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Electric Guitar Cabs and Mating

Brandon Drury —  September 30, 2010

Due to some band logistical issues (aka: Our band practicing space bouncing all over the damn place!), I’ve had the opportunity to play on a few of my amps through different cabinets. I’ve found that mating the amp with the right cabinet is just as important as finding the right woman to mate with……or maybe I’ve learned the value in experimenting with different woman AND cabinets. Whatever. The difference between the right cabinet and the not-so-right cabinet is astronomical whereas pretty much every woman pisses me off on at least some levels.

Celestion G12H30 1×12 Cabinet

I’ve got a little 1×12 monitor wedge that I gutted and tossed a Celestion G12H30 into. It’s ugly…..really ugly! It’s also great most of the time…… but my Rivera Knucklehead sometimes gets a hair boxy (which often tricks me into overcompensating with top end, low end, any non-boxy end I can muster) and I often end up working really hard to get that out (preferably on the amp side of the fence). On the other hand, my 5150 loves the cabinet and has no problems at all. My 1971 Marshall Superlead doesn’t work with the cabinet. It does make sound….if you want to call it that. The boxiness is rough and it just doesn’t work.

Marshall JCM800 4×12 Cabinet

I have an old JCM 800 cabinet that was originally loaded with GT75 Celestions, which I think sounds bad on everything , but the Marshall Superlead sounded the least crappy through it. These 75 watt speakers always emphasize what I’m calling “bad bite”. If they made a plugin and just called it “Sounds worse”, this would be it.

Everything just hurts through the GT75s. The more mellow the amp, the less of a problem this is, but I can’t think of an amp mellow enough to work with these speakers. You can attempt to bypass this bite with mic placement, EQ, etc but then you find the thing actually gets boxy again. It’s clear they just added the bite at the end to make up for a speaker design that went way wrong. It seams that everything good is missing. I think I summed up my views on this speaker here:
75 Watt Celestions vs Kick In Balls

Note: There are guys (who look more like ugly girls with a big, dumb black hat on) who mixed 3 rat tails, a lock of hair from a prince, and a golden torch into a boiling pot. They were given the secret to getting GT75s to work. I skipped sorcery school. I’m clueless.

Carvin Legacy 4×12 w/Greenbacks

I got a chance to play my Rivera through a Carvin Legacy cabinet loaded with Greenbacks and it reminded me of that movie, Four Rooms. (I call it the “get up and dance ending”.) It’s like you could still hear angels singing over all that deafening junk oozing out of the cabinet.

There’s no mistaking that these two gadgets work well immediately together. Not too bright, not too boomy, not too boxy, etc. Goldilocks would have found this one jussssst right. After this, I ordered 4 Greenbacks from Avatar Speakers http://www.avatarspeakers.com/ specifically to use with my Rivera. The two mated perfectly for what I’m up to (I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Mesa Boogie Recto 4×12 w/Vintage 30s

We jammed the next week and I ended up using a Mesa Boogie Recto cab with Celestion Vintage 30s. Oh boy. Not good. My normal tone is your usual not-remotely-unique not-really-Van-Halen-in-the-old-days, but closer to that than anything else kind of tone. It’s good old high-gain rock guitar that’s got more mids in it than any metal kid would want. I guess somewhere between old Van Halen and modern AFI is where I’d toss it.

Through the Recto cab, that wasn’t the sound I got AT ALL. It immediately took on that “Nu Metal” character. It was soooooo “Nu Metal” that I wrinkled my nose. I sounded just like Disturbed and all those other bands. At least it was close enough to make me pull out the ol’ metal riffs I hadn’t played in years.

This was an epiphany. Never before had my Rivera sounded that way. Ever! I’ve heard from various dudes that the Rivera has a Boogie-like design (not sure about that one) but I’d never actually heard it until then.

It immediately occurred to me that if I’m recording a metal band wants that stereotypical Recto sound (I guess all guitar sounds are pretty much stereotypical by now) a person absolutely requires a Recto-type cabinet. This isn’t to say that a person can’t get a little creative and go with a different cab. It just means that I would default to a Recto cab from here on out as my baseline metal cabinet. It’s “the sound”.

