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Many guitarists spend years in search of the perfect tone that is equal to their own mental ideals. Sometimes, guitar effects pedals can only go so far in doctoring a guitar’s tone.
One of the things that many guitarists do in crafting their ideal tone is to replace the speaker(s) in their amplifier. The following replacement speakers are well worth your time if you’re thinking that your amp could use a little boost.
Eminence Cannabis Rex – Best Overall
Are you a guitarist that prefers to have a cleaner tone with a bit of crunchy breakup around the edges? The Eminence Cannabis Rex (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is, by far, one of the best options available on the market.
Don’t let its name fool you. The Cannabis Rex doesn’t require you to be a frequent imbiber of the jazz cabbage.
What makes the Cannabis Rex so special is the fact that its speaker cone is made of hemp combined with paper edges along with a pressed steel basket. Historically, hemp has been used for everything from paper to being the material for the bumper of the original Ford Model-T cars.
Because of its use of hemp, the Cannabis Rex provides a solution for those seeking to add some warmth to their amp’s sound. For example, it’s a common choice for Fender Blues Junior amps, which are known to be quite harsh in the treble region.
The speaker itself is rated for 50W and comes in both 8 and 16 Ohm versions. In terms of weight, the Cannabis Rex weighs 8.2 pounds and features a 38-oz. Ferrite magnet.
Its output frequency ranges from 70Hz to 5kHz.
While it has been done, the Cannabis Rex may not be the most ideal for certain high-gain music genres. However, its warmth could be an added benefit in these situations, especially when combined with a humbucker-equipped guitar.
For the most part, the Cannabis Rex is ideal for those genres that utilize more of a clean-forward sound rather than something completely saturated. The speaker responds quite well to every minute inflection, which is ideal for those who have a detailed technique.
If your amp has too much treble, the Cannabis Rex has been known to be a perfect remedy.
Celestion G12M-65 Creamback – Best Premium
Need a guitar speaker that is incredibly balanced and ideal for almost any musical situation you could throw at it? The Celestion G12M-65 Creamback (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a legendary speaker that has been used and sought after since the 1970s.
Today’s version of the legendary Creamback has been completely modernized to suit the needs of today’s guitarists. With that, the speaker itself is rated for 65W, which is over double the power rating of the original versions from the 1970s.
The speaker itself comes in both 8 and 16 Ohm versions and features a ceramic magnet. This ceramic magnet has a diameter of 5.9”, and weighs 35 oz., with the entire speaker weighing 7.9 pounds.
The G12M-65 Creamback’s output frequency range spans from 75Hz to 5kHz. A chassis made of pressed steel is used to form the speaker itself, with a paper cone to be found at the center.
This guitar speaker is perfect for those who prefer a British voicing as the foundation of their tone. The tone is compact but extremely balanced in both the low and high EQ ranges.
As you might expect from a British-sounding speaker, the midrange is prone to having a hint of crunch. However, this translates quite well to any music genre, even those that rely on high-gain guitar tones.
On paper, the Creamback should be nearly identical to that of the Greenback. Legend has it that the only difference is the color of paper used on the back of the speaker.
However, once you try both speakers out, it becomes quite obvious that the Creamback has a distinct flavor of its own. For the price, this speaker is nearly unbeatable in terms of blending modern capabilities with a hint of vintage heritage.
Jensen C12N Vintage Ceramic – Best Budget
Are you somebody that’s wanting to make their amplifier take on more of a vintage American sound? The Jensen C12N Vintage Ceramic (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is an affordable option that might just be what you’re looking for.
Historically, Jensen speakers were featured in the Fender amplifier models from the glory days of the 1960s and 1970s. While not everyone has the budget for these vintage amplifiers, the 8 Ohm C12N can get you close to having that iconic sound.
The speaker itself is rated for 50W, featuring a paper cone and a 29-oz. ceramic magnet. In terms of overall weight, the C12N is fairly light compared to other speakers, weighing just 7.28 pounds overall.
