By Chris Loeffler
Utility and availability made the 12" speaker the industry default for guitar amplifiers shortly after guitar amps became a serious business. 10" and even 15" speakers have always been available and have even been stock in many acclaimed vintage amps, but at the end of the day the typical tube guitar amp you find in a music shop is going to be rocking a 12" speaker (or two… or four). While 12" speakers benefit from a rich mid-range and deep bass (not to mention most amplifiers and pickups being tuned to them), there's a certain higher frequency bandwidth, focus, and speed of response that a 10" speaker brings to the table that makes for easy, toneful guitar recording while avoiding stepping over the bass player's frequencies.
Most major amp builders, especially those featuring a lower wattage line, are capitalizing on theses more desirable characteristics of the 10" speaker and treating them as core to their tone (see the Fender Princeton Reverb, Marshall small valves, and Vox Night Train for current production examples). Most production amplifiers are built to hit a certain price point, so certain "nice to haves" are left to the discretion of the player to upgrade down the line. Because tone is so subjective, it isn't that stock speakers are "bad" or even "not as good as X"… they're just there to deliver a particular tone that will appeal to the broadest audience while complimenting the amps they are attached to. But when you jump into the world of tone tools, eventually you'll need to turn your ear to your speaker to make sure it's doing what you want.
The good folk at Celestion offered us the opportunity to test-drive quite a few models from their current speaker line to see how tailoring the speakers to the sound we want out of our own beloved amps can take us to places we never thought we'd go (or at least give us that final 10% we've been missing). To start with, I will compare the 10" series of guitar speakers they sent using two amplifiers (Fender '65 Princeton Reverb and Marshall Class 5) and a 2x10" Avatar closed-back speaker cabinet from my personal arsenal.
Celestion G10N-40 10" Guitar Speaker
The Celestion G10N-40 found its start as a custom design for an amp maker, but was refined and released as a stand-alone model by Celestion. Rated at 40 watts RMS, it is made to handle higher wattages than most 10" speakers, in theory giving it a bit more headroom and focus before breaking up. In practice, the speaker sounds fantastic, with a truly balanced EQ range that incorporates strong bass and refined treble with a clear, unexaggerated midrange slightly favoring the upper mids. Cleans are full and musical, with a larger voice than many stock 10" speakers provide. Overdriven, the speaker takes on a slightly darker tone with just a bit of a nudge in the lower mids that made leads sing.
Replacing a stock Jensen C10 in my late 2000's Fender '65 Princeton Reverb, the G10N-40 brought considerably more volume and focus to the amp's overdriven tones and seemed to add headroom to cleaner settings. Breakup was still pleasant, but louder and slightly tighter than with the stock pickup. The clean tones were louder and more high-fidelity with a touch more chime and high-end, in general fuller sounding and musical with slightly less warmth (read, "mud", to my ears).
Celestion G10 Greenback 10" Guitar Speaker
For fans of historical accuracy, it is worth noting that "Greenback" is a generic term for many different production Celestion guitar speakers, including the G12H and the G12M, that came out in the 60's and 70's. All these speakers shared a commonality of a ceramic magnet and a green plastic magnet cover and collectively, while different makes and cones, represented a specific tone that became sought after, much like there are many models of Fender amplifiers under the "Silverface" umbrella. The Celestion Greenback (in its 12" configuration) is a rock and blues icon and has practically defined the UK amp tone for over five decades.
The Celestion G10 Greenback is the result of years of effort by Celestion to nail the famous 12" "Greenback" tone (exemplified in their current production G12M Greenback) in a 10" format for those seeking more focused lows and warm, vintage rolled-off treble. Sonically, it is a very close match (I happened to have a G12M on hand for comparison), with the G10 Greenback featuring more bass than a standard 10" speaker and a rich midrange that tends to jump out when pushed by a crunched amp. Cleans sound excited and lively, and the upper mids sing when the harmonic content of the distortion increases.
Compared to the stock Jensen C10R and the Celestion G10N-40 in the Fender '65 Princeton Reverb, the Celestion G10 Greenback sat somewhere between the two, with a greater propensity to add its own distortion when hit hard by the amp than the G10N-40 but louder, tighter, and fuller in frequency (especially the bass and trebles) than the Jensen C10R.
Celestion G10 Gold AlNiCo 10" Guitar Speaker
The Celestion G10 Gold 10" speaker is Celestion's top of the line 10" guitar speaker. Featuring an AlNiCo magnet, the G10 Gold is voiced to marry the characteristics of the classic Celestion Blue 12" speaker (famous for being THE sound of a classic Vox amp) with the rapid response of a smaller driver. All the overused descriptors of classic rock tones apply to this speaker… smooth, distinct midrange, tight, punchy bass and chimey but rounded treble. It is worth noting that the G10 Gold by far benefited the most to a break in period. It sounds great upon initial install, but there's a slight dynamic stiffness and harmonic timidness in the upper register that works itself out after a few hours of dynamic playing. For the purposes of this review, I looped a fairly dynamic twenty second guitar part on my Akai Headrush and slowly turned the volume on the amp up each hour over the course of twelve hours. By the twelfth hour the speaker was demonstrably smoother and richer (and my neighbors were likely ready to kill me).
Rated at 16ohms, the Celestion G10 Gold was an obvious replacement more the stock Celestion included in my Marshall Class 5 (sadly, discontinued a couple of years ago). The stock speaker was specifically designed for the Class 5 and is based on a Greenback with tweaks to coax a bit more bass out of the cone. The stock speaker, more so than any other amp I've had, was a perfect enough match for the amp to my ears, being exceptionally loud for its size and featuring a nice, raunchy breakup that complimented the amps crunch. The Celestion G10 Gold radically transformed the tone of the Class 5; to my tastes making it even better. While still sounding like a rude, overdriven Marshall, the Celestion Gold really evened out some of the ragged edges of the amp and brought some nice sparkle to the top end and tightened up the flabby bass. The amp sounded less tubby and significantly more open and bright. Run along-side an AlNiCo Weber Silver 10 speaker in the 2x10" speaker cabinet with several different low wattage heads, the G10 Gold brought more articulation and a difficulty to describe snappiness to notes that felt much more reactive than with the stock ceramic speaker.
There is no point in revisiting your speaker if you're perfectly happy with how your current speaker sits in the mix, but if there are any doubts in your mind, a speaker swap is one of the most drastic ways you can change the core tone of your amplifier. Between the three 10" speakers Celestion was kind enough to send for review, I found that a lot of things I had settled for and long given up on in my amps were unnecessary compromises. I heartily recommend you make sure you're not missing out on tweaking a vital part of your guitar tone!
Celestion G10N-40 10" Guitar Speaker at Musician's Friend (MSRP $100, Street $69)
Celestion G10 Gold AlNiCo 10" Guitar Speaker at Musician's Friend (MSRP $265, Street $175)
Celestion G10N-40 10" Guitar Speaker Product Page
Celestion G10 Greenback 10" Guitar Speaker Product Page
Celestion G10 Gold AlNiCo 10" Guitar Speaker Product Page
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he's not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.