My days of playing metal seriously are long gone, but I do record it from time to time. My metal tones (on projects where I’m supposed to kinda-sorta create these tones) generally don’t hit the nail on the head. They sound good, but they are shifted a few notches in the midrangy rock direction. The thing that has always complicated things for me is I hear all kinds of metal productions that have tons of grindy mids (not the boxy kinds of mids), but even when I attempt to add these grandy mids most most my guitar sounds are missing that “grind”. The Boogie cab has it.

Just yesterday I listened to a Killswitch Engaged record. It definitely was NOT a super scooped recording where the mids were on zero and the lows and highs were 10. It has plenty of grindy mids. It just has the right kind. My experiences with the Boogie cabinet now tell me that the Boogie cabinets are a secret to this “grind”. There’s no way around it. I now know that a person can take a Van Halen-ish rock sound, run it through a Vintage 30 equipped Recto cab and get shifted 4 notches towards that modern metal thing instantly.

This particular sound isn’t what I was personally going for, but I just got a good deal on a Recto cab for my metal recording work.

The Recording Gear Disappoints Again

I want to point out that I’ve hand picked my recording gear to get monstrous mega guitar sounds. I’ve got all the go-to mics used for the metal guitar gig. (See Royer R121 vs World ) I’ve used numerous Neve-style preamps, own a few, and I’ve got a Distressor. These toys don’t hurt, but they don’t turn a “rock” guitar sound into a “metal” guitar sound. As I always say, it’s the source, the source, the source. So if you aren’t quite getting the sounds you are looking for, investing in guitar cabinets would be much more effective than investing in the high end recording gadgets.

Note: I want to address a MAJOR point here. In some musical genres/circles, mostly jazz and other music you play with a tie on, there is this emphasis on fidelity. The “good” recordings best capture the instrument in it’s natural setting. A ringing snare is part of the sound, for example. They want that in there. For guys doing pop music (pop, dance, country, metal, modern rock, etc) it works a bit differently. Maybe there is an increased fidelity with a Royer and a Neve on a rock guitar cab when compared to something cheaper. However, soooooooo much effort is placed in the subjective arena that the fancy recording setup is icing on the cake. In short, it’s more important to get that amp exciting you in the room (whether this is a father-approved guitar sound or not) than it is to beautifully capture an unideal sound.

Another perspective: Rob Zombie may use samples on the kick drum even though they’ve got a world class kick drum, world class drummer, world class room, engineer, and everything else you can think of because he’s got his not-quite-industrial sound happening. He wants the kick drum to sound fake. So in a situation where you don’t want a real sound, the idea of perfectly capturing reality becomes secondary, if not irrelevant.

Yet another perspective: The fancy gear will improve your ability to “capture”, but try taking a good picture of your brother’s testicles. Enough said.

Recto Cab Round #2

The following week I knew I would be playing through the Recto cabinet again and I wasn’t in the mood to sound like Nu Metal this time. So I took my old Marshall Superlead. I had a suspicion that the added aggression of the Boogie cabinet would work well with the slightly too smooth character of the Marshall. Man, was I right! The Marshall mated perfectly with the Boogie cabinet. It didn’t sound like Nu Metal. It didn’t sound like Thin Lizzy (as this head often can). It just sounded good. It nailed the tone I was going for quite well, actually.

So, in this case, all it took to take a “creamy”, “vintage” sounding amp and make it modern was using a modern sounding cabinet. Again, I was quite surprised by the impact of this whole cabinet thing.

Back To The 1×12

A few weeks ago I recorded a band where a dude wanted that kinda-sorta Dr. Feelgood tone. He brought in some newer solid state Marshall. A lot of people don’t care for many of these lower-end Marshall amps. My experience has shown me time and time again that the included cabinets are almost always dismal sounding, at best. However, the good ol’ G12H30-equipped 1×12 cab of mine has saved my ass dozens of times with cheapo amps. For whatever reason, it mates extremely well with these solid state amps that sound horrible with other setups.

I guess the G12H30 tames the fizz and gives the tone some beef and aggression in the right spots. This tone ended up being one of the coolest tones I’ve ever recorded. (Interestingly, the dude had used an old Fender Roc-Pro through my G12H30 in the past and it too worked very, very well. I’ve played the Fender Roc-Pro amps and used to think they were a combination of old garbage and rotten elephant sperm.) Again, It’s clear the cabinet is a huge deal.

