects of buying a formidable guitar amp speaker alongside some of our top picks from what is on offer in 2020.
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So who needs a Guitar Amp Speaker and why?
A guitar amp speaker refers to the transducer used in combo amplifiers or wooden speaker cabinets, speakers are also commonly referred to as a driver. They are different from other speakers because they are built specifically to cater to the frequency range of electric guitars (75 Hz to 5k Hz). Modifying or upgrading the stock amp speaker of any budget amplifier is one of the cheapest, simplest, and fastest ways to improve the tone. Some of the other common reasons to buy guitar amp speaker are:
– To replace a busted speaker in your current amp or cabinet
– To modify or upgrade your guitar amp
– To experiment with different models to find the ‘elusive’ tone
– As a component for a DIY or assembled speaker cabinet
Does that sound like you? If it does, you are now hunting for a top-notch guitar amp speaker deal but can’t understand how to go about making your decision. Don’t fret, this article outlines all the major facets of how to make a clued-up decision alongside a list of time tested (and market-tested) amp speakers.
Now, there are a few things you need to understand before you make your choice. Pay close attention to the speaker cone and the motor magnet – these are the two main components that determine the sound of an amp speaker.
Motor magnets are usually made from Alnico or ceramic and in some cases with neodymium. If you have geeked out on guitar pickups, you are probably aware that these are the same three materials used for pickup magnets and you might be familiar with their pros and cons. The general consensus indicates that Alnico magnets are more harmonious than their counterparts when it comes to guitar amp speakers, which makes them the most sought after choice among guitar players. However, alnico is an alloy of nickel, aluminum and cobalt and cobalt is always in short supply and costs a pretty penny. This significantly increases its price tag. For this very reason, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, many major speaker manufacturers dropped Alnico magnets from their units and replaced them with ceramic magnets to make more affordable speakers. But don’t let them trick you into thinking that ceramic magnets are inferior. You will discover that they do an equally stellar job in many well-known Jensen, Celestion and Eminence units. Neodymium too is occasionally used due to its high magnetic flux and it can produce highly efficient speakers. This is to say that while the cone material is undoubtedly a big factor in the sound, it has to be viewed in the context of the motor design.
As for the cone, when you push a cone hard this causes ripples due to the vibrations and expands or flexes the cone. This phenomenon ultimately shapes the tonal character of a speaker. The amp designers call this ‘break-up’ because it refers to how the sound breaks up when driven. When light cones are pushed hard they will break-up easily and sound distorted and boxy. Heavier cones tend to have a much higher break-up threshold which permits them to stay more stable. The size of the cone is another key factor in finding the right fit. Most speaker sizes range from 6 to 15 inches in diameter. You need to match these with the size of your combo amplifier or cabinet. Among the many sizes available, 12-inch speakers are generally considered the most balanced option. This, means they are the preponderant choice in amp speakers that are regularly used in live performances and recording studios. They can be used in the form of singles (small practice amp), a pair (twin-combo), or multiples in a cabinet (4 x 12s). In case you are wondering, in simple words, a 4 x 12” just means a speaker cabinet with a combination of four 12” inch speakers.
So does Nothing Else Matter?
While cone construction and motor magnet design can be a tad too technical for the average guitar player, some personal preferences can influence your final purchase and narrow your choices. Here are a few important things to consider while buying a guitar amp speaker:
Tone: This is the foremost reason most people buy and experiment with different guitar amp speakers. When it comes to tone, there are two primary categories: Vintage & Modern. To understand this in a more musical context, each of these categories can be further (unofficially) divided into Brit & American (Vintage Brit or Vintage American, for example). But simply because something is called a vintage sounding amp speaker doesn’t mean it cannot deliver other sounds. It merely suggests that they are designed to instinctively reproduce an iconic tone from a specific model from the classic era. Online retailers offer a broad range of products and manufacturers provide a plethora of audio samples and video demonstrations to help you make up your mind. The question is do you know what tone you are after?
Wattage: Are you planning to use it for the studio? Are you going to be gigging with the amplifier? Or is this just a replacement for your rehearsal and practice amp? Your wants will eventually dictate how much power you go for and your power decides how loud you bellow. But remember, with great power comes the ability to blow your neighbor’s socks off!
Cost: Your budget is always an important factor in any purchase that will eventually narrow down the choices. But keep in mind that just because something is expensive, that doesn’t mean it is the right piece of equipment for you.
Which are the best guitar amp speakers on the market?
