Eminence Speakers With Founder Bob Gault— His Only Interview!

In Speakers by admin

Among all of the interviews we’ve had the privilege to conduct on your behalf, there has never been a more palpable sense of historical significance permeating the room than on the day we met Bob Gault, founder of Eminence Speaker Corporation, and his son and current CEO, Rob. The company was founded in Eminence, Kentucky by Gault, a former engineer at Magnavox and CTS (Chicago Telephone Supply) in 1966, with a single commitment for three 18” speakers a day from Ampeg’s Everett Hull.

Today, Eminence is the world’s largest speaker manufacturer, building 10,000 speakers daily with over 5,000 unique designs on file and the capability to custom-design endless variations. Over the years you have undoubtedly heard Eminence speakers in many manufacturers’products, including Fender, Ampeg, Budda, Hartke, Marshall, Matchless, Soldano, Sunn, and SWR, among others. Eminence speakers are readily available to individual players through national distributors, and experienced players and techs have appreciated the affordable quality of Eminence speakers for years. The company has duplicated many of the most revered vintage British and American speaker designs, culminating with the Eminence Legend Series. Yes, you can buy Eminence products for half the cost of more heavily advertised, mass-produced or designer speakers, which leads us to the big question— the one you may be pondering now. “Are Eminence products so reasonably priced because they’re just cheaply built, cheap-sounding speakers?” Hardly… in fact, Eminence is keenly aware of and has deliberately kept pace with the renewed interest in the vintage speaker designs of the past, and they are perfectly capable of designing and building excellent guitar speakers for any application. We know plenty of pros using Eminence speakers today who could afford to spend way more, including a player of some stature with the initials “EC.” However, it would be fair and accurate to state that having been primarily an OEM operation for years, Eminence has worked very hard at improving the efficiency of their manufacturing processes to keep the cost of their products competitive, and in the past 35 years they’ve succeeded while many of their competitors simply disappeared. The happy result for you is a win/win. Bob Gault laughed with disbelief and good-natured amusement when we told him that people were making a living selling 40 year-old reconed speakers manufactured by a company that once came to him for help in solving their quality control problems. And as you read his interview, you’ll understand why we couldn’t resist smiling as Gault recounted the early days at Eminence, including his favorite method for testing new speaker designs. He actually played music through them. Imagine that…

TQR:  Where did you grow up?

Beloit, Ohio.

TQR:  Did you get an engineering degree there?

No… That was after the military. I was in the Navy V5 program to become a pilot. I’d done a lot of flying when I was younger— a neighbor of ours had a Piper Cub that he used to land in a pasture field, and I probably had 200 hours logged in that plane before I was fifteen. I loved flying, but my left eye had slipped a little bit and my vision was 18/20, so they made me a line officer in the Navy. When I got out I went to Ohio State, but my parents had moved to New Jersey and I was no longer considered a resident of the state. My veteran’s benefits didn’t cover my full tuition as a non-resident, so I wound up getting my degree in physics at the University of Georgia. My first job out of school was actually in chemistry.

TQR:  So founding the world’s largest speaker manufacturing company was more or less an accident of fate…

I guess so. At one point Magnavox had closed down the speaker plant in Paducah and I worked for the audio section for about a year until they decided to reopen the old Paducah plant. Their experience with Jensen and Cletron wasn’t that good, and they needed someone who could make their full line of speakers again. Seven of us were asked to go down to Paducah and open the plant. Magnavox gave the plant to CTS, and they didn’t have to pay for it unless they made a profit. I thought it was a stupid deal because they knew nothing about building speakers, and they supplied all of the personnel to get the plant open again. I was running engineering and production for a couple of years. At the time I thought, “Well, if they’d given us the chance, we’d have bought the place.” Under those circumstances, how could you lose? If you made a profit, you paid, and if you didn’t make a profit, you didn’t have to pay anything. We ended 1961 with a little bit of profit, and the next year we did real well, but we had a locked-in customer in Magnavox, too. I would build the speakers in the lab, check them and take them up to Ft. Wayne. Dan Graff and I were good friends, he’d approve them, and I’d go up to purchasing, pick up the purchase order and bring it back. We didn’t have any lost time at all.

Left to right: Bessie Downey, Betty Crabb, Linda Wallace, Mary HAckett, Mary Lee Moore, Faye Brewer, Evelyn Banta, Margie Cooper

TQR:  Were these primarily hi-fi speakers?

