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Article 3:                

Guitar Loudspeakers:

A Brief Overview of Principles & Manufacturers

By Matt Pisarcik


Shopping for a guitar amplifier comes with many choices: Manufactures, styles, models, and power output. But one of the smallest decisions in your hunt for tone is the size, brand, and characteristics of the speakers inside the speaker cabinet. It is amazing the difference a speaker can make in the final sound of an amplifier. In this article, I will discuss the different brands and popular models in attempt to help you understand what particular application each is best suited for. It is first important to understand how a speaker works, and a great explanation lies here. The most important aspects of a speaker and how it pertains to guitar amplification are Sound Pressure Level (SPL), Frequency Response, and Power Handling.

SPL is a measurement that involves feeding a speaker 1 watt of power and recording its output in decibels (dB) with a microphone placed 1 meter away. This is probably the most important number I look at when determining if a speaker is any good. It is important to note that, for instance, the difference between 97 db SPL and 100 db SPL would require an additional 200 watts of power. This SPL number will tell you how efficient your speaker can turn power (watts) into sound (dB). The higher the number, the better.

Frequency Response tells you how a speaker alters the original signal. For audio systems that reproduce sound, such as P.A’s, stereo systems and concert studio monitors, the goal is to have a speaker configuration that is relatively neutral to the original signal. This is usually achieved using multiple speakers, or drivers, including a woofer, midrange driver, and tweeter. Sometimes, it is necessary to have a subwoofer added to achieve ultra low frequency notes from movies and sound effects. However, the frequency range of a guitar is limited enough to not require more than one kind of speaker, usually a midrange type. The most popular size is 12 inch for dedicated cabinets, and sometimes 10 or 6.5 inch for smaller cab’s, combos, and practice amps. Most guitar players like a speaker that enhances the midrange frequencies, in a way “warming up” the sound, as well as making it punchy and defined. This allows for your sound not to get lost in the mix of other musical instruments.

Power Handling is a measurement given by the speaker manufacturer that tells you how many watts a speaker can handle before it will begin to distort the signal. Sometimes this is a good thing- this can cause speaker overdrive that is pleasing to most Rock and Roll genres of music. However, too much distortion can cause a speaker to be damaged, usually melting the voice coil. In most cases, you want to make sure that a speaker can handle the maximum output of your guitar amplifier, just to be on the safe side.




    Being one of the most popular and recognized names in guitar loudspeakers, Celestion has been making great drivers since 1929, originally for the British Broadcasting Company. Since the history of guitar amplifiers is rooted in early tube radio, it is no doubt that they eventually found their way into early British guitar amplifiers. Since then, they have been installed at the factory of many amplifier companies, including Marshall, Vox, Orange, Mesa Boogie, and many others. We have Marshall and Celestion to thank for the distinctively “British tones” that we are so familiar with.    

AlNiCo Blue

     Also known as the Blue Bull Dog, this 15-watt loudspeaker made its way into early Vox and Marshall amplifiers in the 1950’s and 60’s. It soon became the fist official guitar speaker because of its amazing sensitivity of 100 dB, due the use if a special AlNiCo magnet (an alloy of Aluminum, Nickel, and Cobalt). The actual frequency response is not too different from a Celestion 12M Greenback, but they have a smoother top end. The mids are woodier, and the speaker is a bit more defined all around. The difference is actually pretty subtle, and where it stands out the most is in a band situation, believe it or not. The blues are a bit more efficient, and since the top end is smoother, they tend to cut through more clearly and sound a little less harsh. My Vox AC30 has the greenbacks, which I intend on upgrading to the Blues as soon as possible. I find the Blues much more smooth, and less abrasive. They just sound better for clean, mild breakup, and great overdrive in my opinion. They may be expensive, but they are definitely worth it to me. I even plan on upgrading the Vintage 30 speakers in my Orange AD30R to have the Blues as well. They may be the original guitar speaker, but I believe one of the best!

G12M Greenback

     With the development of Rock and Roll, audience sizes grew and consequently more and more amplification became necessary. Celestion rose to the challenge of designing a loudspeaker that could cope with an increase in power, and the G12 series was born. The G12M was the first speaker produced by Celestion to feature a ceramic magnet assembly. Through this, every subtlety of the player’s dynamic style becomes wonderfully articulated. Today, as ever, the Greenback exudes a warmth and woodiness and yet retains the brightness and punch needed to cut through the rest of the band. Ideally suited to a blues-rock style, the Greenback is a must-have speaker for anyone seeking classic tone. I built a homemade guitar cabinet that that used Greenbacks. It originally hade cheap Eminence speakers, and there was a huge difference when I switched out the speakers.

Vintage 30

     A modern speaker that can trace its roots to the original G12, the Vintage 30 combines high power handling with an instantly recognizable vintage tone. The Vintage 30’s 100dB sensitivity makes it ideal for use in high-gain tube amps and with tight bass, fat mids and a smooth, harmonically rich top, a fantastic ‘70s rock sound comes with all the added bass and overdrive you could ever want. My Orange AD30R amp has two of these speakers, and so did my old Marshall 1960AV cabinet. I have nothing but good things to say about these speakers, they are great! Most likely one of the best modern speaker designs out today, in my opinion. Found in many Orange, Marshall, Mesa Boogie and plenty other amps, you can’t go wrong with these speakers.


