When it comes to fine-tuning your tone, guitarists often forget the value of a good speaker. ToneSpeak’s new models offer a wide range of versatile end-of-the-signal-chain options, in classic to fresh flavors.
Electric guitarists are constantly on a tone quest, but too often we forget to look in the most obvious place: our amp speakers.
In many ways, this oversight is totally understandable. Hey, it’s easy to obsess about a gorgeous instrument sporting a flame maple top or classic vintage vibe. And there’s a vast array of pedals and effects out there screaming for our attention. (Yes, we used “screaming” intentionally. Please don’t hate us.) Of course, pickups, strings, cables, amplifiers, and preamps also have a big impact on our tone.However, it’s important to remember that every item in our signal chain eventually goes through our amp’s speaker—the crucial transducer that converts electrical impulses into sound.
The speaker always gets the final word in our musical conversation. It is literally the last piece of gear that we control before our playing reaches the listener’s ears or the sound engineer’s microphone. And if we’re wondering how to upgrade our overall sound—or breathe new life into a battle-weary amp—maybe it should be the first place we look for answers.
ToneSpeak, a newly launched speaker company based in Minnesota, aims to give you some great new options when you select that all-important piece of gear. Since the company’s birth in 2021, their goal is to provide speakers that are clearly rooted in classic sounds, but with unique tones of their own.
Modern Speakers Saluting Iconic Predecessors
ToneSpeak’s Liverpool 1275—a 12" speaker designed to appeal to Vintage 30 users—provides a case study in the approach. “In selecting what models we wanted to build,” explains Anthony Lucas, ToneSpeak’s senior transducer engineer, who designed the new speaker line, “we started with American and British roots. We didn’t want to copy anything. If you want a Vintage 30, then you should get one from Celestion. It’s a great speaker. But we were okay with using a Vintage 30 and a Greenback as an inspiration, to provide a baseline. The first prototype sounded too much like a Vintage 30”—he laughs—“and we knew we didn’t want to do that. We ended up giving the Liverpool warmer, smoother upper mids and highs, and a bit more lows.”
Lucas knows his stuff: He designed products at Eminence in the U.S. for years before departing the company in 2020 and building the new ToneSpeak line, with help from another former Eminence colleague, Josh Martin.
“At this company, most of us are musicians and involved in music,” says Lucas, “and all of us speak the language of tone, so that’s how ToneSpeak came about. We talked to musicians and manufacturers and asked what they liked and didn’t like about various speakers. We tried to respond to them by keeping what they liked and improving on the things that they didn’t.”
Plenty of 12" Options—and Other Sizes, Too
The Liverpool 1275 is one of five 12" speakers in the growing ToneSpeak line. Other models include the British-inspired Birmingham 1275—a natural fit for fans of the G12H Greenback, with balanced, throaty midrange and lots of articulation—and the formidable Manchester 1290. A high-powered brute, the Manchester will appeal to any player who loves the Celestion Classic Lead but seeks a bit more flexibility. “The common complaint about high-powered speakers is that they sound sterile unless you push them pretty hard,” notes Lucas. “So, we designed the speaker to sound very musical even at lower volume, while still being able to handle 90 watts and sound great. It’s probably our most balanced, most transparent speaker in the whole line.”
If you’ve got a 4x12 closed-back cab that could use an upgrade, ToneSpeak’s Birmingham or Liverpool models are your go-to options for classic tone bliss. And if you want to raise the aggression factor a notch or two—while still sounding great at lower volumes—the Manchester might be your cup of tea.
ToneSpeak: The Chris Condon Demos
Seeking a specially individualized tone that perfectly fits your unique style? Blending two different speakers with varying tonal characteristics in a 2x12 or 4x12 cabinet can produce amazing results. Just ask Robben Ford: He’s using the Austin 1250 and the Manchester 1290 in his Little Walter 2x12 cabinet.