Well, I guess you could call them hi-fi… they were nothing like JBL or ElectroVoice construction, with cast baskets or the rest of it.

TQR:  Were they made for televisions?

No, radio and television was another division, but Dan Graff at Magnavox was a big fan of so-called “good sound.” I heard him say once that, “I’m not in the sound business, I’m in the furniture business.”

TQR:  So you were primarily supplying Magnavox for the first year…

Yes, and during the four and half years I was at CTS in Paducah, we went from zero to about $30 million in sales. Quite good— the trouble was that we never saw much of the profit because on the balance sheet, we were paying off the plant, which was a $4 million investment. Anyway, I decided that if I was going to be a prostitute, I was going to be a madam (laughs). Everett Hull (founder of Ampeg) and I were pretty good buddies since we’d been supplying him with speakers at CTS. He wanted to get into 18″ speakers, and he wasn’t satisfied with what he was getting, so he came to me.

I asked him how many speakers he needed, and he said he needed about three a day. He said, “Do you want to make them?” and I said, “Sure.” So with that agreement to build three speakers a day for Ampeg, I quit CTS. I had sources on magnets and plates and all the stuff I needed for assembly, and one of the sales managers at CTS decided he’d had enough, and he wanted to join me. So now what was going to be a $19,000 a year income shrunk to $9,500, and he wanted to bring another guy in because we needed somebody in accounting. I thought, “Now we’re really in trouble.” As it turned out, we went back to Magnavox and they gave us $250,000 which was to be paid back at ten cents a speaker. We found out later that the real reason they did that was to give competition to CTS. They thought they were being pretty shrewd, and they were. We got into a little argument with CTS later on and I threatened to take them to court for violation of the Wright-Patman Act for illegal competition. They were gouging Magnavox because they thought they had a locked-in situation, and they were selling other people the same speaker they were selling to Magnavox for considerably less. CTS was also suing us over a non-compete agreement that was tied to a stock option we’d been given before we quit. We opened the plant, got a lawyer, and they eventually backed away from it, but in one meeting they claimed that I had stolen a lot of blue prints from them and it had almost shut them down. In reality, I didn’t need to steal anything, because I drew most of the original designs myself. I remember thinking, “I’ll draw them even better next time!” We petitioned the court to dissolve CTS as a monopolistic corporation, and I knew the chairman of the board couldn’t stand anybody making comments that would sully the company’s reputation, so they backed off. They said, “Well, OK, but pay us a 10 cent royalty on every speaker.” I told them that if they wanted it, they’d have to take it away from me, and they left us alone.

TQR: And this was at what time?

1966— that’s when we started building speakers here in Eminence.

TQR:  Well, your timing was perfect given what took place during the mid ’60s with the guitar explosion, the British invasion of pop music and the growth of rock & roll. It really couldn’t have been a better time.

Yes, I knew Leo Fender personally, and we had already generated a lot of contacts while we were at Magnavox. Hartley Peavey arrived on the scene about a year before I quit CTS. We started supplying him with speakers almost immediately, and I believe we were his first vendor. He’s done magnificently — 2,300 employees, I don’t know how many plants, a Gulfstream IV aircraft… and he owns it all.

TQR:  He achieved a consistent level of quality at a reasonable price and expanded to meet the needs that existed in the market. Well, you got Eminence cranked up, acquired the handful of employees that you needed, and with $250,000 from Magnavox, I guess you were seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

Yes, getting that money without interest was another nice thing. I would build the speaker samples and take them up to Ft. Wayne just like I’d done at CTS and come back with a purchase order and go into production. We had an inside track, and Magnavox was giving us all the business we could handle, so we didn’t have to beat the bushes too hard.

TQR:  Since Eminence was founded as a company supplying other manufacturers, I’m curious to know how much of your business was driven by unit cost, and how much was driven by the desire to build the best speakers?

