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Tone Tips: Speakers - Tone vs. Volume

Published: Thu January 22, 2009  News Feed

A lot is written about how you can make an amp louder, and perhaps render a small amp gig-worthy where it just couldn’t cut it before. That's great, but another important issue is tone, not volume.

Speakers - Tone or Volume?

Simply by swapping an inefficient speaker for a more sensitive one, you can make your amp louder. That’s certainly true; changing a speaker with a 95 dB rating for one with a 100 dB rating can sound like you’re suddenly using a much more powerful amp. Sometimes, however, you want to go the other way, so let’s look at it from that perspective. (Note that a speaker’s “sensitivity” or “efficiency” rating indicates the decibel level the speaker will achieve when measured at one meter from the cone with a signal input of one watt).

These days, as regards guitar amplifiers, there’s a much greater consciousness of stage volume than ever before, and a general move toward acquiring great tone at suitable volume levels, rather than using a huge amp that only sounds its best when you get it cranked up way too loud for the gig, and blow everyone’s hearing to shreds in the process.

With this in mind, let’s consider that, as well as using a more efficient speaker to make a small amp louder, you can use a less efficient speaker to make a great but too-loud amp less loud. In essence, you make your speaker choice work something like an attenuator. The trick is, you still want good all-round tone, and choosing a speaker according to its sensitivity rating can limit you somewhat in that respect. Of course, swapping in a new speaker is always a little bit of a crapshoot anyway if you don’t have the privilege of trying it with your own amp before buying it. But by reading the reviews, checking out the speakers your guitar-playing pals and band mates are using, and always keeping an eye peeled for the well-regarded speakers that carry slightly lower specs for efficiency, you can at least narrow down your selection.

Many vintage Jensen speakers typically have lower sensitivity ratings, and some of the new ones in the Italian-made Jensen Vintage Reissue series follow suit. The reissue alnico P12R and P12Q are both rated at 95 dB, which is fairly inefficient by today’s standards, and their ceramic counterparts the C12R and C12Q are even lower, at 93.8 dB and 94.6 dB respectively (consider these against the 98.4 dB rating of the P12N and C12N). Also, the new Jensen Jet Tornado neodymium-magnet speaker has a good all-purpose tone with plenty of warmth and roundness, and rates at 97.3 dB, while handling 100 watts of power.

Celestion is perhaps best known for two great-sounding, classic high-efficiency speakers, the Alnico Blue and G12H-30, both rated at 100 dB, and if you like that tone you might just have to make do with a loud amp. But the British company does have a range of great, if different, sounding drivers with lower ratings. The legendary G12M Greenback comes in at 98 dB in the Chinese-made Classic Series and a mellower (and more authentic) 96 dB in the English-made Heritage Series. It’s a fantastic rock lead and rhythm speaker and an undeniable classic, although it doesn’t have the firm lows or snappy high-end twang that some players also need in a guitar driver, and it handles only 25 watts. The Heritage G12-65, however, offers much of the Greenback’s sweet midrange grind, but has a fuller bass response, clear, sweet highs, and handles 65 watts with an efficiency rating of 97 dB (original examples from the early ’80s are also often readily available on the used market, frequently offered up by players breaking up the big old 4x12 cabs the came in).

Overall, you still need to select your speaker with tonal considerations at the top of your list. But if the driver sounds right to you and also drops your output down just a little, ideally allowing you to play right in the sweet spot without the sound guy and your band mates constantly shouting at you to turn it down, that’s a double bonus!

[Originally from Gibson.com. Read full article here]

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