On the other hand, if you’re outfitting an open-backed combo, ToneSpeak’s 12" offerings include a pair of American-based speakers: the Austin 1250 (the same one Robben Ford uses—see above) and New Orleans 1250.
The Austin harkens back to the classic Eminence GA-SC64 speaker. Looking to upgrade your Deluxe Reverb? This is the ticket. “The Austin 1250 is more or less transparent, so you really hear the amp,” explains Lucas. “We brought the mids up—because guitar is a mid-dominant instrument—so they’re more forward and clear without being harsh. The highs are really open and it’s very solid in the lows.”
ToneSpeak: The John Szetela Demos
The New Orleans is designed for players who like the smoky, subtle tone of a hemp cone. “We felt that other hemp-cone speakers are a bit too dark,” says Lucas, “so we designed our hemp cone to have a more open sound. It’s still warm and smooth, but it fills the room and takes to distortion really well. The high end doesn’t sound like it has a blanket put on it.”
ToneSpeak also offers a range of speakers in other sizes. The company’s four 10" models include American-inspired options (the Boston 1020 and Minneapolis 1050) and British voicings (Leeds 1020 and Glasgow 1050). And a pair of 8" models include a British-inspired Belfast 820 and American-voiced Detroit 820, with a hemp-composite cone that makes it perfect for Tweed Champ enthusiasts.
In designing the broad range of ToneSpeak’s product line, Lucas considered all of the components that go into a guitar speaker and affect its tone: cones, coils, and spider suspension. He also delved into a factor that might not be familiar to most players: edge doping—treating the edges of the speaker cone with a substance that works as a shock absorber, to keep the cone under control at high volumes. “We compared a few different edge dopings, which have a big impact on defining upper mids and highs. They can sometimes roll off the highs too much if you’re not careful. We developed our own proprietary edge doping, which I’m really proud of. It makes a big difference in the sound of the speakers and we’re using it on the entire line, except for the New Orleans hemp-cone speaker, which sounded better without any doping at all.”
If you’re wondering how a brand-new speaker company can offer so many models so quickly, the answer is simple: They are allied with the long-established builder MISCO, aka the Minneapolis Speaker Company.
An Ongoing Legacy of U.S.-Made Speakers
Launched in 1949 by Cliff Digre, a World War II veteran with a deep interest in electronics, MISCO has been led by Cliff’s son, Dan Digre, since 1990. The company builds a dizzying array of products and speakers for a variety of industries—including aerospace—many of them far-removed from the musical instruments realm.
MISCO founder Cliff Digre tests an early speaker in his workshop.
However, MISCO has been making OEM guitar speakers for more than 60 years, and in the 1960s even had its own brand of speakers called Redline, that featured red cones. So, when MISCO partnered with Anthony Lucas to launch the ToneSpeak brand, the company possessed decades of know-how in the guitar-speaker arena. It was a perfect opportunity to fill a need in the marketplace. “Anthony had a lot of experience designing speakers when he worked at Eminence,” notes Digre. “For decades, our core has been OEM, which by its nature means people are asking you to do things for them. ToneSpeak exists because the market was asking for some alternatives to what was out there, with an American brand behind it.”
Digre readily acknowledges that building guitar speakers presents a unique set of challenges—starting with the end user’s tastes and preferences. “Guitarists have an amazing sensitivity to tone color. These players have fabulous ears—they’re very discerning, and I have a great respect for them. The philosophy of designing a guitar speaker is different from almost any other type of speaker because it’s part of the sound of the instrument. Most other speakers are designed for the signal to pass through it as uncolored as possible. But the guitar speaker requires the color of the driver to become part of the instrument. And it’s not a commodity: You need to be able to consistently, repeatedly replicate the tone color. Controlling the variables that affect tone color is very important. MISCO has the means of measuring and controlling those factors.”