In terms of sound, the C12N is quite a bit brighter in tone compared to other speakers mentioned in this article. Those that play with a tone that exemplifies the clean sound will definitely enjoy how this speaker responds.
Its tone is somewhat balanced, though its midrange is slightly scooped, which can pair well with some light overdrive. You’ll immediately notice that its sound is very characteristic of those cleaner, vintage tones from the 1960s.
For those who play with heavier distortion, the C12N might not be the best fit. However, if you want an affordable option for clean, vintage tones, this is worth trying.
Celestion Vintage 30
Want a guitar speaker that has been time-tested and has a reputation for being the industry standard? The Celestion Vintage 30 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) has what it takes to make your dream tone become a reality.
These speakers came about in the mid-1980s and were Celestion’s first foray into attempting to build a speaker with “vintage” qualities. Over time, the Vintage 30 has become one of the most-celebrated speakers for all music genres, including blues and heavy metal.
Despite its name, the Vintage 30 is rated for 60W and comes in both 8 and 16 Ohm versions. Its output frequency range spans from 70Hz to 5kHz.
At the time of its inception, Celestion had created a new ceramic magnet specifically for this speaker. The magnet itself weighs 50 oz., with the entire speaker weighing a hefty 10.4 pounds.
In terms of tone, the Vintage 30 does have more of a warmer and more pronounced midrange that might turn some guitarists away. However, when the speaker is used in the context of a full band setting, the Vintage 30 allows the guitar to cut through and be very present in the overall sound mix.
The speakers aren’t the most ideal for scenarios requiring a high-gain application, though it does have a bit of punch that can be suitable for metal. Tones that are cleaner and/or with a decent saturation of overdrive breakup will definitely feel at home here.
Nevertheless, the Vintage 30 is one of the most popular choices for recording rigs. It’s frequently sought after for those who are looking to replace the speakers in their 2×12” or 4×12” cabinets, though they perform quite well as a single speaker in a combo amp.
Celestion G12M Greenback
The Greenback is one of the most historic and widely-known guitar speakers in all of modern music history. These speakers first made their debut in the mid-1960s, eventually becoming a staple in the sound of guitarists like Hendrix, Clapton, and even Van Halen.
Today’s G12M Greenback continues on with this legacy, offering both 8 and 16 Ohm versions of the speaker. The speaker itself is rated for 25W, with a dynamic frequency range of 75Hz to 5kHz.
A big part of the G12M Greenback’s recognizable sound is because of its ceramic magnet, which weighs 35 oz. The entire speaker itself weighs 7.9 pounds.
It should be obvious that if you’re looking for that classic rock sound of the late 1960s through the 1980s, you’ll want to try these out. They aren’t the most ideal for 1-speaker combo amp setups but excel when played in a 2×12” or 4×12” speaker cabinet.
The Greenback tone has its midrange scooped quite a bit when compared to that of the Vintage 30. But because of that, this speaker has an undeniable punchy clarity that can serve anyone looking for that iconic Marshall full-stack sound.
Eminence The Governor
Want a speaker that is primed to provide that classic British tone? You’ll want to try Eminence’s The Governor (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) guitar speaker, which is built specifically for this purpose.
The Governor comes from Eminence’s “Red Coat” product line and is undoubtedly the speaker model that has become that specific line’s choice model. If you’re somebody who loves that gritty British tone reminiscent of early Rolling Stones, The Governor might be a great fit.
The speaker itself features a paper cone with a Zurette dust cap and is rated for 75W, with an output frequency ranging 70Hz to 5kHz. It features a 56-oz. Ferrite magnet, with the entire speaker weighing 10.8 pounds.
Make no mistake about it, The Governor is the speaker you want if you love that tight, midrange British tone from the 1970s. It’s great when played with cleaner tones but truly shines with a decent saturation of overdrive.
