5 Things About Speakers

December 1, 2010

gp1310_gear_5things1_nrTHIS IS WHERE THE MUSIC MEETS THE EARS .

As much as players will tweak pickups, strings, tubes, and more to achieve their dream tones, the speaker is the component that finally sends all your sonic magic to the listener’s ears. It stands to reason, therefore, that a speaker swap will potentially have a major impact on your overall sound. It can often be a very simple and relatively inexpensive change, too. If your tone is suffering and you have messed around with the front end ad infinitum, take a look at the back end, and investigate what a different speaker might do for you.

SPEAKER DISTORTION CAN BE A BIG PART OF AMP DISTORTION.

Whether produced by a vintage tube amp, a pedal, or a modern high-gain amp, overdrive and distortion are essential to many guitar tones. It’s important to realize, however, that many speakers contribute their own distortion to the brew, simultaneous to reproducing distortion from your amp. Crank up an amp too close to a speaker’s power-handling limits (15 watts for a Celestion Alnico Blue, or around 15 to 25 watts for a Jensen P12R type) and the speaker itself will start to break up, adding extra rasp and fur to the overall tone. If this is a sound you like, you can achieve it be selecting speakers accordingly. If you want more controlled overdrive and a firmer tone, use a speaker (or speakers) with a higher wattage rating.

SPEAKER EFFICIENCY DETERMINES YOUR PERCEIVED AMP VOLUME.

Popular guitar speakers exhibit readings from around 92dB to a little over 100dB (which are rated by measuring decibel levels at one meter with an input of one watt, and listed in a speaker’s specs as “1W/1M”). Although our perception of volume is highly frequency dependent, the rule of thumb goes that every 3dB increase in output is heard as a doubling of volume. In short, that means that going from a 94dB speaker to a 100dB speaker can be a quick way of helping that drag-ass club amp to finally keep up with your heavy handed drummer.

A SPEAKER’S INEFFICIENCY MIGHT HELP YOU HIT THE SWEET SPOT .

On the flipside of #3, moving from a hard, punchy speaker to one that’s softer and juicier might cure your tonal ills. Trading, for example, the super-efficient 102dB speaker in your 30-watt combo for a less-efficient (but great sounding) 96dB speaker should give you a double- dip reduction in perceived volume, and might just prove the perfect way to help that amp hit the sweet spot at manageable volume levels.

IMPEDANCE MATTERS .

While plenty of amplifiers can survive a speaker mismatch of one factor up or down, you want to match speaker impedance to rated amp output for optimum sound, performance, and component safety. With multi-speaker amps (or cabs), remember this rule of thumb: two speakers wired in parallel present a load that’s half that of each individual speaker (i.e. 8Ω+8Ω=4Ω), but two speakers wired in series present a load twice that of each speaker (8Ω+8Ω=16Ω). Each sounds a little different, too, a pair in parallel being a little tighter than a pair in series.

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