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more... Builder ProfileFebruary 2009Fluxtone

"Why Can't You Turn That Down?" An Interview with Steve Carey of FluxTone


How does it work?

Let’s look at what the VMT preserves. FluxTone has little to no value with a transistor amplifier, because transistor amps don’t have an output transformer. Tubes operate at such high voltages that they can’t be connected directly to the voice coil of a speaker. It’s just such a mismatch of voltage and current, it makes an output transformer necessary... in the case of a tube amplifier, the output transformer, being a magnetic device, is connected directly to the speaker’s voice coil, which is also a magnetic device. As long as they’re connected to each other with nothing between but wires, they form this magnetic circuit, so when you overdrive the output tubes, that circuit starts to ring, and create tones that didn’t come out of your guitar. They’re very much in tune with what you’re playing. It’s kind of like on an organ: push one key, and you get one tone. Pull out another stop, or some other switch, and you get a whole chorus of tones that are all associated with that one key.

If you put something between the output transformer and the voice coil, like a load box, it prevents those tones from being generated, or they’re so quiet you can’t hear them anymore… you’re inevitably going to hinder or kill all those overtones that are generated when you overdrive the amp. What we did with FluxTone was to vary the speaker’s ability to be loud, by adjusting its magnetic strength. We removed the permanent magnet and replaced it with an electromagnet, and now we vary the power going to that electromagnet.

There’s a gap where the voice coil is inside the speaker, and that gap has a magnetic intensity, and it’s measured in so many gauss, or how strong the flux is in that gap. We’re varying that flux strength by having a variable magnet, which doesn’t interfere with the relationship between the voice coil and the output transformer, so whatever overtones are generated are still there. It’s just like reducing the size of the magnet on the speaker, thereby reducing its ability to be loud.

The magnets in your speakers are copper. What do you say to players who are worried that if they’re not getting a speaker with an Alnico or ceramic magnet they’re not going to get that precise tone they know and love?

Modern speakers mostly use ceramic magnetic structures, which are much easier to manufacture than Alnico. Ceramic magnets came along about the same time that amplifiers started changing to transistors to get more power at less cost. Now remember that tubes and transistors already sound different, and because the voice coils were asked to handle more power they needed to have more room in the gap to fit more turns on the voice coil. That made the gap bigger, which… every time you double the gap width, you need four times the amount of magnetic strength to maintain the same magnetism across that gap. You couldn’t get that kind of magnetism out of Alnico magnets without making them prohibitively expensive. Ceramic magnets were much more powerful per pound, so they lent themselves to the wider gap.

While acknowledging that players can hear a difference between ceramic speakers and Alnico speakers, we have taken the time to install and test the exact same cone assemblies in ceramic, Alnico, and field coil frames. Once we removed the variables, in my observation, both in the lab and on stage, the differences in tonal characteristics are not so much from the origin of the magnetism, but rather because of the weight of the moving parts, what they’re made out of, and the distance they move. The old Alnico speakers had a much lower power rating, therefore the elements that moved were lighter, and did not move as far, so they could jump to those delicate frequencies more quickly.

You’re offering different types of speakers. How many types of voices are there, and are these the standard types of speakers used in guitar amps?


We have about six voices at this point. We have a custom made voice from Eminence that sounds very, very close to the original Jensen P12Q or P12R: the old Alnico speakers that came with the low-power Fender amplifiers from the fifties—the ones that most people drool over. We install that voice in one of our baskets, so when you use that particular FluxTone driver, it’s going to sound like the old Jensen sound. We also get cones that are manufactured in Italy by the company that bought the Jensen name, and those cones typically come in amps like a new Fender Twin Reverb. We put those in for another voice, if you like that one. And then we have four different cones we get directly from Celestion.

Ninety-nine percent of that sound actually comes from the parts that move, rather than the basket or the paint, or how the magnetism is generated. It’s actually coming from the weight of the voice coil, the size of the wire, the size of the voice coil winding, the gap width and height, all that stuff. The part that’s moving, the cone, the dustcap, the voice coil, the spider, those things are all glued together, and they move as one piece. The mass of those various elements, and the lengths of the paper pulp fibers that are in the cone, plus other minor minutiae (glue, humidity, etc.) all dictate exactly what it’s going to sound like.

As long as you take that whole assembly together—the cone, the spider, the voice coil, all of the moving parts—if you take that whole thing out of a Celestion gold speaker, say, and put it into another speaker frame, it’s going to sound the same because all the moving parts are the same.

We put the cone assemblies directly into our hardware. So, if you buy a Celestion Blue from us, you’re getting everything a Celestion blue is, as far as its tonal abilities and power handling, only you get it with FluxTone’s VMT. Because we’re building speakers more or less one at a time, we have very small production runs, maybe ten or twenty in one run, so we can hold our tolerances tight. The overall efficiency of our drivers is usually the same or higher than the equivalent driver in the industry.


An example of the FluxTone retrofit on a ‘54 Fender Pro.
You’ll put these speakers into a cabinet, like the one from Mojo that you showed us, but you’ll also retrofit them inside of someone’s amplifier?

Absolutely. People come to us with old classics, and they don’t want them permanently altered. We can remove your original speaker, put it in a box for you to put on your shelf— because quite often they’re worth as much as the amp. Then we’ll install a FluxTone speaker and an external power supply to run it. It just comes down to a little box with a knob on it. You have your old amp playing through your favorite voice in a FluxTone speaker, so you don’t need an extra cabinet. People send their amps to us, and we’ll do the retrofit and return them. Or you can buy just a speaker and a power supply and retrofit your own. There’s a wide variety of options.

How does it work with a configuration like 2x12 or 4x12?


You can do it any way you want. If you want it elaborate, like some recording studios do, it will have two or four voices in a single box, and it’ll have one control for each voice, so you can actually mix and match voices. That way you can come up with a very unique sound that just doesn’t exist anywhere else, or any one of the voices that you select. Or you can hook two or four speakers up to a single power supply.

What are your plans for the future of FluxTone?

We are looking at various OEM situations, getting some licensing agreements where we can supply speaker to some companies, and we’re looking at partnering with speaker manufacturers, and seeing about getting these things a little more mass-produced.

For more information:

fluxtone-speakers.com

You can also demo the FluxTone speaker system at the following dealers:
larkstreetmusic.com / New Jersey
guitar-emporium.com / Louisville
cornermusic.com / Nashville
actionguitar.com / Wash DC