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Fifteen 12" Speakers

March 23, 2012
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Many guitar players obsess over their instruments, amps, and effects, but spend a lot less tweak time on the final element in the tone chain—the speaker. We’ve probably all been guilty of copping an attitude of “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” when it comes to speakers, but these electro-mechanical devices play a huge role in tone. And compared to, say, changing the pickups in your guitar, switching to a different speaker will likely have more impact on your sound, and could literally make the difference between loving your tone and being in a state of constant sorrow.

Speakers all work basically the same way, but they do their job of converting electrical energy into sound differently depending on how they’re made. The stiffness of the cone and the flexibility of the “surround” (the part that attaches it to the frame), the magnet material, the coil wire and the former it’s wrapped around are some of primary things that can affect how a speaker sounds. And that’s just part of it, because lots of less obvious elements go into making speakers, and every manufacturer has specific formulas they use to create models that are optimized for different applications.

Check the websites of any speaker company and you’ll see plenty of descriptions about what different models sound like. You can also usually find sound clips that can give you an idea of where a particular speaker is coming from sonically. That’s helpful info when shopping for a new speaker, but the only way to really know how a speaker sounds and whether it’s right for you is to bolt it into a combo or cabinet and wail away on it.

And this is what we did with the fifteen 12" (8Ω) speakers on review here from Celestion, Eminence, Jensen, Tone Tubby, and Weber. All were tested in identical open-back 1x12 cabinets with several different amps—a Fender Deluxe Reverb, a Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 18, a 1969 Marshall PA20, and a Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantic 100—using a Fender Telecaster, a P-90 equipped G&L ASAT Junior II, a PRS SC 58, and a Gibson Heritage ’59 Les Paul. We also referenced several speakers that have seen a lot of use in our product testing over the years: a Celestion Vintage 30 in a Bogner open-back cabinet, a Kendrick Brownframe 12 in a Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue, and a Bag End S12-B in a sealed-back enclosure.

Besides tone, another consideration is a speaker’s weight. For example, a three-pound difference between two models might not be an issue in a 1x12 combo, but that adds up to 12 pounds in an already bulky 4x12, which might make it tough to lug on your own. And if you’re really serious about shaving off pounds, then consider a speaker with a neodymium magnet. Neo speakers weigh significantly less than comparable models with an alnico or ceramic magnets, and most major manufacturers offer them in standard sizes and impedances.

Celestion G12-50GL Lynchback

Price $139
Magnet Ceramic, 35 oz
Wattage 50
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 7.6 lbs
Built China
Sonics Designed to blend vintage-style warmth with modern aggression, the Lynchback has a wealth of harmonics and upper midrange complexity. Though not super slicing, its frequencies are well balanced to provide tight-bottom tones that sound great for crunching rhythm or searing lead tones. Impressive sounding in an openback cab, the Lynchback would be an excellent rock speaker in a 4x12.
Contact celestion.com

Celestion Heritage Series G12H 75

Price $220
Magnet Ceramic, 50 oz
Wattage 30
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 10.48lbs
Built England
Sonics This hand-assembled speaker is brimming with glistening top-end and bold midrange color. The lows are pulled back a bit for a firmer low-string response, and it sounded very open and well presented in in an open back cab. In a 2x12 or 4x12 it could be an excellent choice to combine with speakers that have enhanced bottom or a lower resonant frequency.
Contact celestion.com

Eminence EJ1250 Eric Johnson Signature

Price $289
Magnet Alnico, 35 oz
Wattage 50
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 8.5 lbs
Built USA
Sonics Eric Johnson’s design input has resulted in a highly responsive speaker that responds to your picking with deep lows, juicy mids, and sweet, shimmering highs. Naturally it sounds great with single-coils, but it also brings out the crispy detail in humbuckers very effectively. With its blend of “American and British” attributes, the EJ1250 sounds killer in an open-back cab and would be a natural for a sealed 2x12 or 4x12.
Contact eminence.com

Jensen Jet Electric Lightning C12/70 EL

Price $96
Magnet Ceramic, 50 oz
Wattage 70
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 9.6 lbs
Built Italy
Sonics This model offers bold high-end presence, enhanced midrange bloom and complexity, and firm, well defined lows. Its headroom makes it a good choice for Marshall and other powerhouse rock amps, while its articulation and touch responsiveness play well with low-wattage tube combos. If you’re seeking a speaker that excels for blues, jazz, or rock, the Jet Electric Lightning is a fine choice.
Contact Jensentone.com

Jensen Jet Falcon C12/50 F

Price $79
Magnet Ceramic, 28.5 oz
Wattage 50
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 7.2 lbs
Built Italy
Sonics A little rounder sounding than the Electric Lightning, this slightly mellower speaker provides sweet jazzy textures when played softly, yet pumps out torrents of juicy harmonics when pushed into compression. A fab and very affordable choice for blues or roots, this speaker might be the ticket if you’re a single-coil player looking to fatten up your tone.
Contact Jensentone.com

