If you’ve ever tried to copy your favourite guitarist’s tone, you quickly learned that the most desired tones come from a complex interaction between all of the parts: strings, pickups, speakers, amplifiers, and anything else that makes its way into the signal chain.
When your tone chasing journey gets underway and you decide to build your own guitar cabinet, the initial excitement of building your own gear can easily give way to being overwhelmed by technical specifications and the amount of choices you have to make. This is especially true if you are used to buying pre-built amps and cabinets and this is your first custom build.
That’s why we put together this guide -- to help you understand the terms you’ll encounter and to point out what you should keep in mind when choosing a speaker for your guitar cabinet, and help you get started in planning your custom cabinet build.
Wattage, Efficiency, and Impedance
Speaker wattage, measured in watts (W), indicates how much power a speaker can handle. A speaker’s wattage does not necessarily determine how loud it will be, because this is also impacted by other factors such as the speaker’s efficiency, which is a measure of how well it can convert power into sound. A lower-efficiency speaker will be quieter than a higher-efficiency speaker when powered by the same amplifier.
The most important thing here is to buy a speaker with a wattage rating equal to or greater than your amp head’s output. If your amp head puts out more power than your speaker can handle, you’re likely to damage the speaker. If you plan to crank your amp to its max output, you might want to choose a speaker with a higher wattage rating than your amp for some buffer.
Beyond basic safety considerations, choosing the right speaker wattage depends on factors such as the intended use of the amp and the genre. A 1 watt amp can deliver some strong rock tones and sound impressively loud in a bedroom or living room, but you’ll need something heftier if you’re jamming with bandmates or touring. And some genres such as jazz and funk value a clean tone, which means they’ll default to higher wattages that can handle a clean tone at high volumes without introducing distortion.
Impedance, measured in ohms, indicates the resistance to the flow of electrical current that a speaker has. An amp will have a minimum impedance, and you need to make sure that your speaker has at least that much impedance. If the speaker impedance is greater than the minimum required by the amp, then you’ll just have to turn the volume up a bit.
For example if your amp has a minimum impedance of 8 ohms, you can use an 8 or 16 ohm speaker without any issues, but you should avoid using a 4 ohm speaker since this would be below the amp’s minimum impedance.
And if you are connecting multiple cabinets to one amp, make sure to read up on how to calculate the total impedance of the cabinets, since these can interact unexpectedly.
At Implicit Audio we offer cab kits for 10” and 12” speakers. Our 10” models are ideal for building a practice amp or for use in a small to medium size living space, delivering a solid sound without taking up too much space.
If you’re playing outside, touring, or jamming with friends (especially if there’s a drummer involved), then you might need something with a bit more presence and power, and that’s where our 12” models come in, as a larger speaker will bring more body and bass into the sound.
Choosing Your Tone
You need to be clear about what you want from your tone before you can find the right speaker. Of course you can learn all sorts of things about frequency response graphs, alnico vs ceramic magnets, magnet weight, and so on. But at the end of the day, what matters is the sound of your tone, so here’s a couple entry points to get you thinking:
- Get inspired by your favourite guitarists and look into what gear they use to get the tones you’ve loved for years.
- Think about what’s missing from your current amp/cabinet. Maybe you want something with a stronger midrange, a brighter top end, or less bass. Or maybe your current speaker doesn’t play well with the distortion from the new pedals in your signal chain.
- Check out speaker manufacturers’ tone guides and charts. These handy pages include recorded clips so you can hear how each speaker sounds with guitars and/or playing styles. Check out the tone guides and charts for Jensen, Eminence, Celestion, Weber, and WGS.
We hope this guide gave you some clarity on what kind of speaker you are looking for and helped you get one step closer to imagining your custom cabinet build!
Once you’ve chosen your speaker and how you want to finish your cabinet, we think you’ll enjoy building your Implicit Audio guitar cabinet kit. There’s a certain delight to building your own gear and getting to personalize it each step of the way. In our experience, it’s hard to stop once you start.