I’ve always maintained that the single most important swap that makes a clear and notable difference in tone is changing the speaker in your amplifier or cabinet.
I know the very idea of changing a speaker seems so elaborate because most guitarists are conditioned (or swayed) to constantly change simpler components such as pickups and cables, strings, hardware and bridges, amps and even effect pedals in order to upgrade their tone. But—perhaps naively—guitarists often woefully neglect the only audible voice of their tone: the guitar speaker.
Don’t get me wrong, finding the right speaker can be an elusive and somewhat expensive journey, but I can tell you I’ve recently come across two 12-inch guitar speakers from Celestion, the Cream and the Neo Creamback, which have dynamically supercharged my tone for the better. Both speakers are sonically different, with the Cream having more of a vintage-focused character and the Neo Creamback having a punchier and highly detailed voice that’s tailor made for rock and metal. Depending upon your application, both are outstanding replacements speakers if you want to take charge of your tone.
FEATURES The newer of the two is the Neo Creamback, which is available in eight- or 16-ohm impedance, has a 65-watt power rating and covers the 75-to-5,000 Hz frequency range. Its most noticeable feature is its employment of a neodymium magnet, making it super lightweight at 4.2 pounds, but preserving all the tonal characteristics of the Celestion G12M Creamback, which it’s based upon and which is almost four pounds heavier because of its ceramic magnet.
The Cream is a beautiful 12–inch speaker with a creamy retro paint job, but its tonal magic comes from its pure Alnico magnet. The speaker is available in eight- or 16-ohm impedance, has a whopping 90-watt power rating for incredible headroom and also covers the 75-to-5,000 Hz frequency range like the Neo Creamback. However, for all its good tone, it is a heavier speaker clocking in at 9.3 pounds.
PERFORMANCE I spent a lot of time swapping both speakers in my open-back, custom Baltic birch ply cabinet, which has incredible musicality and a huge sound that belies its 1×12 stature. I began with the Neo Creamback, only because the speaker I had been using up until this point was a Celestion G12M Creamback (which I love), so this made the most sense in hearing whether the Neo sounds similar at half the weight and with a different magnet. Using a Les Paul and a Tele, and Marshall and Vox heads, the Neo came very close to replicating the growl and focused vocal-like midrange of the ceramic Creamback. I would venture to say the sound is more transparent, with a high-definition top end that is sweetly compressed. It handles low end with remarkable clarity and fullness, especially if you use a lot of amp distortion or high-gain pedals.
There’s little doubt the Cream is the more vintage-styled speaker but with so much more application and responsiveness. I found that the Cream loves pedal-based rigs, and because of its expansive headroom and higher wattage, it adds spacious dimension with delays and reverbs. With some overdrive, it responds with warm bell-like highs, articulately sweet midrange and a firmer bottom end that is structured rather than being mushy, which an Alnico magnet is sometimes guilty of. The Cream is by far Celestion’s most organic and expressive Alnico speaker that sounds like it’s been broken in for decades.
STREET PRICES: Neo Creamback, $169.99; Cream, $299 MANUFACTURER: Celestion, celestion.com
● The Neo Creamback has the entire frequency spectrum and Celestion “growl” of their flagship Creamback G12M speaker but at half the weight. ● The Celestion Cream is a superbly voiced Alnico speaker with an enormous 90 watts of headroom and bell-like tone.
THE BOTTOM LINE The Celestion Cream is an incredibly detailed speaker that rings with warm vintage chime, while the lightweight Neo Creamback delivers high-definition response and punchy hard rock tones.
Pete Townshend (The Who) “Pinball Wizard” Tommy (1969)
Featured on the 1969 rock opera album Tommy, "Pinball Wizard"'s iconic acoustic introduction was inspired by a master. According to legend (and the gurus at wikipedia):
In late 1968 or early 1969, when the Who played a rough assembly of their new album to critic Nik Cohn, Cohn gave a lukewarm reaction.
Following this, Townshend, as Tommy's principal composer, discussed the album with Cohn and concluded that, to lighten the load of the rock opera's heavy spiritual overtones (Townshend had recently become deeply interested in the teachings of Meher Baba), the title character, a "deaf, dumb and blind" boy, should also be particularly good at a certain game. Knowing Cohn was an avid pinball fan, Townshend suggested that Tommy would play pinball. The song "Pinball Wizard" was written and recorded almost immediately.
Townsend shares, “The chordal structure for the intro was inspired by [English Baroque composer] Henry Purcell, who did this very short piece called ‘Symphony Upon One Note.’
"It’s a very plaintive piece, almost like the [20th-century U.S. composer] Samuel Barber composition ‘Adagio for Strings’—only the Purcell piece was written in 1600 or something. A single bowed note runs throughout that whole piece. I found that a stunning thing to call upon while I was in the process of writing ‘Pinball Wizard.’
"I analyzed every single chord in the piece and found ways to play them on guitar.”
Here's the Who performing "Pinball Wizard" live in Atlanta in 1989.
From the GW archive: Portions of this story originally appeared in the February/March 2005 issue of Guitar World Acoustic.