Speakers 40% of your tone? Really!!!

Before we jump into this new article, I just wanted to say "Thank You" for all the wonderful e-mails I received... I know it's been a while since my last article and I want to apologize for that... I had no idea that they made such an impact on so many musicians...

2010 was a very busy year and you might have seen me on the road doing clinics for the new amp company Blackstar which was a blast... As of January 2011 Korg has signed on as their U.S. distributor, and it seems that I will continue my clinic tour with them...

I just got back from Texas where we hit a bunch of great dealers and had a wonderful time hanging with some great people...

I am working on a new record that I hope will be out this year, and I plan to share my studio experiences with all of you...

Rock House has been working on a new website that will make the Gear411 more interactive and there will be a Gear411 series of DVDs coming out this year as well...

Thank You again for all your support...

So let's get started; there are tons of great speakers in the market today and they all fit a function, but how do you know which one is the right one for you?

Speakers are one of the most overlooked elements about your guitar tone. Most of us spend an agonizingly amount of time tweaking and fine tuning our gear, we fuss with our amps EQ, add multi effects, buy pedals, swap out pick-ups.
All these things that you can use to help shape your guitar tone, but all of this comes down to one thing. How is that signal being represented through the speaker? 

The thing you want to consider is: What you like or dislike about your guitar tone very well could be the speaker, it is after all 40% of your tone. Picture your amplifier as a sports car. Now picture your speakers as the tires. The wrong speaker in an amp is like having bicycle wheels on your sports car. That’s how important the speakers are.

For this first article let’s start with basic speaker questions and wattage vs. volume.

Basic speaker info:
The wattage of the speaker will help lead you in a direction of how fast and how much you need your speaker to distort. Dividing the signal between a few speakers can make your amp’s tone change, but how loud do you need to be to achieve this? That’s the thing you really need to consider when choosing a speaker. A different speaker will make your amp sound and react differently, and some speakers are louder than others at the same wattage. So ask yourself these questions:

1)      How fast do I need the speaker to break-up
2)      How bright or dark does the speaker need to be
3)      How much low end does it need to handle
4)      Where do I want the mid range to sit
5)      Do I need multiple speakers with a different EQ
6)      How far do I need the speakers to throw

I know this is easier said than done and it requires listening to many speakers, which I promote. Knowing what is out there will help you fine tune you likes and dislikes; and being educated on what a speaker does will help eliminate wasting a lot of your time and money.

Wattage vs. Volume:
This is a huge misconception with musicians. These two ratings are not the same, 50 watts isn’t half as loud as 100 watts. Wattage really comes into play when you start considering your function, how many watts is going to produce the level of volume I need for A. Band practice, or B. playing a club etc…

Chart I answers this question:

Power in watts Volume in dB
1 87
2 90
4 93
8 96
16 99
32 102
64 105
128 108
256 111
512 114
As you can see they are not the same at all. Lower wattage amplifiers can produce quite a bit of volume. The biggest thing it points out is that 60 watts is only 3db less in actual volume than 120 watts.

Amplifiers by nature distort the louder they go, so this brings up the point of how clean do I need to be at a certain volume, and how loud is 108db?

Chart II shows you how decibel levels translate to our everyday life: 

Decibels Danger Zone
150 Jet Take-off
140 Gun Shot
130 Rock Concert
120 Band Practice
110 Dance Club
100 Factory
90 Subway
80 Busy Street
70 Restaurant
60 Conversation

Remember if you have a 120 watt head and a 4x12 with four 30 watt speakers, you have to turn up pretty loud to use your speakers correctly, and if you are playing in the average size bar, then maybe you have too much power for your function. You’ll have to turn down your amp and sacrifice tone, and we all know how that blows……

This is a little food for thought and now that we opened this Pandora’s Box we will pick-up next time with how speakers distort, and what’s good distortion and what’s bad distortion. Knowing what to listen for can make all the difference in the world when picking out the right speaker.


Tony J. Pasko


JAT said...

Thanks, Tony.

As a music freak for 35 yrs and a dedicated no-talent, what I've noticed in recent years is move to much lower stage volumes, even to the point of running everything direct -- or most everything.

To me, a quality 1x12 of at least 60watts is going to do the guitar job 90% of the time -- provided the PA is quality, the monitors are, the soundman isn't an oaf, mics good, failing that the XLR out is -- a LOT of ifs, yeah.

For a safety net I can see running a 2x12 of 100watts. I can count on one hand the number of bands I've heard recently that sounded great actually playing thru 4x12s -- as opposed to using them as props.

Let's see, there's Motorhead and...ah, Motorhead.

I overstate things a bit on purpose, but I really think the wattage wars are over.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff here! Good foundation to build on as we explore this topic.