The Science Behind the Speakers
MISCO’s engineering and manufacturing expertise is the secret sauce behind ToneSpeak’s rapid rise. “There’s some serious engineering in this company used by a lot of different industries,” Digre admits. “MISCO builds the speakers for NASA. They’re used in the space station and the Orion spacecraft that’s going to land on Mars one day. While those aren’t musical products, they do require a very specific set of attributes. These are very demanding applications, and your quality really has to be top notch.”
Those high standards inform the entire approach behind ToneSpeak. “Whether we’re building a speaker for a spaceship or a guitar amp, we’re devoting the same attention to detail and consistency,” Digre says. “One of our brands uses the phrase ‘Our Science, Your Music.’ That philosophy applies equally to ToneSpeak. We’ve got the science of design, the science of manufacturing, the science of testing—but they’re all in the service of music. By design, I want musicians to be in this company, because a musician is going to understand a lot of things that a pure engineer is not. We need to have the musical perspective embedded into the DNA of the company.”
Digre’s outlook is perfectly aligned with Lucas’ stance on speaker design, and the satisfaction he gets when they’ve nailed the formula just right. “I get a smile when a real player gets a hold onto a tool that I’ve made and they connect with it,” Lucas says. “You can always tell by watching and hearing them. They can’t stop playing. They’re hooked. It’s like they get lost in the music. That what really brings me joy as a designer. I’ve done my job.”
Ultimately, electric guitarists are the beneficiaries of this approach. Whether you’re upgrading your main gigging amp—or resuscitating a garage-sale find—you’ll find a new range of options in the ToneSpeak line. So, roll up your sleeves, have some fun, and crank it up. Great tones are waiting for you!
To find a speaker that completes your sound, head over to ToneSpeak.com
Ever wonder how a manufacturer and an artist collaborate on a signature model? Here’s the story of the Keeley Super AT MOD Overdrive.
In the world of guitar gear, artist signature products are a time-honored tradition. When the chemistry works just right, they’re as potent and attention-grabbing as a well-struck power chord.
But if you’ve ever wondered how an artist and manufacturer actually work together on a product, the new Keeley Electronics Super AT MOD overdrive provides a striking case study in the mind-meld process.
While the new Super AT MOD looks like a classic 3-knob overdrive, the mode toggle is the pedal’s secret sauce, and the AT setting adds a particularly shimmering quality to the harmonically rich overdrive.
The versatile pedal is the latest creative partnership between ace guitarist Andy Timmons (known for his solo work and touring/recording with Danger Danger, Olivia Newton-John, Kip Winger, and many more) and Robert Keeley, a pioneer and leading presence in the realm of guitar effects.In a collaboration spanning more than three years, Timmons and Keeley have become great friends, mutual provocateurs, and culinary kindred spirits. (More on that later.) They began working together in early 2020, when Timmons and Keeley teamed up on the wildly successful HALO dual echo pedal.
“We spent more than a year-and-a-half really fine-tuning that pedal,” says Timmons. “It was a wonderful collaboration. We couldn’t have imagined how it would resonate with so many people.” Keeley adds with a laugh “I have found that my customers like what Andy’s ears like. It resonates so much with our customers that the Halo has become 25 percent of our business. Andy’s ears are really golden.”
Buoyed by the HALO collaboration, in late 2022 the creative process resumed in a new direction: a signature overdrive. In conceiving the new Super AT MOD overdrive, Timmons knew exactly what he was looking for: a flexible, highly responsive overdrive that can beef up a guitar’s tone but also offers an option to achieve high-end clarity and shimmer.
The initial inspiration for the Super AT MOD came from Timmons’ love of a classic Keeley mod for the Boss BD-2. “The modded BD-2 goes from clean to mid-gain, and it’s very responsive to touch,” Timmons notes. “But I was always reaching for this crystalline, glassy gain with just a little bite. So, with the new pedal we have two modes: a ‘phat mode’ which alludes to Robert’s original modded circuit, and then there’s the AT ‘modded modded’ side.”
