An easy way to get better response, higher headroom, and more punch from your vintage Fender.
Let’s talk about one of my favorite topics: speakers. I love experimenting with them. Swapping speakers is an extremely easy way to drastically change your amp tone. I’ll explain some of the basics, like efficiency, construction, and power. And, as usual for this column, the focus is on vintage Fenders.
The most common question I get is, “What speaker goes best with my Deluxe Reverb.” If I lack time or energy, I simply answer “the Jensen P12R.” It sounds fabulous and vintage-correct, and is also easy to obtain new or used. There is much information and many sound clips available to support this decision. However, when I have more time I reply that there is no single answer to that question. The answer depends on personal preferences and what tone you seek from your amp. Talking about speakers and tone can be confusing, since we may lack a common perspective to describe guitar tone precisely.
Those of you who gig regularly and heavily with vintage amps should consider replacing the speakers with modern equivalents. Most speakers from 1950 to 1970 have a low power rating (power is measured in watts). Additionally, their already fragile paper cones have become even weaker due to moisture, dryness, oxidation, and aging. But please show care for these vintage speakers and always keep them intact if they’re removed. They are important to an amp’s second-hand value and are essential to true vintage tone.
Older speakers are also inefficient and have modest volume and bass response, which allows you to push an amp more and reach the sweet spot at a lower volume. They do not sound as fat and chunky as many modern speakers, which can sometimes make the guitar bass-heavy and dominating onstage. This works well in a power trio, but not in a larger band with several instruments. In general, vintage speakers are also bright, unless their paper cones are heavily saturated with dirt and dust. Then they will sound muddy. However, I do like some old-speaker dirt because it dampens treble and allows me to open the bright switch on Fender amps.
Typically, vintage speakers have a balanced tone, making it easy for the guitar to blend naturally in a mix. That’s why I like them—and particularly in bigger amps, with several speakers. Since these amps are more than loud enough, I prefer them with speakers with low power and low efficiency. Low-power speakers have a smaller and lighter construction. The magnets are smaller and lighter, and the copper voice coil is smaller in wire thickness and coil radius.
The cone is lighter and more flexible and moves more easily. A low-power speaker will, therefore, have better transparency and touch sensitivity than a stiff, high-power speaker, which requires more power to vibrate and operate. A general recommendation for vintage tone is to stay as low as possible on the speaker power handling. A 40-watt Super Reverb will distribute 10 watts to each of its four speakers, so therefore 20-to-30-watt speakers are more than enough in this amp. In loud amps, I also prefer speakers with alnico magnets. They will create sag and compression and make the amp softer, with less attack.
In some cases, I want more power and headroom from a speaker—particularly in smaller, single-speaker amps like vintage Princeton Reverbs and Deluxe Reverbs, which were poorly equipped from the Fender factory. The speakers were clearly the bottlenecks of these amps. Many players swapped the OEM speakers for more efficient and powerful 12" speakers with ceramic magnets, to get more clean headroom and firmer bass handling.
There are even more elements to consider when choosing speakers. Check out “How to Select Speakers” on my website, fenderguru.com. You will find some guidance based on the following questions:
• Do you play at modest volumes or extremely loud, pushing your amp and speakers?
• Do you want to achieve maximum volume and clean headroom? Or do you want more breakup at lower volumes?
• Do you have a bright or dark sounding guitar?
• Do you have effects pedals with high-frequency fuzz?
• Do you have a bright, dark, muddy, or mellow sounding amp with few EQ options (like tweeds)?
• What is your playing style? Do you have a hard pick attack or a soft finger touch?
• Do you want a chunky, fat tone or a snappy, quick response?
• Is weight an issue?
• Are you mixing different speakers for a more complex tone?
Until next time, may the tone be with you.
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Anthrax and Helmet guitarist Frank Bello launches a signature bass with Charvel featuring a poplar body paried to a bolt-on maple neck.
The Frank Bello Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Bass PJ IVfeatures a poplar body paired to a bolt-on maple neck with rock-solid graphite-reinforcement rods to withstand extreme climate changes, a heel-mount truss rod adjustment wheel for pain-free neck relief tweaks. Engineered to deliver unrivaled playability, the 12”-16” compound radius maple fingerboard with rolled edges and 20 jumbo frets allows for effortlessly fast playing and comfortable chording and bending.
New York alternative favorites Helmet, is known for his dynamic, energetic stage presence and inventive bass style. Primed to thrash, the Frank Bello Signature Pro-Mod So-Cal Bass PJ IVfeatures a poplar body paired to a bolt-on maple neck with rock-solid graphite-reinforcement rods to withstand extreme climate changes and a heel-mount truss rod adjustment wheel for pain-free neck relief tweaks. Engineered to deliver unrivaled playability, the 12”-16” compound radius maple fingerboard with rolled edges, 20 jumbo frets and black block inlays allows for effortlessly fast playing and comfortable chording and bending. A set of EMG Frank Bello Signature P/J pickups serves up warmth and low-end punch, along with tight mids and dynamic high-end. The no-nonsense control layout consists of individual volume knobs for the bridge and middle pickups. A Charvel HiMass™ bridge, Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut and open-gear tuners combine for stellar tuning stability with improved note punch and sustain. Available in Gloss Black with mirror pickguard and chrome hardware.
- Poplar Body
- Bolt-on Maple Neck with Graphite Reinforcement
- 12"-16" Compound Radius Maple Fingerboard with Rolled Edges and 22 Jumbo Frets
- Black Block Inlays
- Graph Tech TUSQ XL Nut
- EMG Frank Bello Signature P/J Pickup Set
- Dual Volume Knobs
- Charvel HiMass Bridge
- Open Gear Tuners
- Mirror Pickguard
- Heel-Mount Truss Rod Adjustment Wheel
Introducing the Frank Bello Signature Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Bass PJ IV
This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
Adding to the company’s line of premium-quality effects pedals, Missing Link Audio has unleashed the new AC/Overdrive pedal. This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal – the only Angus & Malcom all-in-one stompbox on the market – brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
The AC/OD layout has three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone. That user-friendly format is perfect for quickly getting your ideal tone, and it also offers a ton of versatility. MLA’s new AC/OD absolutely nails the Angus tone from the days of “High Voltage” to "Back in Black”. You can also easily dial inMalcom with the turn of a knob. The pedal covers a broad range of sonic terrain, from boost to hot overdrive to complete tube-like saturation. The pedal is designed to leave on all the time and is very touch responsive. You can get everything from fat rhythm tones to a perfect lead tone just by using your guitar’s volume knob and your right-hand attack.
- Three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone
- Die-cast aluminum cases for gig-worthy durability
- Limited lifetime warranty
- True bypass on/off switch
- 9-volt DC input
- Made in the USA
MLA Pedals AC/OD - Music & Demo by A. Barrero
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.