Jensen Blackbird JP12-100BB

Price $257
Magnet Alnico, 30 oz
Wattage 100
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 6.9 lbs
Built Italy
Sonics This Italian stallion has a ton of slicing treble, but it sings wonderfully without unwanted spikiness or harshness. The mids are juicy with the perfect amount of snarl, and the bass response is impressively big and beefy. The Blackbird sounded excellent with a Deluxe, and if your amp is a little thin-sounding, it could be the ideal fixer.
Contact Jensentone.com

Tone Tubby Nashville Ceramic

Price $210
Magnet Ceramic
Wattage 75
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 10.6 lbs
Built USA
Sonics Designed to accommodate Strat and Tele players, the Nashville has extra headroom that enables it to kick out shimmering tones with enhanced mids and tight, punchy lows. Pushed into compression, it stays nicely focused, making it an especially good choice if you like to get overdrive tones by turning up your amp.
Contact tonetubby.com

Tone Tubby Red Alnico

Price $299
Magnet Alnico, 32 oz
Wattage 50
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 7.7 lbs
Built USA
Sonics Reportedly a favorite of Carlos Santana, this hemp-cone alnico speaker has lots of bottom, and punches through with slicing mids and a clear, sweet top. If you want a little more low-end emphasis but also need the ability to cut through a loud band onstage, you’ll likely find the Red to be a great choice.
Contact tonetubby.com

Tone Tubby 40/40 Ceramic

Price $149
Magnet Ceramic, 50 oz
Wattage 40
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 10.5 lbs
Built USA
SONIC S Described as a variation on the Red, the 40/40 offers extended lows and a slightly brighter top end. It compresses with a juicy rush of harmonics when you nail it, and also sounds very smooth and crisply detailed when played below its breakup threshold. A good choice for jazz or blues.
Contact tonetubby.com

Tone Tubby DD

Price $325
Magnet Alnico, 28 oz
Wattage 40
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 7.7 lbs
Built USA
Sonics The name refers to “double dipping” of the cone, which allows this speaker to sound clearer and tighter at high volumes than it would otherwise. This alnico model melds exceptional clarity with a solid low end, and it doesn’t get frazzy when pushed hard. An excellent choice if loud clean tones are your goal, or if you get your grind mostly from pedals.
Contact tonetubby.com

Tone Tubby San Rafael Ceramic

Price $99
Magnet Ceramic, 28 oz
Wattage 25
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 6.5 lbs
Built USA
Sonics Designed for lower power amps, the lightweight San Rafael compresses just enough while exuding sweet, midrange enhanced tones that don’t mush out on the bottom or sound too piercing. It was way cool with the Deluxe Reverb, and would be something to check out if you’re looking for a cost-effective way to breathe new life into a low-watt combo.
Contact tonetubby.com

Weber Legacy 12F

Price $120
Magnet Ceramic, 30 oz
Wattage 65
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 7.3 lbs
Built USA
Sonics A great-sounding British-voiced speaker with deep bottom, upfront mids, and sweetly burnished highs that slice through clearly without overbite. A good choice whether you play humbuckers or single-coils, the Legacy 12F sounded excellent in an open-back cab and should rule for hard rock in a closed-back 2x12 or 4x12.
Contact tedweber.com

Weber Legacy 12F

Price $120
Magnet Ceramic, 50 oz
Wattage 65
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 8.1 lbs
Built USA
Sonics Armed with 20 more ounces of magnet, this version of the Legacy sounds similar to the 30-ounce model, but has more of, well, everything. Considering it costs the same, there’s no good reason not to go for this version—other than it weighs a bit more—thanks to its impressive top end, amazing midrange presence, and chunking low end.
Contact tedweber.com

Weber GrayWolf 12F

Price $110
Magnet Ceramic, 30 oz
Wattage 50
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Weight 8.1 lbs
Built USA
Sonics This cool-sounding British-voiced speaker sports killer high-end response and beautifully focused mids and lows. The version we tested came with the “light dope” option on the surround, which made it more controlled-sounding than would be the case with no doping. If you’re nuts about cone control, you can also specify a heavier cone doping.
Contact tedweber.com

Weber DT12

Price $100
Magnet Ceramic, 20 oz
Wattage 30
Weight 5.4 lbs
Impedance 8Ω/16Ω
Built USA
Sonics The DT12 doesn’t have a ton of low end, but it’s balanced-sounding overall and yields frothy mids and silky highs. It doesn’t get raspy when pushed into compression, and its sensitivity made it a fine match with our lower-wattage amps. Short of metal, this lightweight and affordable speaker would fill the bill for a lot of different styles.
Contact tedweber.com

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