Keeley Electronics Super AT Mod Overdrive - Video Demo Review with Robert Keeley and Andy Timmons
Sometimes Less Is More
Keeley took a different angle in designing the Super AT MOD. In contrast to his normal modus operandiof boosting certain frequencies, this pedal’s “modded modded” AT Mode is based on a subtractive method for sculpting the pedal’s tone.
“The original phat mod was designed to push up the bridge pickup of a Strat or Tele and give it a bit more girth,” Keeley explains. “But Andy pointed out that if we carve away some of the frequencies, his guitar will stand out more. Andy was approaching this from the opposite direction, playing with a pickup that’s much more akin to a humbucker, with a bigger dynamic range, so it doesn’t need that push on the low- and mid-bass.”
During the development and testing phase, Timmons relied primarily on his main guitar–his Ibanez ATZ100 signature model with three humbucking pickups–and his beloved Mesa/Boogie Lonestar 2x12 combo. But the final version of the pedal offers an expansive versatility that makes it a fine companion for just about any rig.
“I’m lucky to find these cohorts in tone. We enjoy the process and hopefully that comes through in the final product.”
That flexibility is due, in large part, to the aforementioned tone-shaping method that Timmons encouraged Keeley to employ. “To me, the subtractive approach is a great way to arrive at a better tone,” Keeley says. “You can take away some of the excess and it leaves you with something more natural. With that in mind, the AT mode changes the tone control and what it allows to pass through. It takes out some of the bass tones, so it clears up that range and makes humbuckers less bloated. We also added a little bit of sparkle—some high frequency response from letting the natural stuff go through.“We also tried to get a more tube-like sound, with the diodes and asymmetrical clipping,” Keeley adds. “The Super AT MOD gives Andy that nice chimey top end and that tube-amp-type growl and distortion because it uses JFET transistors. They’re the closest thing we have to tubes.”
Creativity and Camaraderie
The Timmons/Keeley partnership is a testament to technology—and to a friendship that blossomed during the long, sometimes grueling playing/listening sessions that punctuated the development process.
Timmons is based in McKinney, Texas, about a three-hour drive from Keeley headquarters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. That proximity allowed for frequent visits to the Keeley shop and made it easier for Timmons and the Keeley team to work together on the successive HALO and AT MOD prototypes. “You’ve really got to be able to be in a room together and feel what’s happening,” Timmons says. “Because we were all in the same room, we were able to go beyond what we had ever envisioned. That’s the blessing of them being just a few hours away.”
“The initial inspiration for the Super AT MOD came from Timmons’ love of a classic Keeley mod for the Boss BD-2.”
A key member of the creative team was Aaron Pierce, artist relations guru at Keeley Electronics. Pierce was deeply involved in the Timmons/Keeley collaboration right from the beginning, and he helped jump-start the process of designing the Super AT MOD.
“During the two years that we were working on the HALO,” says Pierce, “we were always talking with Andy about what he was looking for in an overdrive. So, we were working on ideas for at least a few months before getting Andy back into the process. We had learned a lot about his preferences during the HALO development.”
Timmons greatly appreciates what Pierce brought to the undertaking. “I can’t stress enough: Aaron was really the third side in the triangle. It was so important to have his ears in the room. Even if I couldn’t articulate to Robert what I was hearing, Aaron was able to do it, because he could hear it and put it into words in a way that Robert could act on. Aaron was the perfect translator between Robert’s methodology and what I was going for.”
The HALO design journey took two full years, but thankfully the AT MOD’s development was relatively brisk—perhaps three or four months, and three visits from Timmons. On each visit, Keeley would offer hospitality by cooking for the crew. Keeley is well known among his friends as a fantastic cook.
“It took more than three sessions—probably about six meals together,” Keeley says as all three burst into laughter. “The food really does stand out,” adds Timmons. “We didn’t lose any weight during the sessions.”Ultimately, the Super AT MOD benefited greatly from the spirit of friendship and shared passion. “I was able to be really demanding because they were willing to go down the path with me,” says a grateful Timmons. “Their willingness to be open and do things differently was the key. I’m lucky to find these cohorts in tone. We enjoy the process and hopefully that comes through in the final product.”
