Even though some guitarists disagree, does using a 15-inch electric guitar speaker instead of the “stock” smaller speaker the ultimate electric guitar amplifier upgrade?
By: Ringo Bones
Even though I was born too late and not fortunate enough to have been there when Jimi Hendrix experimented in the recording studio with 15-inch Eminence and Celestion organ speakers and managed to record many of the sweetest tone in the electric guitar playing world, my “conversion” as a big speaker fanatic happened back around the mid 1990s during an electric guitar gear / music recording gear exhibition in Hong Kong got me acquainted with the Marshall JTM 60 – a vacuum tube based combo amp that comes with three 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL34 output tubes with a 15-inch Eminence made Heritage speaker as standard. With a representative generous enough to let me toy with the combo amp for probably 90 minutes, both of us reached the conclusion that it is quite impossible to squeeze a bad tone out of a 15-inch electric guitar speaker mounted in an open-back cabinet driven by good old fashioned vacuum tubes. But sadly, there are electric guitar players – including some great ones – that dislike big speakers being used in electric guitar playing applications. And I even got confused when the Marshall representative told me that the Marshall JTM 60 comes in variants with two 12-inch speakers and three 10-inch speakers that got me in a quizzical head-scratching mode to ask why. But are there any circumstances in the electric guitar where bigger isn’t actually better?
Big electric guitar speakers – especially old ones or vintage reissue ones with whizzer cones with diameters of 15 inches or bigger (I’m still searching for organ speakers / electric guitar speakers with whizzer cones bigger than 15-inces by the way)- gain mythical status because celebrity guitar players tend to promote / endorse them in various ads to leading guitar playing magazines. Remember Yngwie Malmsteen’s “tone-testimonial of the Celestion G12T-75 electric guitar speaker that goes: “because of its very fluid tone and it compliments the violin-like tone and feel of my guitar playing. I have used Celestions since the early days of my career in Sweden.”?
During a Guitar Techniques magazine interview back in February 1996, the late great guitarist Gary Moore had found it strange that the then Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green used Fender speaker cabinets with two JBL 15-inch speakers driven by two Fender Dual Showmans and Moore says “he would never want to play through that”. Was Moore’s criticism born out of his preference of small and older vintage 1950s era Fender Tweed combo amps because those usually come with 10-inch or 12-inch speakers?
With a more pragmatic outlook, Creedence Clearwater Revival guitarist John Fogerty says there are situations where 15-inch speakers are more suitable than 12-inch speakers and 10-inch speakers and vice versa. In his Audio magazine interview back in January 1998, John Fogerty said that “a Rickenbacker guitar sounds best through two 15-inch speakers if you’re using it for rhythm. The 10-inch or 12-inch speaker is much more focused: that’s why all the lead players like them so much, for playing single-note stuff.” But in my actual live performance use in smallish Jazz/Blues club venues, I tend to get much more applause and interest from the audience while playing through 15-inch speakers hence my current ongoing search for still functional organ or electric guitar speakers bigger than 15-inches mounted in an open baffle. Currently, I’m in love with my open-baffle mounted Eminence Red Coat 15-inch Big Ben guitar speaker.