From adding lucid harmonic detail to even tone dispersion, old and new brands continue to build robust designs that offer a plethora of tonal variations with great power-handling capacity. Some of these are recreated to sound straight out of the 60s; a few others are emblematic of the definitive modern high gain tone. That being said let us dive straight into our top picks for the best guitar amp speakers in 2020:
#1 Celestion Vintage 30, 12″ 60W Guitar Amp Speaker
Right from its conception in the 1920s, Celestion took the music world by storm and instantly became one of the most venerated brands in the amp speaker manufacturing industry. It was only a matter of time before they partnered with Marshall Amplifiers to lay the bedrock of Brit-rock sounds before they went on to conquer the world. Even today, they remain at the zenith, considered to be an incontestable favorite in manufacturing the best amp speakers on offer.
Celestion launched the V30 in the late 1980s after using the latest technology to recreate the magic of the highly successful and iconic Celestion Blue amp speaker from the 1960s. They wanted to meet the demands of a brand new drove of hard rock guitarists who were hungry for a modern sounding amp speaker that could deliver more powerful overdriven sounds.
The end result was the V30, 12 inches of sheer power and remarkable output that did not disappoint. This 60 watts powerhouse with 70 – 5000 Hz nominal impedance can sound as loud as something twice its size. Even though it uses ceramic magnets, as opposed to the Alnico ones used in Celestion Blue, it manages to deliver a clean and crisp sound with punchy lows. The high end sounds creamy without feeling brittle or harsh and the rich presence of the mid range is commendable. It is ideal for small concerts or club gigs and will dazzle all over the recording studio.
The Celestion Vintage 30 is a very familiar sound with a sure-fire promise of quality. This is the archetype, the quintessence and the paradigm of an extraordinary tone. It is omnipresent and the chances are high that you have probably unknowingly heard/played it at some point and loved it without knowing what it was! It will gratify any guitarist who admires the classic and vintage Marshall Guitar Amplifier sounds. It is priced marginally higher than other comparable guitar amp speakers in the market but then again none of them can boast of Celestion’s heritage and indisputable mark on rock ‘n’ roll History.
- Top-Rated & Best Seller among Premium Guitar Amp Speakers!
- Balanced tone with warm lows, rich mids and detailed highs
- Versatile Tone, Suitable for many styles and genres
- Used by legendary guitar players like Slash & Peter Frampton
- 60 W Power, 12″diameter
- 8 ohms nominal impedance
- 75 – 5000 Hz Frequency range
- Ceramic Magnet Speaker
#2 Celestion G12M Greenback Guitar Amp Speaker
The Greenback was a staple among cabinets when the hard rock and classic rock legends were taking over the planet. It has been an undying cornerstone of the tones that sent ripples across the most majestic area rock concerts and enchanted headbangers. The Greenback 12M was launched as a reproduction of this famous Greenback speaker for those who wanted to capture the classic rock sounds of the 60s. Over the years, the G12M has seen a lot of little tweaks and changes. But even today, it retains the highly sought after crunch and fiery tones that brought it into the limelight.
The Celestion G12M Greenback can be used as a standalone speaker in low-powered amplifiers and is equally capable of delivering a top notch modern tone when used in multiples in a rock cabinet. It weighs roughly ten pounds (9.95lbs) and has 13 x 13 x 6 in dimensions. The 25 watts of power and 8 ohm impedance is ideal for twin combos and 4 x 12 cabs. This speaker is a good match for any guitarist looking for a well-defined modern sound with lots of gain and clarity. You can notice that the high end is somewhat restrained which gives an impetus to chord playing and lends a lot of grit and attitude to the sound. The feisty lead tones it produces are absolutely spectacular.
The Greenback 12M production lines were relocated back to Ipswich, England in 2018. These guitar amp speakers deliver on quality, sound and brand value. It is a well-known fact that Angus Young (AC/DC) has been an ardent Celestion fan and played Greenbacks for most of his career. And we can see exactly why! You can hear that same hard rock punch in the chords voiced by the G12M and the hot rodded lead tones without any fizz.
ü Ideal for a modern high gain amplifier
ü Powerful ceramic magnet
ü Offers a splendid crunch when overdriven
ü Mid-range richness with great tone definition
ü Angus Young Approved! For those who rock… we salute you!
- 25 Watts, 12″ diameter
- 8 ohms nominal impedance
- Ceramic Magnet Speaker
#3 Eminence EJ1250 12-Inch Guitar Amp Speaker
Eminence was founded by Bob Gault, an American engineer, in 1966. Within a few years, they went on to become one of the largest loudspeaker manufacturers in the world. Today they are widely acknowledged as being a dominant force in the guitar amp speaker markets and they continue to partner with famous artists to create signature models to guitar amplifiers. Not too long ago, Eminence partnered with Grammy award-winning, American guitar legend Eric Johnson to develop the EJ1250 and launched it.
