This is a Guest Post by Jazz Guitarist, Christopher Flynn
Perhaps the most overlooked facet of guitar tone is the speakers your sound comes out of. Like any other item in a signal chain, speakers color your tone by altering the EQ, harmonics, and sound envelope of whatever is in front of them. Unlike other items in your signal chain,however, there is nothing “downstream” of speakers that can compensate or alter their coloration, their full effect is a always going to be a constant in your tone.
The famous producer Roy Thomas Baker (Queen) once said that “the secret to great sound is to understand where it starts for the listener and work your way backwards.” When it comes to selecting speakers, many guitarist may feel like they are swimming in an ocean of alphabet soup. If you are looking for speakers DO NOT worry that you have no idea what a FS, QES, or QMS is. You are a musician not a physicist. Any speaker company worth your time will have a readily available chart or graph showing you what kind of added EQ the speaker will provide for your tone. From there, you need to shift your perspective to thinking about your rig and your tone as a whole. Does your Les Paul, Fulltone OCD, Marshall Half Stack setup really need more Bass? Think about what kind of tone you have right now and what you may be lacking or have too much of. Speakers can be an excellent way of solving tonal problems that many spend thousands of dollars trying to fix. Want your Twin Reverb to sound different when overdriven? Try changing out the Jensen speakers with british inspired ones.
While you may not need a degree in physics to understand great speaker tone, there are several mechanical concepts that are vital to speaker selection and longevity. The most important of these is the Law of Ohms. Ohms are a measurement of resistance and mismatching Ohms can destroy your speakers and damage your amplifier. What kinds of speakers you can use with an amplifier and what mismatches are okay is complicated and depends on your specific setup. The best idea is to read your amplifier’s manual (don’t worry its probably online), do a little googling, and talk to professionals at a well qualified guitar shop in your area.
When selecting great speakers the best advice is to follow your ears. While boutique websites may disagree, money does not buy tonal satisfaction. Take your entire rig to your local guitar shop and plug into a variety of cabs, listening closely to how each one adds and subtracts from your overall sound. Every piece of gear in your set up changes how you’ll sound when you hit the studio, the practice space, or the stage.