If you are looking for that classic clean sound, people will often recommend an old amp or a Fender guitar, but what about the most crucial piece of equipment?
Your guitar speakers are the true source of your sound. From the impulse response to the raw power of your speakers, you need to make sure they can deliver the tone in your head.
To make this list, we compared some of the most renowned guitar speakers in history to each other to determine which ones stand out for clean tone.
We used the same guitar (Fender Stratocaster), and amplifier (Fender Blues Junior IV) for all the tests. We couldn’t use the same speaker cabinet since the sizes were different, but we used the same mic (Royer R-121) in the same exact spot relative to the speaker for consistency.
And a quick read through our buying guide will help you make an informed choice, so you can get that sweet clean tone you’ve been craving.
Our Top Three Picks
Our top pick, the Celestion G12M Greenback 12”, is the best speaker available today that does the job perfectly at a very reasonable cost. Clean tones are not the only thing this speaker delivers. It has excellent versatility for several styles.
For a more affordable alternative, the Eminence Ragin Cajun Patriot Series 10” is the best budget option for a clean tone. It is specifically designed for lighter tones and delivers what you would expect from larger and more expensive Eminence models at half the cost.
Finally, the Electro-Voice EVM 12L 12” may be pricey, but it came out on top with every test of ours. If you are looking for something a professional would rely on, it doesn’t get better than this.
Celestion G12M Greenback 12” – Our Top Pick
In every forum where guitarists talk about tone, the Celestion Greenback gets plenty of praise for its classic features. Among the Greenbacks, the most popular version is the G12M. In our tests, we found the G12M to be everything we’d expect from its reputation.
Like any great Celestion, it has a very detailed mid-range, crucial for our desired clean tones. We also heard a rolled-off top-end which is slightly muted to give the mids further prominence. The muting does not neuter the top end either, preserving just enough bite.
The low-end, though present, takes a back seat, mixing seamlessly with the rest. This makes for one of the most balanced sounds you can get. It sounds absolutely magical when played clean.
Though the Greenback’s true strength lies in clean tones, we found that the speaker does not throw in the towel when you increase gain. In fact, we absolutely loved the Greenback as a completely driven-to-the-limit speaker. So we had to give it plus points for versatility.
With an open back cabinet, this speaker’s tone blooms to set itself apart from what you might be used to. We tried taming this effect with a closed-back cabinet and found that it worked better for the definition of different notes, perfect for rhythm parts.
Its only limiting factor is its low 25 Watt specification. You need to be careful with what you connect it to, else you may even damage the speaker unit. And at just 7.9 lbs, it’s on the lighter end of the speakers we’ve reviewed.
Verdict: The Celestion Greenback G12M is a completely solid all-around speaker, with not only great clean tones but incredible versatility. With a reasonable price tag, and a legendary reputation, this guitar speaker is ideal for any genre. If you’re looking for a classic clean tone with bite and bloom, this won’t disappoint.
Eminence Ragin Cajun Patriot Series 10” – Best Budget Option
At just under $100, the Ragin Cajun is quite affordable for a guitar speaker. Despite its modest size and price, it delivers more power than most 10” speakers in the market. It certainly is as loud as its 12” competition.
In our tests we found that the Ragin Cajun has a crisp mid-range, making it great for clean tones, along with pleasant bell-like highs. The chunky low end holds up just like a 12” speaker, completing this compact yet effective package.
We found the mid-range response to be modest, while the high-end and low-end response was very aggressive. Any speaker cabinet with an open or closed back with a 10” speaker slot will do just fine for this speaker.
The Ragin Cajun’s design favors low gain tones, and we found it to be less effective when playing harsher tones. However, this sacrifice of versatility pays off in terms of its intended use – incredibly faithful clean tones.
The speaker can fit anywhere and is lightweight at just 6.4 lbs. It delivers 75 Watts of power and goes down to 70 Hz. This Eminence speaker is perfect for those who need great tones on a tight budget. It works well with a variety of amplifiers and cabinets.
Verdict: The Eminence Ragin Cajun is a fantastic speaker that’ll easily fit anyone’s budget. It’s practical for bedroom practice and small gigs, and a faithful clean tone is the heart of this speaker. If you have a cabinet to fit this 10” speaker in, then it’s certainly worth a try. But it’s not versatile enough to handle high-gain tones.
Electro-Voice EVM 12L 12” – KGR Editor’s Choice
The Electro-Voice EVM 12L is another legendary name among guitar speakers, but even among the legends, it’s a cut above just about anything else you can find on the market.
