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Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 1: Bad speaker cab?

So much goes into the sound you get playing guitar. If you want a different sound, where to start?

Back when I owned three single-coil pickup guitars and, one or more humbucker guitars, everything sounded good to me. My primary amp was a mid-1970s Princeton Reverb. Everything has changed. I own different guitars, different amps, and live in a different state. I’ve become dissatisfied with the amplified sounds of my humbucker guitars. So much has changed it has been difficult to diagnose.

My Complaint

My major complaint was the volume from the low strings on my hollow body Eastman AR371ce played through my Quilter mini-101 head and an Earcandy 2×6 cabinet wasn’t balanced to match the other strings. The guitar sounded fine through a ZT Lunchbox. It sounded good through the Quilter going to a different cabinet. There was no problem playing the guitar through my Vox practice amp. 

Although the above was true, I was also getting tired of the dark sound from the humbucker on the Eastman and the neck pickup on my Epiphone 335-Pro. None of this was obvious until I got a Telecaster and heard single coil tones through my amps. The Telecaster sounded great through all combinations.

Thus, so far, this indicated a problem with the Earcandy cabinet that only was apparent with neck humbucker pickups. Yes, the 335-Pro also had the same problem, though not quite as intensely as the Eastman. The “bad” sound was a wolf-tone warble most apparent on the B & C notes played on the 6th or 5th strings. Instead of canceling the frequencies and reducing the volume of the notes, the problem reinforced the notes making them unnaturally louder.

As a retired scientist, I might have approached my next steps more systematically than I did. But as a guitarist at home during Covid times, I was making changes to a lot of my gear. I made changes to the speaker cabinet, swapped the pickup in the Eastman, and changed to a different type of strings. All three of these were improvements.

Speaker Cabinet

My first thought was the two speakers in the cabinet might be the problem and at certain frequencies, they reinforced each other. Note, I was a biologist, not a physicist nor an engineer. An alternate hypothesis was the closed, ported cabinet was causing a problem. Perhaps an open back cabinet would sound better.

Of course, the cabinet was expertly sealed and the back was not coming off without major surgery. But it was easy to remove one of the front-loaded speakers. The only problem is this both reduced the number of speakers and effectively made the cabinet open, though through the front instead of the back. 

Removing a speaker from my Earcandy 2×6 speaker cab

The Eastman sounded good in this configuration. The speakers are 4 ohms, each wired in series for 8 ohms. The Quilter can handle a single 4-ohm speaker, so that was nice. As an experiment, with the front grill off, I clamped a piece of plywood over the removed speaker’s opening. The loud wolf warble returned but was shifted to about E & F on the 5th or 4th strings. Now I was getting somewhere.

I was ready to accept a single 6-inch speaker in an open front cabinet when I discovered some online threads about speaker cabinet problems and fixes. A number of different sources suggested insulating the inside of the cabinet with fiberglass batting. More recent suggestions are to use polyfill batting because it is safer to handle and works just as well. At least one suggested filling the inside with loose polyfill. I didn’t have any batting but, my wife had some inexpensive pillows for her craft projects and allowed me to remove the fill from one for the speaker cabinet.

I replaced the removed speaker after stuffing the polyfill from the pillow into the cabinet. I reassembled everything and tried playing the Eastman through the Quilter and the 2×6 Earcandy cab. It worked. The terrible tone on low B and C was gone.

But, after hearing my Telecaster through all the combinations of amps and speakers I own, I realized I was longing for cleaner tones than I was getting with the stock humbucker pickup on the Eastman. The Epiphone 335 could stand to be brighter and clearer too, but it wasn’t as annoying as the Eastman.

Next in Part 2: Replacing the Eastman hollow body guitar’s pickup.

In this series:

1 … Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 1: Bad speaker cab?

2 … Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 2: A different pickup?

3 … Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 3: Different strings?

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