Replace your old PA loudspeakers
Published in PM February 2009
People + Opinion : Cooper's Column
Beat the recession! Grow your own vegetables! Turnip wine — the drink of champions! For the past few months even the heavyweight press has been beset with articles telling us how to get through the recession unscathed. Never one to let the side down, I too sat down in the early days of the New Year intending to add a few thoughts of my own, gleaned from a lifetime spent as the natural successor to Ebenezer Scrooge. Boiling guitar strings to get you through one last gig? A thousand and one uses for bubblewrap (beyond giving your drummer something to play with for a few blissful hours on a long journey)? In the end, what I came up with was a return to a theme I've touched on before and, while it may not thrill equipment manufacturers, it still amazes me that more don't do it — re-speakering their existing gear. The difference you can make to an old but solid PA enclosure was first brought home to me some years ago by the UK's Electro-Voice distributor who, at the time, was quite active at selling chassis loudspeakers. It was he who patiently went through the maths with me (no task for the faint-hearted), showing how an otherwise conventionally dull box from an average manufacturer could be turned into something quite considerably louder and far better sounding, by the simple expedient of replacing the original speakers fitted by the manufacturer who, as he rightly pointed out, was always working to a price.
Back then, several of the major speaker manufacturers (I recall Fane, Eminence and Celestion in particular) offered a lot of practical advice on either re-speakering existing cabs or, even better, building your own. Having fewer creative woodworking skills than the average death-watch beetle, that latter option isn't one I've ever considered, though I do realise that, providing you have some rudimentary ability, building an enclosure out of decent-quality ply really doesn't call for a PhD. Choosing the speakers does take a bit of skill but, again, the speaker makers are more than happy to help, most of them offering detailed specification application sheets and many being only too willing to talk you through the options. So, time to rip those nasty old blue Celestions out of your tatty '63 AC30 and get down to business? Well, not quite, and with guitar amps in particular, it pays to be cautious. While with a PA box, what you are usually looking to do is improve clarity and loudness, with a guitar cab, you are fiddling with a key ingredient in the holy elixir of tone. Bass, on the other hand, is a lot more receptive to the treatment, and the difference that can be made by swapping a not-very-special 15-inch speaker for something like a B&C or an E-V has to be heard to be believed. As I say, I'd be cautious with a guitar enclosure, unless a retailer gave you a sale or return option, but for PA, bass or acoustic instrument amplification, I wouldn't hesitate to give it a go. In fact, I'd even go so far as to deliberately seek out sound, old enclosures with an eye to refurbishing them to my auditory tastes. By the end of the project I may actually have spent more than a new Chinese-made box — but certainly not one fitted with the quality of speakers I'd have chosen! And next month, it's 'knit your own Les Paul!'
Gary Cooper is one of the seminal figures of British music journalism. He was editor of the UK's first magazine for rock musicians, Beat Instrumental, and founded Music UK, Sound Engineer and In Tune magazines. Today, he is a freelance journalist and consultant specialising in the technical and business aspects of the music industry.
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Published in PM February 2009
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