     The G12H provides the ideal solution to those looking for a compromise between the Vintage 30 and the G12M ‘Greenback’ - for players who need a syrupy, thick and warm tone that still retains a tight bottom end. These speakers have great clarity (without being harsh) when played clean yet they will also pump out the classic Celestion grind when pushed into distortion. Pick attack is vividly articulated and with sustained notes the sound trails off into warm harmonic tones and a blooming feedback. I have met plenty of people that have played through this speaker, and most prefer it for heavier types of music. All around great choice if you want lower end than other Celestion speakers.


     This speaker has emphasis on huge bass, relaxed mids and vibrant highs, which make for a brutal sound - solid and fat with plenty of sparkle. Its heavy-duty aspect means that it handles extreme high gain and distortion like a gladiator. And this speaker will also retain a clean sound at much higher power levels than others can take. With these properties, this speaker is one of the favorites for musical styles such as rock/metal/thrash. This speaker is also one of the more popular speakers installed in Marshall’s, Mesa Boogie, and Crate speaker cabs.




          Eminence Speaker Corporation, established in 1966, has made a significant contribution to the development of equipment for rock and roll, country, blues and other musical genres. These speakers are often installed at the factory in amplifiers such as Fender, Peavey, Orange, and many other popular companies. They are very reliable, and are considered to be just as good as Celestion speakers; however, they tend to be high-frequencyer sounding in my opinion. Overall, they are a great combination of value and sound quality. Fender, Peavey, and SLM (Crate/Ampeg) worked with speaker companies like Eminence, Oxford, CTS, JBL, and Electrovoice to establish tones that are distinctively “American”.

Guitar Legends

            It is first important to note that Eminence, unlike Celestion, has many variations of the same speaker under a single name. In this case, the Guitar Legends speaker comes in nine similar drivers, but slightly differentiated. They are all hand crafted from 40 years experience fabricating loudspeakers. They are specifically suited and voiced for guitar applications, yet offering variations for several fields of musical tastes. These speakers work great for Jazz, Country, Blues, Rock, and everything in between. Some of them are voiced to be more neutral- offering the perfect solution for modeling amps, while others color your sound in the traditional British flavor. No matter which model you choose, you can guarantee it will have warm, rich low end, with smooth mids. They are overall efficient speakers, with the Legend 122 offering an AlNiCo magnet.


Patriot/Red Coat

            Incorporating both British and American cone technology into speakers that are manufactured in the USA, these speakers give you the ability to have virtually any tone you desire.  Be it British or American, clean or dirty, big bass or screaming highs, these speakers promise that will allow you to “Pick Your Sound”. Eminence has even gone as far as providing a guitar speaker cross reference guide, helping guitar players choose a replacement speaker for their amp. These speakers can be described as clean and full, with lots of body and sparkle to thick and smooth, with lots of mids and extended highs, depending on which model you choose. Overall, these speakers have a high efficiency, with most models over 100db. They also seem to be one of the most comprehensive and complete lines of speakers that Eminence has ever produced, offering nearly ever guitar player a speaker that would suit them.



     These speakers have more vintage history than modern. They were the installed stock in the first radios and stereo systems, as well as the Fender Amplifiers. They helped to define the early “American” sound just as much as Eminence did, and are remembered today mostly for it. The C and P series are still being manufactured today by parent company AudioVox.


C Serie s

Originally developed in the 1960's the ceramic series defines that classic American rock and roll tone. They produce a warm smooth treble response with even fat distorted tone, which is loved by so many guitarists. Standard in Fenders and Ampegs of the early 60's, these speakers were the hot item in the day, contending with the Eminence speakers for American dominance. Available in many sizes and power ratings, these speakers were very popular for their low prices due to the low costing ceramic magnets. The consequence of this cheaper magnet is a sensitivity of only about 95 db on most models.



P Series

The Jensen 'P' Series guitar speakers were originally designed the late '40's & early 1950's. The Jensen P10R 10" speaker is the most famous of Jensen speaker's. Originally used in the Fender Super, Bassman, Vibrolux, and Bandmaster amplifiers. Many other great American speaker companies such as Ampeg and Fender used these Alnico speakers. These re-issues are made from the exact blueprints and use the same production techniques. They feature the highly efficient Alnico magnets and use seamed cones to provide authentic vintage sound.


Mod Series

Jensen MOD speakers have a British sound similar to that of Celestion. Some MOD speakers are available in 4, 8, 16  & 32 ohms. They are best suited for replacements in existing guitar cabinets. Load Marshall amps with these and you may never need to replace them again, due to their 100-watt power handling. These speakers also work well in bass guitar cabinets. 



To conclude, all of these choices may seem overwhelming, but in the end it comes down to one thing: your sound. If you really like the sound of a particular artist or amplifier, there’s a good chance that having a similar or the same speaker will help you achieve your desired tone. I believe that the first choice is to decide which sound you admire most: American or British. If you choose American, chances are you like the sound of Peavey, Fender, and Ampeg amplifiers. The Eminence and Jensen speakers will bring out the characteristics of your amplifier best when used with these American brands. If you dig the British sound, my guess is you love the sound of Marshall, Vox, Orange and Hiwatt. Celestion speakers are the clear choice for these types of amps. Personally, I am Brit at heart, loving the music, amps, and speakers that this country has produced. Owning a Vox AC30 and Orange AD30R, my favorite speakers include the Celestion G12M Greenback, AlNiCo Blue Bulldog, and Vintage 30. However, I have also had great experience with Fender Custom Shop Eminence Speakers that were installed in a Fender Pro Tube Twin Amp that I used to own. The choice is yours.

Special thanks to Nick Santore from the Orange Amp Forum.

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