I had a reamping session a few weeks ago where I used my Rivera through the 1×12 G12H30. What do you know? The Rivera sounded boxy again. After listening to my quick and dirty trials yesterday, I’m officially never using the Rivera with that cabinet again. From here on out, I’ll be calling on the Greenbacks for their tighter low mids and less tendency to sound boxy. The fact that a Fender Roc Pro or the latest budget Marshall can sound great through the 1×12 cab, but my Rivera Knucklehead does not illustrates a few things.

One, it tells us that budget amps tend to be voiced similarly. (Scooped all to hell, fizzy, etc. This is what 16 year old kids generally want so the manufacturers are giving it to them.) Two, it tells us that it’s more important to mate the right amp and cabinet together than it is to simply use “good” stuff.

Conclusion

In case my babbling didn’t make sense to you, let’s hit the main points.

  • The mating of the cabinet and the amp is absolutely critical.
  • Only witchcraft practitioners know how to get Celestion GT75s to sound good.
  • Sometimes amps that have fought you for years with one cabinet suddenly come to life with a different cabinet.
  • The tonal effects of electric guitar cabinets is dramatically understated. Now that I have a collection of mics that work well on electric guitar, I realize that I should have have just stuck with the 57s and blown my money on a collection that looks like a mix and matched Motley Crue backline.
  • There is some kind of magic character found in a cabinet that can not be found anywhere else. You can not EQ an amp to sound like it was recorded through a different cabinet. It doesn’t work that way.
  • The cabinet plays an enormous role in the tone. When you plug a not-so-Recto sounding amp into a Recto cabinet and you hear that specific sound, you’ll have no doubts about the effects of the cabinet.
  • Fancy recording gear isn’t going to make up for an ideal mating of guitar and cabinet. If anyone wants to argue this, I’ll start by asking if you are a) deaf ……or…..b) insane.
  • Finding a way to audition a bunch of gear seems to be the real trick. You must make time and be proactive on this one!

Good luck!

Brandon

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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11 responses to Electric Guitar Cabs and Mating

  1. I’ve been convinced of the importance of the cabinet ever since I was able to change them on my Line6 Pod Pro. It was really interesting to discover that most of the sounds I loved were V30 Celestions, much more so than Boogies or Rectos or Marshalls. Gain is gain but cabinets are crucial to the overall presentation of the distortion. Strangely enough, I’ve never really go into anything else like a Greenback or something else. Might be a project for the new guitar.

  2. Couldn’t agree more Brandon. Matching the right cab to an amp
    has a huge impact on tone. I’m currently searching for “the cab”
    for a Thunderverb 50. So far I’ve only tried an open back Avatar 2×12 g12h
    & vintage 30. (the one we used @ your Studio) The result is huge
    tone with mega low end. Too much low for me. I’ve been curious about a cab with
    10in celestion speakers for rock music. Never tried one.

  3. For my personal tastes, I can’t beat the Greenbacks (at least with my Rivera Knucklehead). I think they are well worth checking out for all “rock” type tones. I’ll be doing my cabinet shootout here shortly. Keep your eyes open.

  4. Brandon, am I following you around today with these blogs or what?! LOL!! Another good one! Dude, if we lived near each other….we’d be in trouble! Just about all your info you share is nearly identical to mine all the time! It’s a good thing because it shows me that I’m not crazy, yet as crazy as you. Hahahaha!

    What you say about the 75′s is soo true, I don’t know how people have managed to get good tone out of them! The biggest fix for me is to run a tight Q at about 2.5k and pull it out until the cab starts to sound good. You’ll be amazed at how it changes the tone for the better. At times I have dialed it completely out and they actually sounded really good!

    Another thing I hate about them, the nasal tone they give you. Controlling 4k or 5k should handle that part for you depending on which sounds better curbed on your end. These things just sizzle a bit too much by default to my ears.

    Im with you on the Greenbacks as that is what I use. I prefer the 25 watters due to how they saturate and break up really good. This also allows me to run less gain from my amp or pre-amp and get a more natural sounding sustain instead of cranking up the gain to the point of things sounding synthetic. They are also a lot w a r m e r in tone and less harsh than any other speaker I have used.

    Of course (IMHO) there is a drawback to these Green guys. They are VERY focused and made for being mic’d. Meaning, you have a sweet spot range from the grill screen up to about 4-6 foot while listening to them. Once you get beyond that range, they actually sound pretty bad.