Most of it was the bottom line— quality, delivery and price. There were only a few people that got really critical with the speakers we built, like Acoustic Research. They needed high compliance, low resonance, critically-damped speakers for their sealed boxes. With those, you had to do a little work. The other ones… well, we had a lot of cone manufacturers then, but now there aren’t that many cone manufacturers left. In 1966, there were 56 speaker manufacturers that I knew about— Pyle, Quam, Altec, Jensen, JBL, CTS…

TQR:  It was pretty competitive…

It got real tight, and I originally wasn’t going to make anything in the cheap line. We would use cast baskets as soon as we could to compete with JBL and ElectroVoice, because I knew they were screwing the public. You can’t put that kind of money into sound— it’s all in the cosmetics— how it looks. In fact, the production manager with JBL came down here when we started playing with flat wires for the voice coil. He wanted to know how we were doing it, because they were losing 35% or 40% of their voice coils in production.

TQR:  Was that an issue with manufacturing techniques, design, components, or what, exactly?

ElectroVoice wasn’t doing bad, it was more to do with JBL. From what I could tell, it was a design problem. For one thing, they were winding their voice coils on solid mandrels— flat wire on edge— then pushing it off and cutting it up like baloney to make the coil. Then they had to insert the bobbin and use silicon expansion devices to spread them out inside and go through a baking operation to get them to stay there. In doing so, they’d twist, turn, and bend out of round. We started out trying that because everyone said that was the only way to do it. I thought it was totally a dead-end street because it involved too much handling of the coil before it’s really been cooked enough to be rigid when you start inserting bobbins and silicon plugs and pressing them and heating them.

I said the hell with that, and we learned how to make them with a bobbin already on the mandrel, and we wound them that way. It wasn’t that much of an engineering challenge, but JBL said they worked on it three years and they couldn’t wind the coils on the bobbin. I thought, “What’s the difference if you wind them on a bobbin or on a bare mandrel?” If you wind it and it’s vertical wire standing up, why do you want to take it off a mandrel and start doing that other stuff when you can do it right there?

TQR:  So you just showed them how you did it?

Sure. My contention was… we showed some guys from CTS what we were doing and they proceeded to screw it up. I always felt as if whatever we were doing today, we probably wouldn’t be doing the same tomorrow, so look around and take your pictures if you want.

TQR:  You may be amused by what’s happened in the market for vintage speakers— JBL’s, Jensen’s, Celestions… some of them sell today for $250 or more, even reconed. What was the realistic lifespan for those speakers when they were made?

You’re kidding? Well, it depends on where it was used. A car speaker maybe would last four or five years with the sun beating down on it, going from hot to cold. But I’ve seen speakers that have been in homes for thirty years that were playing all right. Even holes punched in the cone won’t necessarily affect the tone all that much. There’s no reason why a speaker shouldn’t last unless it’s out in the atmosphere. We built a bunch of speakers for the steel pier in Atlantic City when it was in its heyday, and they lasted six months. When they came back, it wasn’t the cones that were bad— the zinc-plated frames had rusted. That was just about the time we were making our own paint systems, and we sent up replacements with our apologies. The place burned down before the second bunch ever wore out.

TQR:  We’ve become increasingly aware of the importance some custom manufacturers place on building tighter gaps in speakers, yielding more focused energy and the positive affect this can have on tone. What’s your take on that topic?

It was very important back in the AlNiCo days because a close gap would give you more sensitivity. Since ceramics have a much higher coercive, it’s not that critical. If you’re shooting for 11 kilogauss in a gap, in the old days you had to get down to like 10 mils in/ 12 mils out on a 1.5″ coil to get that kind of flux density and get your sensitivity up. And then it was more important too, because they didn’t have direct-coupled transistor amps or digital amps… power was expensive.

When you were going from a 20W amp to a 100W amp, you were getting down to the bottom of your pocket. And they were heavy, so sensitivity was important. Then along came barium, and subsequently, strontium ferrite magnets. The coercive for AlNiCo is around 400, and around 3,000 with the new material. You could go quite a bit bigger on the gap and not show much change in flux density. That’s a lot more area under the magnet to get that flux density up to a level, but flux sensitivity, or distance, is not that critical. But with the very high compliance, long throw (tighter gaps), you’re asking for trouble. It’s gonna hit the sides. None of those cones and spiders are that uniform that they’re going to maintain a perfect up and down motion, and if they did, it wouldn’t last long.

TQR:  Speakers really take a beating the way they are used today…

Do they still do that psychedelic thing where they pull the strings and put them right up against the speaker?

TQR:  Some people do…

Boy, that really puts the heat into them.

