With the return of my Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb pedal to its original spot. on my pedal board, I was looking forward to playing again. I generally like the warmth some hall reverb adds to my guitar signal and some songs call for some great spring reverb, both of which are achievable with the Holy Grail pedal. However, I have always used my Holy Grail Reverb with my Vox AD50VT amp and not with my new Frenzel Champ Super Sportster amp and home made 1×12 speaker cabinet (with a Celestion Vintage 30 for you guitar geeks keeping track).
So Friday I played guitar. I had finished a big milestone in my preparations for my fencing instructor exam and had the day off from work, so I completely relaxed. The kids were playing nicely upstairs. My wife was out and about. Everything lined up. So I played. And unlike last week, it felt great. I wasn’t particularly good, but I wasn’t particularly bad. However, I found that I really had to dial down any reverb to the point of almost nonexistence. The amp just sounded better without the reverb effect. I tried multiple pre-amp and pick up configurations, but it was pretty consistent. It sounded muddy and to heavy on the bass or muddy and to spacey and far away. The only time the reverb effect seemed to add some real value was when I played something with my ModTone Vintage Analog Delay on too. It really woke up the delayed sound and created more depth (if that word can be used to describe it after being so overused) for the repeats beyond what the plain delay created.
Anyway, it bugged me. Why didn’t it sound as good? I usually like reverb to make the guitar sound more alive. But this had the opposite effect to my ears. I finished playing and felt better overall, but perplexed with the reverb effect and why I had turned it off well before finishing my playing. That night I just happened to read “All About Speaker Cabinets” by Dave Hunter in Guitar Player magazine. He said:
The cabinets in 1950s tweed and 1960s blackface Fender amps were made from glued, finger-jointed solid-wood boards, usually of yellow pine, red cedar, or a similar sturdy softwood. This element contributes a warm, round, slightly soft resonance to the sound of the speaker itself. It’s a factor that can be somewhat unpredictable, too, but when it comes off right, it becomes a big part of an amp’s voice. The ’50s Fenders in particular had thin, “floating” plywood baffles mounted in these cabs—which is to say the baffles were bolted in at their four corners only (with extra bolts center top and center bottom in the big amps), rather than firmly all across all four sides. When such an amp is cranked up, this floating baffle vibrates considerably, and it contributes its own resonance to the sonic brew.
Using quality plywood and more rigid construction techniques—which often include a fully secured baffle—creates a stiffer cab in which the wood itself contributes less resonance. This was the Marshall and Vox standard. Numerous top-notch boutique makers use plywood cabs these days (usually made from high-grade, 11-ply Baltic birch ply or similar) in order to produce consistent and predicable results in a punchy, powerful speaker cabinet. The stiffer box allows the speaker to project its sound a little more immediately—and to retain its own character while doing so—and is often the choice of amp makers who want to favor muscle, articulation, and a quick response more than a compressed and somewhat velvety vintage tone. Decent “firm” cabs have even been constructed from MDF and particle board—although these are typically considered low-budget options.
Upon reading this, I had my a-ha moment. Perhaps what I originally used the Holy Grail Reverb for was to help my mdf/particle board/closed back/secured baffle Vox AD50VT amp have a more “velvety vintage tone.” Now that I have the white pine (sturdy softwood)/open back/floating 1/2 inch birch ply baffle 1×12 speaker cabinet, I don’t need the Holy Grail Reverb to achieve that “velvety vintage tone.” It comes with the old 50’s and 60’s style speaker cabinet I built.
I am very curious now to build the 2×12 closed back speaker cabinet I have been planning. I will be wiring two 16 ohm speakers in parallel (which should “dampen and restrain each other somewhat, yielding a slightly tighter response, and a smoother breakup” according to Mr. Hunter). I want to compare and contrast that with my current 1×12 open back! I’m also curious how playing different styles of music are impacted by the choice of speaker cabinet. If I play hard rock or punk stuff, should I use the closed back cab? If I play blues or softer rock, should I use the open back cab? Or is it the other way around? Or does it depend on the guitar? What about the song? Can I actually play songs well enough to tell a difference? Will I need to practice more? Am I happier? Fascinating!