below you will find an interesting article about comparing Marshall cabinets from several ages I found in the German “Gitarre&Bass” (“Guitar&Bass”) magazine, Issue Feb. 2011. Of course it’s not written by me, I simply did the translation of this great article, because I think it’s interesting for us all. I personally don’t have much of a clue when it comes to vintage speakers and vintage cabinets. I’m missing experience here. This article however, is from a professional musician and it’s almost scientific. And its a good basis for a discussion about this topic. I wrote some additional notes in cursive text. Have a nice time reading.
Guitar&Bass 02/2011 article: Soundcheck Marshall 4×12 cabinets
This article deals with the comparison of vintage Marshall cabinets. Reference cabinet however, is a modern 4×12″ handwired cabinet with 4×12″ Heritage G12H Greenbacks.
At first, I carried together several older Marshall cabinets, as much as possible, preferably the ones that are known for their “legendary” tone. Still, the hearing experiences were surprising.
First one was a cabinet from 1966, loaded with G12M Celestions. The box itself seems to be a bit heavier than the new “handwired” one, eventually they used heavier plywood (birch plywood) in the sixties.
All measurements on the new “handwired” box matched exactly the older one. Anyhow, the older box weights some extra kilos. Both cabinets are slanted cabinets, with a half slanted front. Jim Marshall told me (Yes, the author is telling here he spoke personally to Jim Marshall. Franz) that this construction was just for optical reasons. “It just looked better”, the Amp legend says. He did not concern that this construction might affect the phase-layers of the sonic waves emitted from the box.
The straight, non-slanted boxes have a fuller, fatter sound, while the slanted boxes sound thinner, but also more three-dimensional. The emission of the sound waves of the slanted cabinet are less bundled, causing less phase-extermination than the straight, non-slanted cabinet. The bigger angle of sound-wave emitting causes more reflection of sound waves in the room, creating more sound wave reflections, resulting in a more diffuse sound impression.
Mostly, I did not have a choice between the slanted or non-slanted version of a vintage cabinet, especially for the older cabinets, here I was only able to borrow slanted versions. Then I got a Basketweave box from circa 1968 with Celestion G12M 25 Watt speakers, known as the “Holy Grail” for the Marshall adepts. This box was even a bit more heavier than the 1966 box and is equipped with the much sought-after natural mesh. Additionally, I borrowed the same box from circa 1970 with four G12H/55 Hertz speakers with red Tolex. The last box is a very rare 4×12″ from 1963 with G12T Alnico loudspeakers. That should be enough to play around for the beginning.
Now I’m confronted with the hard task to tell you about all that different colours of sound with words. Actual, this is impossible, but I will try so.
Let’s start with the oldest exemplar, the 1963 cabinet with the legendary T652 Alnicos. This box has a very open and almost linear sound. The responsiveness was incredible fast, but less stable that with the ceramic models. To get an overall picture of the tone spectrum I also listed to a CD over all cabinets mentioned here. And this worked best with the Alnico box. Yes, it seems to be made for this. The Alnicos almost sounded like broadband speakers, bringing all frequencies together in a harmonic arrangement, it’s really a joy. With a guitar and my old JTM45 the clean tone was just “to die for”. A real sweet, open tone, exposing even the smallest nuances of your playing technique. No other box transferred the specific tone of different guitars, tubes and pickups so clearly and vehement like this one. A tone like through a microscope. The proverbial “hollow honk” tone, for which a Marshall box is well-known for, is rarely found here. The mids are very low-key, if not to say underexposed. To be correct, this speakers dont put the mids in the foreground, like the latter ceramic models from Celestion. For distorted sounds or fully cranked amps this box is less qualified. But in the clean and crunch sound range this speakers are one-of-a-kind. In spite of the wide opened Highs, the tone was always soft and warm, the English would say “smooth”.
In contrast, the 1966 box offered a totally different tone. The mid spectrum is ruling here. Few bass, few highs, but yet amazingly greasy pure unadulterated “Bluesbreaker-Tone”. Again, the tone is still soft and warm, but represents the mid spectrum so colourful like no other. With a stratocaster, one will get a wooden tone like a violin case. With a Booster or Tubescreamer this box will provide probably the best Lead sound. With higher volumes, things will getting critical, dynamic and attack are missing. In other words: it’s goind muddy. Important to mention: the beautiful pinstripe front cloth is made from some sort of rubber coating, letting the soundwaves only through a small perforation, damping highs and width. So the tone cannot be considered as “open”. In exchange, distorted tone will be cut just where it interferes. The early pinstripe boxes can be heard on all recordings from Eric Clapton with Cream. A real classic.
Even a tad better is the 1968 Basketweave box, which emphasized its legendary reputation right with the first tones. It has all the benefits of the pinstripe model while having a bit more volume, a more open high frequency spectrum and improved dynamic, apparently because of the upgraded 25 watt speakers. (Seems like the Pinstripe cab has 20 Watt speakers? Franz) The Basketweave front also seems to absorb less than the Pinstripe cloth, making the tone fuller and wider. In a combination with a 1969 JMP50 top this box has an absolute perfect tone. It’s barely imagineable that one could create a better Marshall sound. Jeff Beck used excactly this combination in his early days. And Johnny Winter and Rick Derringer on the famous “Johnny Winter Live And” Album. Just listen to the intro chords of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Derringer sounded never as good as there. His solo on “It’s my own fault” is like a sort of Avatar of the good Marshall or Celestion tone for me.
Again a totally different tone has the 1969 4×12″ box with the G12H speakers supposedly loved by Jimi Hendrix (with 55 Hertz and 014 Bass cone). This box is considerably louder, more powerful and more woodenly. It just screams out the chords. It’s a bit like the birth of the “heavy” tone. Even though you didn’t change the amp settings the soft and mid-balanced JMP tone becomes sort of a Godzilla scream. (You’ll duck down to avoid getting hit by that noise). To be honest, with my Les Paul the tone wasn’t attractive but rather brutal. But with a Stratocaster it was a totally different thing. Here you really are in a Hendrix areal with howling and smacking Fuzz-Face sounds, which no other box like this can deliever. If one loves the pedals of the seventies (Fuzz Face or Big Muff), he should watch out for such one box. Only in this combination that legendary pedals seems to come to their full effort.
The current “handwired” box (I think the author means the Marshall MR1960BHW and MR1960AHW here, Franz) was at first like a counterpole to all these legends. It should act like a mirror, releasing all these sounds in a warped and blurred way. Which it did actually, at the first tones, I think. Not bad, but maybe without that distinctive character of the other subjects. So I was astonished that I used this one more and more during the long test period, just for having fun at playing. This box has not the attractive mid spectrum of the Pinstripe box or the compact dynamic of the 1969 g12H box. Also, the enormous clearness is missing, compared to the very old Alnico box. But at the same time, it misses the weakness of the vintage boxes. It just works, and after a long lasting break in phase it works so good, that all of its strengths coming out in a sort of “best of all worlds” manner. The tone is wide, smooth, crisp, fresh and sweet all together. Maybe not as extreme as described for the vintage boxes, but the heritage speakers have an essential advantage: They are new, not old. Some older speakers become exhausted and saggy.
So I could give back all the vintage boxes without sorrow. I am, to be honest, very impressed by the Heritage speakers in the matching Marshall cabinets. You have to give them their time until they are well-rehearsed, but then there is no reason anymore for me to search for some original speakers or fancy serial numbers. My compliment!