TQR:  Well, a lot of rock and blues players use stomp boxes that dramatically increase gain, which can place a huge load on the speakers. Of course, that was going on in the ‘60s, too. The only thing that takes a bigger beating than the speakers are our ears…

Back in the old building here, we had a group come in from New Jersey— they were going to a gig some place and they stopped by. One of the players was telling me that they were playing one night and a guy comes over and says, “Hey, man, you’re on fire!” Sure enough, the cabinet was on fire. I said, “No kidding— what did you do?” “We took it outside and let it burn.” I apologized, because we had used some urethane coated wire that just wouldn’t take the power, and it would short out. Since then we’d changed it, and I promised to get him some new speakers, and he said, “Oh, we got a bigger hand for the fire than we did for our playing.”

TQR:  Moving on beyond 1966, you were building speakers for which companies?

Today we have over 200 customers, but earlier we built some speakers for Fender, Acoustic Control, Music Man, Ampeg, RCA. Do you remember the big Olsen 15″ speaker? It was a duo cone design that looked like it had a pair of falsies on it. A fellow at RCA wanted us to duplicate that. The cone weighed 75 grams and they wanted everything precision engineered. They paid for it, but they were the exception. We sold an awful lot of organ speakers to Baldwin, and PA speakers… Community was one of our big customers.

TQR:  So you were well beyond building just guitar amp speakers…

Yes, but we did limit ourselves to just building 10’s, 12’s, 15’s and 18’s. The first time we ever made smaller speakers for student amps was for Polytone.

TQR:  Do you have to remagnetize a magnet when you’re reconing an old AlNiCo speaker?

Most of the ceramic and AlNiCo magnets are good forever. If you overload one you might lose something, but unless it’s subjected to a strong demagnetizing field, a magnet is a magnet. Some of the new magnets can’t be demagnetized unless you heat them above the Curie, and I don’t think our speakers have ever reached 500 degrees…

TQR:  Except perhaps that speaker cabinet in New Jersey… When a manufacturer comes to you for a speaker, do they bring specific lab specs or do they ask you to do all of the design work?

Well, you’ll have to ask the current team at Eminence what’s going on today, but when the Thiele-Small parameters became a popular design point for low end, people like Bose were asking specifically for parameters on the low end. It was mainly for woofers— that’s all the Thiele-Small parameter could do for you. If they’re going to use a speaker for PA, you want a lot of mids for good presence, and if you’re talking about guitar, you want solid mids too, and low end and some extension. I’ve never known guitar amp manufacturers to care much about Thiele-Smalls— it’s more important to home hi-fi companies.

TQR:  What are we talking about when you refer to “Thiele-Small parameters?”

Operating characteristics such as DC resistance, resonance, measures of the stiffness of the compliance and the moving mass. From that, you stick it into an equation and it will tell you if it will fit in this box or that box and give you good bass reinforcement. They’ll usually tell you that their box has a specific port size and length of tube. Bose… now they didn’t even tell us what they were going for— they just specified certain parameters.

TQR:  So is it left to you more often than not to design the speaker rather than having the design parameters dictated to you?

The only way you can really do it is by listening to it. I don’t care what the curve looks like… you listen to it, and if it looks beautiful on paper but sounds like hell, what do you want it for?

TQR:  And when you’re listening to it, what’s coming out of it? Test tones?

Well… music is the only thing that works for me.

TQR:  What a concept… so you play recorded music through it?

Yes. Sometimes guitar amplifier manufacturers will send engineers out here and they’ll plug in a guitar and really go. We had this discussion about paper, versus plastic, versus aluminum coil forms. Aluminum came out because of the higher power requirements— they were burning up the paper bobbins that were historically used in speakers. In the vintage stuff, the bobbins were paper, and there was a good reason for that. If you change material from a paper bobbin to a paper cone there’s no problem, but when they went to big amps, that stuff burnt up, so they went to aluminum. But aluminum conducted so much heat up to the cone junction that it burned them out… We measured one coil by the resistance measurement and it was running at 600 degrees. That’s why we had to use polyimide-coated wire, because urethane at 300 degrees is essentially gone, and plain enamel is even worse. It’s the power requirements, and that’s why I think people can get snarled up with the vintage stuff. If you want it to really sound vintage, you have to go back to paper bobbins, smaller tube amps… recover what was there in the first place. Can you tell the difference between tube and transistor amps? Most people can— especially musicians. I took a 12″ of ours over to New Albany one time to replace an ElectroVoice speaker, and the guitar player came up to check it, grabbed the strings on his guitar like he was chokin’ a cat, had all of this feedback going and he said “Alright! That’s the one!” But how could you tell?