If you like the Celestion Vintage 30 but find it too prominent in the midrange, The Governor has a reputation for being an ideal solution.
Eminence GA-SC64 Allesandro Signature
The Eminence GA-SC64 Allesandro Signature (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a great choice for that spanky, vintage American voicing. This is especially true if you play genres that rely on more of a clean, slightly-overdriven guitar tone.
What makes the GA-SC64 stand out is the fact that the speaker is the result of Eminence’s collaboration with George Allesandro. He’s one of the biggest names in the industry when it comes to hand-wired amplifier solutions.
On the surface, the GA-SC64 is an 8 Ohm speaker with a power rating of 40W and a frequency range of 80Hz to 5.3kHz. It utilizes a paper cone with a 38-oz. Ferrite magnet, with the entire speaker weighing 7.5 pounds.
The GA-SC64 is perfect for blues, country, and classic rock settings. Its low end is especially punchy while its high range delivers a hint of sparkle and twang.
This speaker makes a great alternative to something like the Jensen C12N, especially if the latter is too harsh in the treble. While this speaker can be bright, it’s a tad bit warmer than the Jensen, while still delivering that vintage vibe.
Eminence Swamp Thang
Want an American-voiced speaker that has more presence in the lower midrange? The Eminence Swamp Thang (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is worth a try, especially if you want vintage tones that venture into modern territory.
This 8 Ohm speaker has a massive power rating of 150W, with a dynamic frequency range of 70Hz to 5kHz. It features a paper cone in conjunction with a 59-oz. Ferrite magnet, with the entire speaker weighing 11.1 pounds.
You’ll definitely want to try the Swamp Thang out if you require a massive amount of headroom before the tone begins to saturate. In fact, your tubes will likely saturate before the speaker.
Its tonal focus is fairly balanced, though slightly warmer and with a hint less treble than other vintage-style American speakers. The Swamp Thang is great for classic overdriven tones, though it isn’t the most ideal for heavy distortion, as its midrange can become fairly prominent.
Eminence Texas Heat
Are you somebody who has an affinity for the classic Southern rock and blues tones of the 1970s and 1980s? The Eminence Texas Heat (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a replacement speaker that will have you creating inspired riffs for days.
This speaker has massive headroom, with a power rating of 150W and a frequency ranging from 70Hz to 5kHz. Weighing in at 8.3 pounds, it features a paper cone with a Zurette dust cap and a 38-oz. Ferrite magnet.
Unlike other speakers, the Texas Heat comes in different versions for those with different power requirements. The offerings include models rated for:
- 4 Ohms
- 8 Ohms
- 16 Ohms
In terms of tone, the Texas Heat is quite smooth in its delivery, offering a thick low range and a defined midrange. The speaker omits that piercing high range that can often be found with vintage-style American-voiced speakers.
If you feel like your budget amplifier could use a bit of a makeover, the Texas Heat provides a great solution at a reasonable price. This is a speaker that has performed quite consistently over the years, garnering massive positive acclaim in the guitar community.
What To Look For When Buying A 12-Inch Guitar Speaker
Trying to buy a replacement speaker for your combo amp or speaker cabinet can be a daunting process. If you’ve never gone through this process, there’s a fair chance that you might actually be too afraid to try.
Sure, like anything, there are some things you’ll want to know ahead of time before you spend your money. But these things should never hold you back from attempting a modification.
As long as you keep the following points in mind, you’ll have a fairly easy time finding the right guitar speaker for your rig.
Pay Attention To Impedance
One of the most important things you’ll need to be aware of is the impedance of your amplifier. Getting this wrong could seriously damage your amplifier beyond repair.
Typically, guitar speakers come in both 8 Ohm and 16 Ohm impedances. Some speakers even offer a 4-Ohm impedance.
You’ll be able to find out what impedance your amplifier supports by looking at the back of the amplifier. Usually, there will be some sort of indication as to what the amp supports.