Lasting Impact for All
Just don’t call them late for supper! The Keeley creative team assembles in Oklahoma City in February 2020 (left to right): Craighton Hale, Robert Keeley, Andy Timmons, Aaron Tackett, and Aaron Pierce.
Asked if the collaboration with Timmons has opened a new approach for future designs, Keeley answers emphatically: “Most certainly. I’m going to use the subtractive process and implement that design philosophy on future pedals. That’s one of the reasons it’s so rewarding working with Andy: developing more and more chops to get nuanced sounds.”
Pierce agrees: “Working with Andy makes us better on the engineering front and the manufacturing front. Every time we collaborate with him it pushes us on our technology, and we discover things that we never would’ve found without him.”
At the end of the process—and a bunch of great meals with the Keeley team—Timmons is thrilled with the results: the Super AT MOD overdrive delivers the tone and versatility he sought. “I haven’t had a pedal feel like this before. It has such a natural thing about it. The dynamic range just coming from the fingers is incredible. It’s the delicate, mild gain that I’ve been seeking for a long time. But if I want to crank it up, it has incredibly powerful full-on gain.”
You can hear Timmons putting the pedal to great use on his brand-new series of singles under the title Bitter Suites: The Outlier Nocturne. Beginning with the first one, “Here Lies The Heart,” the ongoing solo series features Timmons’ playing in a spacious, dynamic setting, inspired by the Super AT MOD’s tonal range. “That AT mode is what I needed. Since that pedal was created, I’ve gotten the next two tracks because this was the sound I was waiting for.” Timmons attests.
To learn more about the Super AT MOD pedal and Keeley Electronics, visit robertkeeley.com.
Timmons tests a prototype of the AT MOD with one of his Ibanez ATZ100 signature model guitars and a Mesa/Boogie Lonestar 2x12 combo at Keeley headquarters in Oklahoma City.
Searching for a do-it-all songwriting tool, the keyboard wizard found a perfect companion in Lava Music’s state-of-the-art acoustic with onboard effects, looping, recording, and connectivity.
The creative chase is always a challenge, and especially for songwriters and composers, for whom the time it takes to set up a loop or a recorder can be an opportunity for ideas to fade. Jordan Rudess, the keyboardist for prog-metal heroes Dream Theater, has found an elegant solution in Lava Music’s LAVA ME 3 acoustic guitar, a carbon-fiber instrument that does a lot more than picking and strumming.
Rudess had been exploring acoustic guitar as a different compositional palette, and while he loved the instrument’s urgency and intimacy, he found himself wanting more sonic options and more ways to quickly and easily share the ideas he was conjuring. His friend, the Brazilian guitar virtuoso Mateus Asato, suggested that Rudess should try the LAVA ME 3, and Rudess was immediately hooked.
At the April 2023 NAMM show in Anaheim, California, Rudess explained how the LAVA ME 3 opened his eyes to the opportunities of combining advanced technology with classic acoustic guitar design—and, more important, opened a new door to exploring and developing his original ideas.
The LAVE ME 3 comes in six eye-catching finishes that complement its futuristic design.
“The LAVA ME 3 is incredible,” Rudess says. “It’s got app-based effects—chorus, reverb, flanger, and octavers—and then you start scrolling through its upper-bout touch screen and realize ‘Wow, I can message somebody with this, or I can choose these drum loops? I can upload my files to the cloud?’ It’s pretty crazy! The more time I spend with it, the more I’m going ‘this thing is awesome!’”
In addition to its futuristic appearance—with a carbon fiber body and neck, a rounded back, a sleek headstock, and an above-the-strings soundport—and app-controllable effects, the LAVA ME 3 can also create loops and record, and has a built-in tuner. That adds up to a highly self-contained and evolutionary playing experience.