TQR:  If you look at speakers that were built in the ‘50s and those that were built yesterday, it really doesn’t look like the technology has changed much… No— the magnets have changed, because AlNiCo got priced out of the field.

TQR:  But you’re still building them— everyone is.

Because they’re vintage… This is what my son brought up the other day. What’s the difference between the magnetic field of AlNiCo magnets and ceramic? There is none. Electromagnets… there are differences. If you ever hear an electromagnet speaker, you can hear the differences that occur when you’re running it with a rated amp into the field coil to get the field up to around 10 kilogauss in the gap. It won’t sound the same as 10 kilogauss in an AlNiCo or ceramic magnet, or any permanent magnet.

TQR:  People are always asking about the differences between the sound of AlNiCo and ceramic magnet speakers.

As far as I can tell, unless there are anomalies between the two speakers, there shouldn’t be any difference. You’d have to put a horrendous amount of current in there to affect the field enough to demag it…

TQR:  It seems to be the consensus among guitar players that the ceramic has a little more top-end…

There is a little difference in the air cavity in the magnet structure, but I don’t think there would be a magnetic difference.

TQR:  But either way, speakers really haven’t changed

I think the thing I miss is seamed cones. They look like they’re cobbled together, but actually, for me— for PA applications especially— that’s a far better cone. Welch, Donal, and RDM totally made seamed cones. The paper engineer at Welch did a hell of a good job with the paper formulation…

TQR:  We’re talking about paper engineers now in the speaker manufacturing business?

Yes, but there aren’t many left anymore. We made molded and seamed cones at Magnavox. NuWay in Chicago is the only company making seamed cones today that I know of. They are the largest producer of spiders in the U.S., and perhaps the entire world. I think they make 85 million spiders a year.

TQR: What is actually made here at Eminence?

We make the plates and the coils. The rest of what we do here is assembly. Ceramic magnets would be a very expensive thing to get into, and to be most efficient we could probably make four times as many magnets as we could use, so what are we going to do with the rest of them? Can’t sell them to our competitors— they wouldn’t buy from us. We could get into motor arcs for automotive, but then that’s all you wind up doing.

TQR:  Over the years you’ve obviously resisted offers to sell Eminence…

Well, we still have some of the original people here that were with us the day we opened. We had a lot of nice people working here and I wasn’t about to throw them out to the wolves. My son was coming along, and I figured, “Why in the hell do I want to sell it if he’s interested?” And he turned out to be interested. We had a bunch of young guys who were energetic, and I felt that the company would do very well. Anyone that bought us wouldn’t have gone along with our philosophy that when we made more money, the employees made more money.

TQR:  That would be viewed as weak and wasteful by some. You didn’t initially expect this to become as big as it did, though, did you?

No. But I got sick and tired of… Have you ever worked with a lot of different people? I didn’t want to work for someone I couldn’t respect, and who didn’t know more than I knew. My experience was pretty sad— some of these guys were two steps removed from an IQ of 5…

TQR:  “Business people” who knew nothing about the specific business you were in?

Yes, and I think if you look at Japan, a lot of the most successful companies like Sony were founded by engineers. Those types of companies do real well until the founders die off and the financial people get a hold of them. When Frank Freiman came over from Hungary in 1933 at sixteen years old, he bid on the sound system for the Chicago World’s Fair, and he got it. Then he didn’t know how he was going to fulfill it, so he went to Magnavox, explained the situation, and they took over his company, which was called Electro Acoustic Products. They supplied him with the wherewithal to install the sound system for the World’s Fair, and by 1937 Magnavox was about to go broke and Frank Freiman reversed the tables and he bought Magnavox. I worked for Magnavox for four and a half years before they shipped me down to Paducah to become a vassal for CTS. In that time, the stock split six times. Frank Freiman had a massive heart attack and died, so they put a financial man in who had no experience in running the place, and in two years they were virtually bankrupt. If it wasn’t for North American Philips, there would be no Magnavox today. When I was moved down to CTS, I was filled with a lot of resentment because there were a bunch of guys that I knew and respected who had been basically replaced by dumb asses. It taught me a lot of negative things about what you shouldn’t do. Everett Hull at Ampeg helped push me in the right direction when he hired me to build three speakers a day, which didn’t take very long, and I had time to do other things while making more money than I had CTS. So it all worked out.