Some speaker cabinets do offer a variable impedance, which can be useful for combining multiple cabinets together. This isn’t always indicative of the impedance you should be looking for.
Perhaps the easiest way to determine the correct impedance is to look at the speaker(s) already in your amp/cabinet. If your amp has 8 Ohm speaker(s), then opt to match and replace the speaker with the same impedance.
By browsing through the speakers above, you probably noticed that all of the speakers have different rates for power handling. Some speakers can handle 25W while others are rated for 150W.
Don’t let this confuse you, as this relates to the overall headroom that the speaker has before it reaches breakup. In other words, a speaker with 150W will not naturally distort unless more than 150W of power is fed to the speaker.
That isn’t to say that you can’t achieve distortion with a guitar pedal. Rather, this specifically relates to the natural distortion quality of the speaker alone.
Generally, the lower the power handling rating, the faster it will distort naturally. None is better than the other, as this primarily depends on your own personal preferences.
Weight & Size
I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s nothing worse than carrying a heavy speaker cabinet up a flight of stairs. But, depending on the speakers you choose, this might not always be avoidable, especially if you’ve found your ideal tone.
What you will need to pay attention to is the actual size of the magnets themselves. Some speaker magnets can be quite thick, and as a result, may not fit in the combo amp/speaker cabinet properly.
Along with that, you will want to pay attention to the mounting brackets as the holes may not line up with the holes used to mount your stock speaker. That’s not to say that a little ingenuity can’t fix things, but ignoring the physical dimensions of the speaker can cause a simple swap to become impossible.
If you’re considering a speaker swap, there’s a good chance that the reason is related to sound and tone. Knowing the differences between speakers and how they sound is crucial to making the most of your time.
It goes without saying, but you should never purchase a speaker without knowing its general sound characteristics.
In the guitar speaker world, there are generally 2 types of main voicings that can be found on the market:
These voicings are related to the sound characteristics of each type of amplifier (either British or American).
British voicings tend to be a bit tighter, with a hint of bite in the midrange. American voicings tend to be a bit more open but with a bit more presence in the treble range.
Along with that, you will need to consider whether you want something modeled after vintage speakers, or something more modern. Again, this comes down to preference.
Do keep in mind that brand-new speakers will need to be broken in to perform at their best. This process can take up to 50 hours or more depending on how you put it through its paces.
If you have a 2×12” or 4×12”, don’t feel like you absolutely have to stick to one type of speaker. Many guitarists have found success in combining different speaker types together in their cabinets.
Before you purchase a guitar speaker, it's important to note that most retailers do not allow returns on speakers. That means, if you don’t like the speaker or it doesn’t fit, you’re stuck with it unless you can sell it yourself.
Because of that, it doesn’t hurt to at least shop around on the used market. This is especially true if you aren’t sure exactly what you want and wish to try out different speakers.
Best Brands For 12-Inch Guitar Speakers
Knowing the best brands when it comes to guitar speakers can help to narrow your search. The following 2 companies are some of the biggest and most well-known brands in this niche.
Celestion is one of the most legendary brands when it comes to guitar speakers and has been in the game since the 1920s. This brand is notable for producing speakers that have become synonymous with the British sound.
Their Greenbacks, Creambacks, and Vintage 30s have all been historically vital on the stage and in the studio.
Eminence is one of the best brands around when it comes to that iconic American amplifier sound. The company offers a massive lineup of different speakers, some of which have ventured into the British sound.
Eminence speakers are excellent solutions when a solid speaker is needed without breaking the bank. Its product line offers enough diversity that allows guitarists to specialize their sound to specific qualities.
Top 12-Inch Guitar Speakers, Final Thoughts
It does sometimes take a little bit of trial and error to find the exact type of response you’re looking for. However, any of the speakers mentioned in this article are excellent starting points, with years of combined experience between guitarists to back their reputation.
Swapping out speakers can provide more of a change in tone than almost any other solution. It’s also reasonably affordable and can help you develop a better understanding of your gear.