Celestion 12s - the Dino Benchmark

By inmyhands

If there’s any one brand of guitar speaker that has helped define Dinosaur tone it would be Celestion. From the beginnings of Dino Rock in the mid to late60s up to the present day the Celestion brand has created the drivers behind the grill cloths badged with the names of amp manufacturers guitarists have grown to identify with. From the early days of the 15 watt AlNiCo Blue and 20 watt Greenback through multiple offerings continuing to the present day Celestion has graced the stage of Rock Guitarists.

Today, the Celestion 12" speaker remains the choice of more Dinosaur players than any other brand available. You find them in more Dinosaur cabs than any other brand or size of speaker. It is truly the benchmark of the genre.

This article is just my take on many of the Celestion 12” models being offered today. It is just a starting point or a tool to assist a buyer in making a choice. It certainly isn’t an attempt to make their choice for them. For more on these speakers, check out Celestion's Web site.

Rick

Like many companies Celestion has created different series / groupings of speakers based on quality and price range. It would make for a long list indeed to include every model. Also, as I’ve not played all of their models or listened to others use them I can’t evaluate what I have no experience with. The ones I am familiar with are listed below.

Celestion 12" Speaker Models

G12M (Greenback) Heritage G12M Heritage G12-65
G12H Anniversary
Heritage G12H Vintage 30
Classic Lead 80 G12T-75 G12K-100
Celestion Blue Celestion Gold  

Other 12” Celestions that have been brought up from time to time like the two Century models, (neodymium magnets), the EVH, (Heritage G12M with EVH logo already covered in the list above), and their lower end “original” series, (Rocket 50, Super 65, G12T Hot 100, Seventy 80) won’t be included. I don’t use them and have never played them or listened to anyone else play them. *exception…the deodymium magnet models were briefly tried out but failed to make any impression on me with the very limited exposure. I just wasn’t impressed.

Celestion Blue

15 watts. AlNiCo magnet. 8 or 15 ohm. Frequency range 75 to 5000 Hz. Resonance Frequency 75 Hz. Sensitivity 100 dB.

I believe the Celestion Blue is probably the oldest model still being issued. Originally designed in the late 50’s, used by VOX in their AC15 / AC30 amps and heard on recordings from The Beatles to Brad Paisey to Brian May, etc.

It’s not really used as much for Dino music as most of the other models because of its AlNiCo magnet design. AlNiCo magnets produce a more compressed tone than Ceramic models. The attack is somewhat subdued. More chime than edge. A full bodied voicing with a vocal high end. The tone is very much of a bell type. While Brian May uses them to great effect I don’t think that the modern variant of Dino guitarist would choose this model. I believe they would consider it too smooth, not crunchy enough, and probably miss the instant attack of Ceramic models. It’s voicing might be too sweet by today’s standards. No devilish snarl. Very Angels harp. Plus, the 15 watt rating really puts a big constraint on players who swear by their 100 watt amps.

I love playing old blues pieces through this model with an amp that really pushes it. I’m just always worried that if you push it to hard it’ll blow. I like to go to the local music store that has the higher end VOX AC30 model in the quiet room. The Celestion Blues really sound good in that amp. Oh. Bring earplugs. The freakin’ thing is loud and the top end feels like it wants to eat your eardrums for lunch. Top

Celestion Gold

50 watts. AlNiCo magnet. 8 or 15 ohm. Frequency range 75 to 5000 Hz. Resonance Frequency 75 Hz. Sensitivity 100 dB.

The Celestion Gold is an attempt to address the issue of the Blue's 15 watt power handling issue. The Gold is meant to be a 50 watt version of the same speaker and it comes close. Blue purists will certainly hear a difference because by increasing the power rating they, in my opinion, changed it focus more to a midrange character. Even smoother or more reserved at the high end the Gold just has an overall darker sound to it. I’ve heard it used for both jazz and blues as well as country. The Celestion site says that Danny Spitz of Anthrax uses this speaker, but, I don’t know if it’s his primary model. While I like it’s full rich body I don’t hear the same amount of harmonics or overtones as in the 15 watt Blue. Also, to me, the added compression moves the tone further away from Dino territory so that, even though it will handle the wattage of a powerful amp I just don’t see a lot of Dino Guitarists going for this model either. Top

G12M (Greenback)

25 watts, 8 or 16 ohm. Frequency range 75 to 5000 Hz.. Resonance Frequency 75 Hz.. Sensitivity 98 dB.

A classic Dino speaker that you'd often find in old Marshall 4x12 cabs. This one belongs in DinosaurLand. The 35 oz. Ceramic magnet provides that quick response to your pick attack. Rated at 25 watts handling, (you do have to be careful with this model), it’s great with a 50 or 60 watt head and Marshall puts four of them in their 1960AC / BC, 1960AX / BX, and 1960TV extension cabinets which you quite often see mated up with a 100 watt head. Obviously this works, (and to great effect), but you still might see a speaker go poofif you start overdriving the front end of the amp with Ballsy gain pedals.