TQR:  Was this business also a passion for you?

Not really. I majored in physics in college, and I always wanted to be a nuclear scientist, but you needed a doctorate degree and I’d gotten married. I was living in New Jersey at the time, and Magnavox had run an ad in The Wall Street Journal, so I applied, and they offered me a job in the audio division working for a really brilliant man by the name of Cy Hoekstra. That man knew it all… Cy was not only a jack of all trades— he was a master of all trades— really very brilliant. He could do anything.

TQR:  When did you leave Eminence?

Well, I still show up once a week or so to see what’s going on. I’m computer illiterate, and I just don’t have any interest in getting deeply into that. Calculators are fine— I can see the practical applications for those, but I see people sitting at a keyboard pounding away for hours and I wonder what they get out of that— quick retrieval?

Speakers

“They always sound best right before they blow.”

—Todd Sharp

Eminence provided us with a generous supply of its Legend Series guitar speakers and all of them proved to be outstanding values for classic American or British tone. But the single characteristic that audibly linked the Legend Series family of speakers was their warmth and punch. Right out of the box, all of our test speakers exhibited excellent power handling properties, clarity and balance, but it was their deep, warm character that set them apart from many speakers we’ve used and enjoyed in the past. Matching the right speaker to a particular amp often requires you to carefully consider the natural character of the amp first, and most builders go to great lengths to find speakers that best compliment the sound of each model of amp they build. This often involves testing that is beyond the reach of the average player, but to the extent that you can take the plunge, changing speakers is one of the easiest and most rewarding “mods” you can easily make. If you aren’t familiar with speaker construction, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn a little about the various components that go into building a speaker, and how and why they may be important to you as a player.

Key working components are shown in the diagram above. When an electrical current passes through a wire coil (the voice coil) in a magnetic field, it produces a force which varies with the current applied. The cone, connected to the voice coil, moves in and out creating waves of high and low air pressure. The coil and magnet assembly are the “motor” structure of the speaker. Movement is controlled by the speaker’s suspension, which comprises the cone surround and spider. The surround and spider allow the coil to move freely along the axis of the magnet’s core (or pole) without touching the sides of the magnetic gap. No lateral movement can occur, otherwise you’ll experience “voice coil rub,” and the undesirable noise that comes with it.

In the past. building good-sounding, durable speakers involved compromises between durability and sensitivity, or power handling and response. As companies like Fender produced increasingly higher numbers of amplifiers each year, durability and unit cost became paramount, and Jensen speakers began to be replaced by Oxford, Utah and CTS in the early ‘60s. Look at many of the speakers in older amps and you’ll see variations such as smooth, ribbed, seamed or seamless cones, round ceramic or square AlNiCo magnets of varying sizes and weights, voice coils ranging from 1″ to as much as 1 3⁄4″ or 2,” unpainted and painted pressed steel baskets, molded steel baskets, and aluminum baskets. None of this matters as much as the sound of the speaker in your amp, but you should be aware of the general importance of voice coil diameter, construction materials and magnet weight as key considerations in the power handling capacity of the speaker. Let’s assume that you’re replacing the speakers in a 40W, 2×12 amp. Conventional wisdom dictates that you use speakers with a minimum combined power rating equal to that of the 40W amp, or, 20W each. Now, it’s still physically possible to blow a speaker rated at even 35W in your 40W amp, but it’s less likely than if you were to use two 20W speakers, so adding a little cushion is wise if you run your amp at high volume, and even more so if you use overdrive pedals at high volume. Have you ever noticed how often 35W reissue Vox AC30’s have had their original blue AlNiCo 15W speakers replaced? Conversely, if you add too much cushion, you’ll lose sensitivity and dynamic response. It’s the heat generated at the apex of the cone that often contributes to speaker failure, and Eminence has addressed this problem by using Kapton™ bobbins for most of the Legend Series voice coils, which help prevent excessive heat from causing thermal failure. With Kapton™ bobbins you may expect greater power handling than a vintage-style paper bobbin in otherwise identical voice coils.