Everything about the EVM 12L is large. At first glance, it looks like an alien battleship, and it sure is built like one. It’s one of the toughest speakers we’ve seen, with a heavy-dust cast iron frame. That means you don’t have to worry about breaking this beast even on a rough tour.
It also sounds absolutely massive, which is a good thing. Without any gain, we were able to achieve an unmatched intensity of sound. And no matter how loud you crank it, the tone remains pristine!
The heavy build of the speaker is not for show; it reduces low-frequency flex during endless hours of gigs. It can survive anything a speaker may ever encounter on stage.
Cleans are the primary use for the EVM 12L, but it sounds great with just about anything. The price might buy you two-three speakers, but this one can do the job of four at once.
If you’re planning to use this for home practice, the EVM 12L may even be overkill and difficult to manage due to its heavy weight. With a power of 200 Watts and at 19 lbs, this is one of the heaviest speakers we’ve ever seen. And it can even go up to 7 kHz, which is much higher than most guitar speakers.
Verdict: If you have the money, the Electro-Voice EVM 12L is one of the best, and there is no reason not to get it. It’s near-bulletproof, super loud, super heavy, and delivers pristine clean tones at any volume. If you’re playing on a big stage, this is the perfect companion.
Best Guitar Speakers For Clean Tone – A Buyer’s Guide
There’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution for sound quality. For this reason, guitar speaker manufacturers often offer a variety of different models, each designed to serve a specific purpose.
For example, a budget-minded guitar speaker will have a small size and low power rating. At the same time, a higher-end model might offer greater sound volume and more power.
The right guitar speakers can add a whole new dimension to your playing. They let you hear the guitar tone in a more detailed way, allowing you to really listen and feel the nuances in the strings and frets.
You’ll also hear how the sound is being projected from the speakers. They’ll help you adjust the volume of your guitar’s amp to get the perfect balance between the instrument’s tonal qualities and the speakers’ response.
Consider these factors before buying your next guitar speaker.
Size and Wattage
The first thing to consider when you’re buying a set of speakers is the size of the enclosure. Whether 8”, 10”, or 12”, you need to make sure you’ve got a compatible speaker cabinet. Putting a small speaker in a large cabinet can result in unnecessary muddiness.
For frequency response, it’s best to go for full-range speakers, which provide an even response from the lowest frequencies to the highest. This is particularly important for electric guitar playing, where you’ll need to hear the low notes of the guitar’s strings.
You’ll also need to make sure that your amp is rated for your speaker wattage. The speakers need to get the right amount of power (Wattage). If it’s low, you won’t get a proper full-bodied tone, and if it’s too high, you risk damaging or even blowing the speaker.
You should also consider the resistance (in ohms) and the weight of the speakers. The amplifier you pair your speaker with should have the right resistance to prevent any damage. And if you’re going to carry your speakers around town for gigs, you definitely don’t want a 20-pound speaker unit.
Sound Quality And Volume
Before you buy any speaker system, you need to decide what kind of sound quality you want to achieve.
Even with clean tones, every guitarist knows that there are a lot of minute differences. You need just the right combination of bass, mid, and treble to get that ideal sweetness – not too sharp and not muddy.
This depends on your guitar (and its pickups), the amplifier, and of course the cabinet you place your speaker in. The best, and only way to really know is to try different speaker combinations and trust your ears.
If you’re looking to play in a small group setting, you may only need a pair of speakers with a decent low end. On the other hand, if you’re looking to perform at larger events, such as open mic nights, then you’ll probably need a higher-end speaker system that offers more output without any distortion.
Before buying online, it’s a good idea to visit a local guitar store and get a feel of the different guitar speakers and cabinets. This allows you to judge on your own ears instead of reading reviews, and if you carry your guitar and pedalboard, you’ll be able to find just the right tone for your gig.
Guitar speakers are as important and relevant today as 80 years ago. The technology, however, has improved a lot – you can get much better quality speakers at affordable prices now.
To recap, our best value pick is the Celestion G12M Greenback, a legendary speaker for good reason. The Eminence Ragin Cajun is a fantastic budget option, and the Electro-Voice EML 12L beats everything for its sheer power and build quality.
All these speakers offer delightful clean tones that are faithful to your amplifier. Before you buy a new amp, it’s worth getting a new speaker unit as it can make a massive difference to your sound.