The difference between good and bad natural distortion in speakers
Speaker cutaway. Illustration from Celestion, used with permission.
Let’s start with the understanding that a good guitar tone is subjective. What I might consider the Holy Grail tone might not do it for another player. But all tones good and bad have a purpose and a place, and you should know how to achieve the tone you’re looking for. To do this you need to understand how a speaker works and how all the parts translate to your sound. First ask yourself: How loud do I need to be before the speaker starts breaking up? What kind of low-end response do I need to achieve? How smooth or midrangey do I need the speaker to be?
These are very important things to know about your gear, because they can help you determine if your speakers are efficient enough for your needs, or made from the right materials for the sound you’re tying to get. Keep in mind that all amplifiers and speakers distort, but knowing when and how it happens is the trick to getting good distortion.
For example, let’s say you have a 20-watt tube amplifier that breaks up too fast and you wish it would stay cleaner at a higher volume. This is considered bad distortion, but is this the amp’s fault? Do you need more wattage? No. Before you run out and spend more money than you have too, try changing the speaker first. But which one is the right choice? What specs should you be looking for?
Know that power rating does not always determine the amount of break up. Breakup is mostly influenced by the cone. Break-up occurs quicker in a thinner, lighter-weight cone, but some speakers have a heavier cone which produces a slower break up.
What you need to compare is the sensitivity or SPL ratings. SPL, Sound Pressure Level, is a measurement for volume in reference to the human ear. SPL is always expressed in decibels, or “dB.” A speaker specified at 98dB will provide SPL of 98dB when 1 watt of power is applied and the listener is 1 meter directly in front of the speaker. Potentially 30 watts will achieve 117dB of output on a speaker that has a sensitivity of 98dB (that’s a 3dB increase for every doubling of power). (Refer to “Speakers: 40% of Your Tone,” June 2009, for more information about how wattage translates to volume.)
A higher power rating typically means a larger voice coil. Speakers with a larger voice coil tend to provide a more pronounced low end with less top-end extension. But there are other factors to consider.
Choose your magnets carefully. Do you go with alnico or ceramic? Each have different magnetic properties and costs associated with them. Alnico is a composite of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt, and is more expensive. Alnico is commonly thought to produce the “Vintage Tone,” and has a reputation for sounding compressed. Ceramic is cheaper and the most commonly used material. If you’re comparing speakers that have the same magnetic flux, but generated from different magnet compositions, you probably won’t notice a difference in tonality.
Neodymium seems to be the wave of the future, especially with the reduced weight and overall costs declining. Neo produces the most magnetic flux per ounce, making it ideal for use in multiple speaker cabinets to maintain performance while reducing handling and overall weight. Bigger magnets are more efficient, which translates to more output at a given power.
Consider the dust cap. The differences in size, shape, weight and the material of the dust cap significantly affect the top end. A small, conical cap can give you a little more sizzle on the top end, but a felt material produces a smoother top end. This information alone can help define your search and keep you from buying multiple speakers until you find the right one.
If your desire is to clean up or smooth out the tone of your combo amp, a higher wattage speaker with a felt dust cap may be exactly what you need. The key to good distortion is knowing when and how you are producing it. Bad distortion happens when you don’t want it and can’t figure out how to get rid of it.
That’s it for now, but stay tuned—part two of our discussion will cover the other end of the spectrum: Adding distortion and low end to a high-gain amplifier. Is your speaker reproducing what the amp can produce?
For more than 15 years Tony has been a music industry professional, conducting clinics and in-store training seminars world-wide for Peavey, Washburn, Eden Amps and Parker Guitars, as well as involvement in product development. He’s also an experienced performing musician.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
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About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
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Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
Origin Effects introduce the new M-EQ DRIVER mid booster & drive pedal. Based on a vintage Pultec studio EQ, this unique pedal offers a range of mid-focused tones, from a subtle mid boost to thick, resonant overdrive. Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
A choice of three mid-range frequencies ensures that you can boost just the right part of your guitar signal and, when pushed harder, can elicit a range of saturation from a classic “mid-hump” overdrive to fierce “cocked wah” distortion. Thanks to the Adaptive Circuitry, the high-end roll-off of the Cut control is reduced as the pedal cleans up. This allows for a smooth transition from warm overdrive to bright clean tones in response to playing dynamics or guitar volume knob changes.
Introducing... M-EQ DRIVER || Mid Booster & Drive
Built-in the UK to the highest standards, the M-EQ DRIVER continues the Origin Effects tradition of vintage, studio-inspired tones in modern guitar pedals. The Origin Effects M-EQ DRIVER is available now from Origin Effects dealers worldwide.
RRP: 259 GBP (Inc VAT) / 319 USD (Ex TAX)
For more information, please visit origineffects.com.
The new finish, according to Lava Music, is “inspired by the beauty of the golden hour,” a shining time just before sunset and after sunrise when photographers covet to capture stunning pictures.
With bright and warm golden hues, the new finish adds a brilliant metallic glow to the surface of Lava ME 3, complementing its AirSonic 2 carbon fiber unibody which features L3 Preamp with FreeBoost 2.0, delivers industry-leading sounds by breakthrough acoustic technologies, and houses a multi-touch display powered by Lava-developed HILAVA system.
Speaking of the HILAVA system, Lava Music also added four new effects: Nebula, Desert Rose, Cassette, and Edge of Breakup. As unique as their names sound, they are very much different from what we normally know about effects. Programmed into the HILAVA system, each of the four is powered by the company’s latest ArctanDrive algorithm and incorporates effects like Pitch Shift, Delay, and Reverb. And every one of those incorporated sub-effects comes with various parameters that players can adjust to design unique, overdriven sounds by just tapping on the multi-touch display. That said, those effects enable users to play with overdriven tone on an acoustic-electric guitar without even plugging in any external gear.
LAVA ME 3 | Now in Golden Hour | LAVA MUSIC
Lava Me 3 in Golden Hour is now available starting from $999 on LAVA MUSIC, Amazon, and local guitar dealerships near you.
For more information, please visit store.lavamusic.com.