The cone is the most significant contributor to the overall sound of a speaker, and cones can vary widely in terms of weight, strength and density. You’ll recall Bob Gault mentioning the existence of a just few experienced paper engineers still working today… The original paper cones in many plus 30 year-old speakers are perfectly sound, and they can remain so indefinitely. As Ted Weber observed in his interview last year, it’s the glue on the surround holding the cone that often dries up and causes older speakers to fail, but the term “recone” applies to more than just the cone, since the voice coil, surround, dust cap and spider are also replaced when a speaker is reconed. If the wrong parts are used, a reconed speaker will not sound like an unreconed original.

Paper cone response is far too involved to be of any practical value here, but it is helpful to understand that speaker cones vary widely and they do influence the sound of a speaker significantly. Eminence utilizes a broad range of “vintage” cone formulations for its guitar speakers, including British manufactured cones where appropriate. Whether or not a particular speaker is seamed, has a smooth or ribbed cone, and the pattern and number of ribs all contribute to the differences in sound from one speaker to another. Ribbing increases the strength-to-weight ratio— the more ribbing, the more strength relative to the weight of the cone. Ribbing also reduces speaker break up, and less ribbing or none at all will increase break up. A heavy cone usually won’t need ribbing for increased strength. In addition to all of these considerations, there are issues of suspension compliance (everything must move freely without lateral motion) the edge itself, and various cone and edge treatments. The art and science of speaker design is all about getting it just right.

Speaker Reviews

Eminence Legend 151

One of our favorite Eminence Legend speakers is the 151— a 15″ 100W beast with a 2″ voice coil and a whopping 59 oz. magnet. We mounted one in a custom-built Fender blackface-style cabinet built by Gregg Hopkins at Vintage Amp Restoration, and it has become one of our favorite reference speakers. If you think a big 15″ speaker is only good for bass, please think again. This speaker does indeed have some big low end capability, but it also packs plenty of mids, upper mids and highs. It’s one of our favorite speakers to run with a Fender amp (this speaker plus a Pro Reverb = Vibroverb!) and it sounds incredibly good with our 1969 Marshall PA 20 too. Very highly recommended.

Legend GB 128

This 12″ speaker is one of several from the Legend Series that we installed in our blackface Princeton Reverb modified with a 12″ baffle board and a Deluxe Reverb output transformer. (Picture Cue) The GB128 was a perfect match with the gnarly-sweet 6V6 sound of the Princeton, but as we said earlier, the Eminence speakers have a warm character that balances the British midrange growl very nicely, in fact, it’ll spoil you. No worries about blowing the GB128 in a 1×12 combo unless you’re using a Boogie or a Dumble. Great tone, at an unbelievable value.

Legend V12

This is an 80W speaker well-suited for powerful amps and players who appreciate the raw punch of the classic British rock sound. We found this speaker to be more balanced sounding than some of the tight, midrange-heavy British speakers found in Marshall cabs, among others, and it would be a good choice for any high-powered combo or 2×12 or 4×12 cabinet.

Legend 125

The ultimate vintage 50W American design with crisp definition, plenty of clear highs and no particular emphasis on mids, but again, we noted the lush warmth of the low end. The Legend 125 is an excellent choice for players who like the classic tone of an American-made vintage speaker, and it would be a fine choice in virtually any amp or cabinet. We loved this speaker in our Princeton Reverb, and it also matched up well with the GB128 in a 2×12 cabinet.

Nashville guitarist and TQR advisory board member James Pennebaker also participated in our review, and his comments follow.

Pennebaker: I installed the test speakers I received right away, and they were great— great sounding, great for the money, and highly recommended. I put the Legend 102 AlNiCo 4×10’s in my Ampeg VT40 and they were incredible— so much better than the original CTS speakers, much warmer, with all around better frequency response. I used that amp out on the road with Delbert McClinton a month or so ago and it killed! I installed the “British” 12″ (GB128) in my old red and white Flot A Tone amp. The original speaker in this amp is of mysterious origin and has taken a beating. The Legend turned that amp into a beast! I used it on Lee Roy Parnell’s new CD down in Muscle Shoals and everybody was trying to buy it from me.

The other Eminence V12 I put in my re-baffled and modified Fender tweed Vibrolux. It’s killer. All of these speakers were absolutely great. What more could you want? TQ

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