Eminence, as a brand, has been synonymous with great-sounding guitar amp speakers since the 1970s. Eric Johnson is known to be finicky (in a good way!) about his tech and gear, so any design he was a part of would have to live up to really high standards.
The EJ1250 is 12 inches and 50 watts of tone heaven. It is available in 8 and 16 ohm impedances. This is sheer and undiluted vintage goodness – a tone that has a balanced EQ spectrum that can produce some memorable clean tones and semi-distorted lead tones. The throaty mids on the EJ1250 are distinct and incredibly present. The lows have a lot of punch and the top-end is articulate with a well-defined lucid tone on the whole.
Tone can be subjective but there is no doubt that Eminence is on to something extraordinary with this one. The construction materials and craftsmanship are as good as it will get. This one is a no-brainer for anyone who loves Eric Johnson’s signature tone or a vintage sound. Rest assured, for the price you pay, you get a guitar amp speaker developed by a perfectionist like Johnson and delivered by a world-renowned brand like Eminence.
- Absolute Classic Vintage Goodness
- High-Quality Construction & Brand Value
- Distinct Mid Range, Well-defined Top end
- Designed and Endorsed by Eric Johnson
- 50 Watts, 8 ohm impedance
- 12 inch Guitar Speaker
- Alnico Magnet Cone
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#4 Jensen C12N 50W 12″ Guitar Amp Speaker
Jensen was founded by Peter Jensen, an American innovator, in 1927. Over the next few decades, they went from a small radio system speaker producing unit to a global supplier of high-quality equipment with multiple factories. Their rise to fame was propelled by their ability to produce world-class amp speakers. Even Leo Fender, impressed by their performance and quality, selected Jensen speakers for his earlier line of guitar amplifiers. As a matter of fact, most of the collectible Silvertone amplifiers and the Fender Blackface amplifiers in the ‘60s came with stock Jensen amp speakers. Jensen is also very famous for its bass amp speakers that have been featured in Twin, Bass man and Bandmaster type amplifiers.
The C12N is a part of its widely popular Vintage Ceramic series and one of the best selling speakers in Jensen’s history. This 12-inch speaker packs 50 watts and can shine well in a combo amplifier or a twin-combo. It has 8 ohm nominal impedance and a 75 – 5,000 Hz frequency range. The C12N epitomizes the sounds you expect from a Ceramic magnet speaker with quality craftsmanship. It has a dynamic response and sturdy construction. The power-packed low end is coupled with a solid mid-range and a high-frequency chime.
These units are renowned for a meaty mid-range that blues and jazz guitar players fawn over. The amp speaker responds with an outstanding mid-range bark that carries its definition and clarity even when it is overdriven. This makes them an obvious choice for anyone looking for a vintage blues tone. It was also very popular among surf and rock ‘n’ roll artists in the 60s. They provide immense value for the price point and are well-known for their customer support. Their website offers wiring diagrams and replacement recommendations to help you make the right decision.
- Ideal for blues and jazz guitar players
- Powerful ceramic magnet
- Offers a thick mid-range and dynamic response
- Highly Sought after Classic Vintage Tones
- 50 Watts, 8 ohm impedance
- 12 inch Guitar Speaker
- Ceramic Magnet Speaker
Honorable Mention: Celestion Blue
Celestion Blue 15W, 12″ Vintage Alnico Guitar Speakers boast of a vintage tone that can really bring a small Class A tube amplifier to life. This speaker represents the iconic sound of ‘British Invasion’. With a 12-inch speaker diameter and 14 watts of power, this is Celestion’s premium offering that is built in the UK. It is a sturdy ten-pound heavyweight that has a 75 – 5,000 Hz frequency range. The design includes a sturdy chassis and a round copper Alnico magnet. Its claim to fame includes being the stock or standard speaker for some Marshall models and the VoxAC30 amplifiers. This compact, premium offering isn’t exactly cheap but then again it was the speaker of choice for Brian May (Queen).
Shop to Swap or Buy to Build!
The road to a great tone may be paved with unfathomable complexity but finding the right guitar amp speaker for your playing style will certainly be a huge leap in the right direction. Though there are many laudable boutique and medium sized manufacturers – Jensen, Eminence and Celestion are the most formidable names in today’s market. Now that you are knee-deep in knowledge, you can explore our links and make a well-informed purchase of a high-value product that matches your budget and aesthetics!