When it comes to super crunch tones the Greenback is a go to model. Very punchy. It adds a voice all it’s own to lead work. It’s not as bright as the Classic Lead 80 model. It’s frequency response is not as smooth or flat like a Vintage 30. It doesn’t have the nuts of the G12H models. Instead it offers a bump in the upper mids, (to my ears), with both less highs and lows than some of the other models. I’ve heard them referred to as sounding woody, but, to me a better word would be gutsy. They produce a very in-your-face type of sound. They can be quite nasty if you want them to be. I don’t think the 25 watt model creams up as well as the earlier 20 watt model, but, these don’t blow as easily or as often either. A big plus when you’re on stage. With a sensitivity of 98 dB they may not be as loud as some of their brothers, but, they can carry their share of the hearing loss for those in the front rows.

This truly is one of the classic standards for Dino amps and every Dinosaur should give them a shot. To some they won’t be smooth enough or controllable enough to fit that players needs. To others they’ll be like putting the audience’s ball sack on an anvil and invoking Thor’s hammer through their axe. Top

Heritage Series G12M

Rated at only 20 watts, it carries a 35 oz. Ceramic magnet. 8 or 15 ohm. Frequency range 75 to 5000 Hz.. Resonance Frequency 75 Hz.. Sensitivity 96 dB.

The Heritage Series is Celestions vintage reissue series. The G12M, like any product produced over a long period of time, had to undergo changes in design or parts as some components reached quantities too limited or too expensive for the manufacturer’sbudget. To keep prices in line with what consumers were willing to pay some adjustments to the product had to be made. The Heritage Series G12M is a higher cost and price option that Celestion now offers to those willing to spend the bread to get the Greenback back to it’s original specs and original parts makeup.

If your budget allows, these are, in my opinion, a big step up from the G12M Greenback just covered above. While retaining their ability for cruchy rhythms the Heritage version really changes the way this speaker handles single notes. Lead lines. It’s like; play multiple notes together and get a nasty / crunchy / mean sound. Then, using the same speaker, you jump into a very rich, full, nicely balanced lead tone. Highly articulate at both ends of the frequency range, but, in the midrange it kind of sounds like a male voice singing. It’s a pleasingly mild shade of dark that really makes for an emotional tone. It would be very hard to describe if EVH hadn’t used the original 60’s versions of the G12M that the Heritage Series G12M recreates. This is the Celestion speaker model that, used in conjunction with the rest of Ed’s gear, produced the Brown Sound that almost any guitarist can instantly recognize and relate to. This model, along with the Heritage Series G12H, (now think about Jimi’s amp cabs at outdoor concerts around 67 or 68), are probably my two favorite speakers that Celestion, (or anyone for that matter), makes today. Top

Classic Lead 80

80 watts. 50 oz. Ceramic magnet. 8 or 16 ohm. Frequency range 80 to 5000 Hz.. Resonance Frequency 85 Hz.. Sensitivity 99 dB.

The Classic Lead 80 originates in the 1970s. Also of note, this is the Celestion model that Mesa offers a 90 watt version of under the oem label of the “Black Shadow Custom 90”. The Mesa version, along with the extra 10 watts of power handling, has been said to have more low end, but, having heard and played both, if it’s there I don’t hear it. If anything tonally is different I hear it as more note definition / articulation in the Classic Lead 80 and a small bit more thunder at the very bottom of the bass range of the Custom 90. Both possess powerful upper bass frequencies..

OK. I really like this speaker. It’s just different from most of Celestions offering’s. If you heard it in a cabinet model you were unfamiliar with I would almost bet that you would guess wrong or question whether are not you were hearing Celestions or something else. To my ears this is like a mix of early 70’s Marshall type Celestion tone from the center mids down and Fane (another great British speaker found in Hiwatt amps) tone from the center mids up. It’s got a type of voicing that’s ok-to-decent for chording but excellent for leads. Not exactly a one trick pony as it can do almost any type of lead solo well, but, probably not the model a player would choose for Jimi, SRV, Robin Trower, etc. where you need a speaker that can handle leads and rhythm equally well. For someone who’s the designated lead player in a dual guitarist band format the Classic Lead 80 would be a great choice to play against the 2nd guitarists Greenbacks or G12T-75s. They’re not really voiced quite as loud as Vintage 30s or G12Hs. That’s why I paired them with the ones I did. Their lead tone would stand out as strongly different from all four of the others mentioned. Not necessarily better. It would just provide a good separation of voicings between the two guitarists. It would open things up a bit. Top

G12T-75

35 oz. Ceramic magnet. 8 or 16 ohm, (16 ohm in the Marshalls). Frequency range 80 to 5000 Hz.. Resonance Frequency 85 Hz.. Sensitivity 97 dB.

If you go into any music store and check out the Marshall 2X12 1922 or 1936 or their standard 4X12 cab, (the 1960 A / B), the drivers inside the cabs will be Celestions G12T-75. 75 watts.