“I love the idea of having all that built into the guitar,” Rudess explains. “I don’t necessarily want to have to plug my 6-string into all that stuff. I had been thinking, ‘Why can’t those electronics be in the guitar?’ And then I found out about LAVA guitars.”
The LAVA ME 3 is really an all-in-one axe for guitarists from beginner to world-class. Premier Guitar’s John Bohlinger recently provided a close-up on the instrument in a PG Plays demo video.
Lava ME 3 Demo | PG Plays
“It’s a carbon fiber guitar, but it’s way more than that” says Bohlinger. “It’s a learning tool, a practicing tool, a writing tool, and a recorder. It comes with multi effects, it comes with loops, a tuner, and a metronome. And it comes with a mobile app where you can connect with this whole LAVA community of guitar players.”
Powered by LAVA’s proprietary HILAVA system, LAVA ME 3 makes it easy to practice, jam, and solo anywhere. Guitarists can play in a range of styles and with a wide range of sounds without having to plug into an amp, via the instrument’s built-in speaker. And since it’s constructed with carbon fiber, the guitar is more stable and durable than a typical acoustic, no matter the weather or humidity, which is a major bonus for touring pros like Rudess.
“One of the really nice things about this,” he says, “is that, because of the way that it’s built, this thing stays in tune incredibly well. I can go days without having to tune this guitar. It’s really amazing.”
At $799 street, the LAVA ME 3 is also in the price range of most guitarists. For more information on LAVA ME 3, check out Lava Music’s website.
Taylor's all-new 400 Series acoustic guitars serve up three flavors of warm, high-fidelity tone.
Blending an all-star tonewood pairing with striking visual appointments, the Taylor 400 Series offers a broad range of musical utility for working musicians of all stripes. Models feature solid Indian rosewood backs and sides paired with solid Sitka spruce tops, yielding a warm low-end character, clear trebles and a slightly scooped midrange that’s ideal for playing in arrangements with vocals or other instruments. V-Class bracing inside dials up the response with louder volume, longer sustain and greater harmony between notes, drawing out more of the rich overtone character that players love in the rosewood/spruce combo. Sunburst top finishes highlight the visual package for a stage-ready presence that’s not too precious for everyday use, while the built-in ES2 electronics offer faithful plugged-in tone for amplified scenarios. Whichever model you choose, you’re sure to find a reliable partner for all your musical pursuits.
John Bohlinger demos the Godin Radium-X! Showcasing both acoustic and electric tones, this Canadian made guitar could be an ultra-versatile addition to your rig.
After over 30 years of hand-crafting award-winning multi-voice guitars, celebrated by players world-wide, we are proud to introduce the Godin Radium-X! Designed to be ultra versatile, the Godin Radium-X delivers both electric and acoustic tones, right at your fingertips! Proudly made in Canada, this two-voice guitar features a chambered Mahogany body, carved Swamp Ash top, 25.5” scale Mahogany neck and Rosewood Fingerboard. With a Seymour Duncan Jazz SH-2 at the neck and a Bare Knuckle Boot Camp True Grit Zebra at the bridge, the Radium-X is a powerhouse of tone. This diverse magnetic pickup combo is capable of delivering powerful, warm distortion to clear, glassy tones, appealing to a wide range of players and musical styles. The Radium-X’s stunning acoustic voice comes courtesy of a custom-designed LR-Baggs X-Bridge tremolo with six built-in “HEX” saddle transducers. This electronic combination can be controlled independently or blended together and offers an unprecedented range of electric-acoustic options to explore. The Radium-X also incorporates dual output jacks that can be used as separate ‘electric/acoustic’ outs, or as a combined ‘mix’ out. It also has a traditional magnetic volume, tone and 3-way toggle, plus an ‘acoustic/mix/magnetic’ 3-way mini-selector and ‘acoustic volume/blend’ control to easily sculpt your sound. Elevate your performance with the two-voice Radium-X!
Learn More: https://godinguitars.com/product/radium-x-rustic-burst