It’s amazing how many players will go to the trouble of replacing their entire amp when they aren’t satisfied with their tone, when in fact, they could spend a fraction of the cost and yield a significant change in sound by simply changing out their speaker to one designed with their genre in mind. If you’re a bluesman looking to play with authentic tones, you should definitely consider upgrading your stock speakers for something more blues specific.
In this review I’ll be taking a look at 3 of the best blues focused speakers on the market. When testing I’ll be looking at the voicing and the output on the 12” version of each speaker. In all cases, the speakers will be loaded in my Bugera V22 Inifinium, and played through a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver pedal.
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Our Top Three Picks
- Jensen P12Q Vintage Alnico – Our Top Pick
- Celestion G12M Greenback – Best Value
- Eminence GA-SC59 George Allessandro – Editor’s Choice
Blues has undergone so many changes in style over the decades that it’s hard to nail down any one tone that screams “blues”. You could be looking to replicate the creaminess of BB King’s licks, or you could be looking for something more raucous, like Stevie Ray Vaughan – both very different, but both undeniably blues.
In order to produce the sounds you’re looking for you can choose speakers that complement the various blues tones. The way that a speaker is manufactured and the components used
A magnetic coil and a Magnet are installed in speakers order to make the cone itself move. They do this by creating opposing magnetic fields when receiving the electrical input from the amplifier. This movement creates the vibrations that are audible to us as the music we’re playing.
Different types of magnet respond differently to the electromagnetic field generated by the coil, and this results in different sound profiles. Additionally the size of the magnet also influences tone and profile.
The three most common magnets found in speakers today are Alnico, Ceramic, and Neodymium.
Speakers fitted with alnico magnets are great for guitarists looking for a vintage sound. These were the most common magnets fitted to speakers in the 50s and 60s, and today’s versions still offer the same compressed tones. They are warm sounding, and offer brilliant highs, yet they’ll still give you a nasty breakup when you want it, making them ideal for smoother blues styles.
Speakers with ceramic magnets became popular very quickly as they provided many of the same attributes as alnico equipped speakers, but at a fraction of the cost and weight. Ceramic magnets do produce a tighter sound than alnico, so are generally better suited to more modern styles of blues, however.
Neodymium is the newest of the magnet materials in use, and offers the lightest weight. It’s by far the most efficient magnet, offering almost 20 times more magnetic field than an equivalent sized ceramic or ferrite, which makes it a popular choice for players who gig at large venue. They have a sharp attack, and an excellent player response, making them an ideal choice for fast players who seek clarity.
Speaker Cone Material
Another of the most important factors in the sound output of a speaker is the cone material. Over the years they’ve been made of everything from paper to metal. The ideal material will start vibrating and stop dead instantly. One material isn’t necessarily better than another, however. A well made paper cone will outperform cheaply produced metal examples all day every day.
Plastic cones are cheap and easy to mass produce. They can be reliable, but they tend to lack character, and have a fairly numb sound.
Paper cones offer some of the best vibration response, giving them a bright and playful sound. The type of paper used, and any treatment it may have undergone will absolutely influence the tones it produces, and, as paper is absorbent, over years of use moisture, dirt, or anything else that comes into contact with it can change its output. This can make them better, bringing even more character, or it can completely kill the sound, there is no way of knowing ahead of time.
Aluminum cones are definitely amongst the hardest wearing of all the materials, but because of their natural resonance, they don’t stop and start vibrating as quickly as the other materials, meaning player response is typically slow. Once they are moving, they offer excellent clarity and detail.
Aramid fiber is a weaved fabric material that offers the reliability of plastic, the character of paper, and the strength of aluminum all in one. They’re accurate, responsive, and offer a wide midrange that’s perfect for the blues.
Jensen P12Q Vintage Alnico – Our Top Pick
A creamy blues focused speaker that bites on command
Jensen is widely regarded as one of the industry’s foremost speaker manufacturers, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that their Vintage Alnico series, particularly the P12Q was hugely impressive for blues style playing.
When Jensen say vintage, they really mean it! The P12Q played beautifully, and the tone was so authentic it felt like I was playing through new old stock. At 95dB, sensitivity is low, which made the heard volume lower at the same setting than the Eminence George Allessandro, which is much more sensitive. I found this to be perfect for old school blues – it let me crank up the amp and let the tubes do their thing while keeping actual volume under control. The test was performed in a solo setting, but this low sensitivity would definitely prevent you from drowning out a band, but the brilliant highs will ensure that it cuts right through the mix when necessary.