    It’s like they don’t project far enough or something. So guys that like extremely loud stage volume probably will not like these speakers. The thing to keep in mind though is, if you keep them at a sane volume, the soundman is going to keep you in the mix and make you sound great. If you push these loud, he’s going to pull you from the mix and the crowd is going to be tortured with raw volume since they will be well out of the 4-6ft range. Great read man, thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi Brandon ..I just got rid of a set of Celestions G12T75s out of a Marshall slope front box.. no matter what I did I just couldn’t pull a decent tone out of it and my JCM 800 (KT88s).. all shrill and no fill! ..I bought a set of Eminence GB12s and.. wow!..the difference is astounding!! ..now I have nice tight mids.. bottom end thump.. and sweet crisp highs..
    I’m thinking that the GT75s were designed for youngsters with a higher tolerance for ‘death grunge metal thrash’ than us classic 70s southern rock lovers! :)

  6. Here is my two cents. ALWAYS try the manufacturers cabinet on your amp first. Did you ever try Rivera cabs on your Knucklehead? Sure, you may not like the manufacturers cab, but amp companies spend a lot of time and money on sound engineering.

    When you bought the Rivera what cab were you playing through?

    An interesting read. You could have touched on cabinet material and construction. What cab do those greenbacks sound the best through… a closed back Mahogony 2 X 12, or an open backed 4 X 12 particle board cab. The sound might suprise you.

  7. I’ve never played my Rivera Knucklehead through it’s matching cabinet. I bought it used off the web back in 1998 and have always been curious of the Rivera cab could do.

    You are correct, too, in that the actual cabinet design is also a factor. From my days in car audio land, I learned of the dramatic impact of air space in sealed designs (not to mention the required tuning of ported boxes). So there is no denying that the cabinet’s construction has a major impact on tone.

    Brandon

  8. I thought there were going to be some tips about mating?:)

    On a serious note, do you think that there is any downside to getting 1×12 or 2×12 cabinets instead of going all out and getting a 4×12? I was thinking of getting a couple of cabinets, and I was steering away from 4×12′s for volume and price reasons, but was unsure of whether a recorded 4×12 sounds better than a 1 or 2 speaker cabinet, or if it’s just different. I know it’s like asking whether apples or oranges are better, but is there any reason to get a 4×12 if it’s not going to be used for live applications?

  9. The next plan is to do a guitar cabinet shootout with a variety of cabinets. I expect it to be coming in the next two week. Keep your ears peeled.

  10. After reading the previous comments regarding the Celestion GT75′s I felt compelled to offer a different experience. I matched the JSX 120 watt head to a Marshall 1960A sloped cab stocked with the Celestions and did have some issues with the tone being somewhat brittle when using the 2 overdrive channels. I got a great clean tone. I use a Strat and Les Paul Classic. With that being said, I had done some reading on Amptone.com along time ago that suggested the use of 2 eq’s in the signal path when using tube amp distortion. One right after the guitar then one after the distortion. I experimented with the eq setup-(MXR-10 Band after guitar, Boss GE-7 affter distortion) and along with some time-based effects, have managed to get a tone I love (think AC/DC) and one that has been received favorably live and in the studio and by many guitarist much better then I. (I’ve been playing for 30 years). Would I like to experiment with the different voices different cabs/speakers have on my tone, absolutely! But I just can’t afford it! This response is to encourage those of us who use cabinets that are loaded with the ’75′s that great tone is easily possible-with all due respect to other rocker’s who disagree or are in a money situation that allows them the awesomeness of being able to experiment with multiple high-dollar speaker/cabs combinations in pursuit of THE TONE!!!

    Peace!

  11. Hi Jim.. I’m happy you persevered and got the tone you’ve been chasing from the 75s.. My (subjective) experience wasn’t as successful.. I have a JCM 800 100W a JMP1986 50W and a Sound City Concord and I tried the 75s with all of them (not going through any EQs or pedals of any kind.. I figure that if you can’t get a reasonable tone just clean into the amp..etc. etc.) Over the last 30 plus years I have spent a small fortune looking for ‘that’ tone.. and I’m gradually getting closer.. :)
    As ‘tone’ is such a subjective thing I guess whatever pleases your ear will in turn get you closer to the ‘zone’ and in turn you’ll play better.. I just know that my ear was telling me the 75s were too ‘shrill’ for what I was trying to achieve (70s southern rock grind) and the Eminence GB128s took me one step closer to that Pre Rola tone for about an eighth of the price ..(here in Australia) cheers and all the best :) ROB