Because the lows are fairly loose, this speaker doesn’t do so well for a rhythm player, but for lead work it was outstanding. Installation was a breeze thanks to the 8 mounting slot setup, making it a drop in solution for most combo amps and cabinets. As you might guess by its name, it’s powered by an alnico magnet which explains the authentic vintage sound. Adding to that, a true paper cone, which I thought really helped to bring this speaker to life.
Verdict: As with many Jensen speakers, the P12Q was really bright and frankly a little stiff to begin with, but persevere through the break in period and you’ll be rewarded with creamy mids and incredible crunch when pushed, and beautifully sweet highs, especially on those high fret BB Box solos.
Celestion G12M Greenback – Best Budget Option
A punchy British voiced speaker with distinctive tones
Celestion Greenbacks are a staple in the blues genre – I don’t think you’ll ever hear a discussion about the best speakers for blues where the G12M doesn’t get a mention. Even if I hadn’t read the specs, the fact that they are driven by a ceramic magnet was immediately apparent. Tones were tight across the lows, mids and highs. This resulted in extremely fast player response, which to some may be an expectation, but in honesty this made them much more unforgiving than the Jensen Vintage Alnicos. If you have something of a looser playing style, any flaws in your technique will be quite obviously highlighted when playing through a Greenback.
Their power rating is low at just 25 watts, but this did make them shine through my 22 watt Bugera tube amp. They responded nicely to higher gain, particularly when playing SRV and Jimi Hendrix style music. Despite this speaker’s positive response to high gain, it also demonstrated nice balance across the range when played clean, too. The precise response is aided by the Greenback’s ribbed paper cone. There is very little flexibility in ribbed cones like this, which definitely increased the punchiness. Even after hours of play, there was very little (if any) audible change in the tone, so there’s no need to worry about a break in period, although, if you’re hoping that it may mellow a little after some use, you may be disappointed.
Verdict: The Celestion G12M Greenback is a well-made, reliable speaker that offers excellent clarity and punchy tones across the mids, lows and highs. I loved its ability to handle high gain, but I found that it was a little bland when playing some more traditional blues styles. The Greenback would definitely make a good choice if you span the genres, and you’re looking for something that will sound good for blues, rock, and country, too.
Eminence GA-SC59 George Allessandro – KGR Editor’s Choice
Vintage sounds with the convenience of modern construction
Eminence designed their GA-SC59 speaker using an American style alnico magnet to the specifications set by legendary boutique amp builder, George Allessandro. The tones from this speaker are pure vintage, in fact, specifically voiced to sound like a speaker from 1959. Eminence used period materials to build this speaker, including a copper voice coil, paper cone, and as mentioned, an alnico magnet. Fit and finish was as premium as I would expect from a speaker at this price point, and despite the use of vintage materials, modern manufacturing processes will ensure much better reliability than an original ’59 speaker could ever offer.
Before going any further, I will add that these speakers really do require a significantly longer break in period than the Jensen and the Celestion. I put in at least 8 hours on the test bench with the GA-SC59, and it only just began to brighten up a little – out of the box this speaker was quite dark. This lent itself quite well to delta blues, and some Muddy Waters style playing, but I think it definitely limits universal appeal. Once it started to brighten up, more of its character started to be revealed, particularly the “low-mid grunt”, and excellent warmth in the upper mids.
This was the heaviest speaker on test by some margin (8.4 lb, compared with the Jensen at 4.12lb), so if you’re looking to install multiple speakers in a cabinet and you’re concerned about weight, the Jensen will net you similar vintage tones, at roughly half the weight and half the price – definitely something to bear in mind.
Verdict: If you’re prepared to work through an extended break in period, the Eminence GA-SC59 George Allessandro will help you to dial in a wonderful vintage tone. I found that it sounded best played fairly clean, with the tone rolled back to about 6. Mids and lows sound good across the board with this speaker, but with these settings I kept control of the highs a little better, keeping them bright and shimmery, while avoiding the drop off into shrill territory.
Blues is all about expression, making your guitar sing on your behalf, and tone makes up a huge portion of that expression. Getting the right speaker in your amp will have as profound an effect on your sound as a change of pickups, tubes, or even a complete change in amplifier would. Because blues tones change so much depending on the style, this actually makes it relatively easy to sift through the options on the market and get to the models that will best complement your playing.
By the way, while you’re here, you might want to also check out our rundown of the old Celestion G12-M70, as well as our article on the best guitar strings for blues, and our rundown of the best guitar theory books to get some new knowledge under your fingers.