This is a speaker with many supporters and detractors. One the one hand, if your going for a very modern high gain crunch tone or own the standard Marshall 4X12 cab your probably standing at the bar with the supporters. If you want a speaker to produce excellent tones when played at low volumes or warm and clean or smooth without an edge to it’s delivery and also handle high gain duties then your probably sitting at a table with the rest of the detractors. To my ears, if I’m just going to be playing higher gain rhythms with a few backing / dual lead parts, this speaker will do just fine. Used in that capacity it’s darn good at what it does. But, because I play so many different styles of music I don’t run the G12T-75s in any of my cabinets now. Their cleans, (especially with a Tele), effect my ears the same way driving a knife in there would. Strats are doable. Les Pauls and the like definitely work best if you’re playing clean with the G12T-75. It tends to brighten the Pauls tone some, but, that’s not really a bad thing to some ears. Also, and again this is just my opinion -- if I had to give its voicing a characterization I would use the word generic. It works. It’s the store brand of whatever. Or, to be fair, it’s not, in my opinion, down with the Celestion lower end Original series. In fact, I prefer it over Celestions neodymium magnet models. The G12T-75s might sound generic, but, to my ears, the G12 Century and G12 Century Vintage sound operating room sterile.

Anyway, most of us have all gone into a Guitar Center or Sam Ash on a Saturday and heard the Wanna-be Guitar Gods just chopping their asses off through a Marshall head atop a 1960 cab. That’s it then. If you leave the store with a craving for more of the same, this is the perfect speaker for you. Top

G12K-100

50 oz, Ceramic magnet. Available only in 8 ohm configuration. Frequency range 80 to 5500 Hz. Resonance Frequency 85 Hz.. Sensitivity 99 dB.

First off, of all the speakers I’m reviewing here, this is the model I’ve had the least amount of experience with. I’ve tried them out in a 4X12 Orange cab, (I think they’re standard in that cab), at a local boutique music store and, from Celestion’s website, I understand that Slayer’s Kerry King plays through this model. 100 watt.

Well, personally, not my cup of tea. When I played them through the Orange cab they sounded like a slightly less crunchy version of the G12T-75. I just used the amps gain, (the salesman said they really need a good distortion pedal to come into their own), and just felt kind of ok with the sound. I doubt this speaker will ever garner the high praise that many other Celestions have been awarded over the years. On the plus side it’ll handle the power of your local electrical plant and giggle like a little girl. I don’t think you could hurt it without the use of a screwdriver. I guess if you were playing to a crowd of a million people at a festival that forgot to install aP.A. system you might be happy to have them loaded in your cab.

I’m not saying they produced a bad sound. I guess they just sounded like a run of the mill basic driver. They added little or no coloration to the voicing of the guitar / amp being used. I realize that in some high wattage Mesa or Hiwatt amp models this is considered a good thing, but, if that’s what I’m going for I know of other brands that can do it better. So. If your one of those people who seem to break everything you lay your hands on, this is the perfect speaker for you. Top

Vintage 30

60 watt, (70 watt in the version Marshall uses). 50 oz. Ceramic magnet. 8 or 16 ohm.. Frequency range 70 to 5000 Hz.. Resonance Frequency 75 Hz.. Sensitivity 100 dB.

Note: Despite the confusing name, this speaker is neither vintage, nor a 30 watt speaker! It is not the 30 watt speaker found in so many early, great-sounding Marshall cabs (the original G12H) -- nor is it the reissue of that speaker (that's the G12H Anniversary). This is a 60 watt speaker Celestion came up with in the mid 80’s. It is, however, a great speaker and a modern Dino classic.

OK. I’m doing this one next. I wanted a speaker I could feel extremely positive about. One of those It’s all good write ups. This lady can handle it.

If there’s one other Celestion speaker that’s garnered a following the way the Greenback has it would be the Vintage 30. Where the Greenback is crunchy the Vintage 30 is smooth. Where the Greenback gives that recognizable bump in the mids the Vintage 30 has one of the flattest curves available. Low bass, high bass, lower, middle, and high mids, right on through the high end. Very, very even. Everything sounds equal. Nothing overpowers or drowns out anything else. Whatever your ears are looking for all the way across the frequency band you will find easily.

This is the model Marshall uses in it’s Vintage 4X12 cab. For that matter, it seems to have become the speaker of choice for the majority of amp manufacturers. It’s found in the Engl standard 4X12, the Fender Super-Sonic, the Mesa Boogie Rectifier, Stiletto, and Roadster cabs, models by Crate and many others.

For harmonics and overtones it comes close to the G12H. For super solos it’s as good or better than the Classic Lead 80. It sounds great whether it’splayed clean or pumped up. At sixty watts it makes for a great set of drivers in 4X12 cabs with 100 watt heads. If it's not the best Celestion it’s at least one of their best. Some folks, Slash for example, swear by them. I use them in some of my cabs and I love the way it sounds in my Mesa F-30 combo. Top

G12H (Anniversary)

30 watts. 50 oz.. Ceramic magnet. 8 or 16 ohm. Frequency range 75 to 5000 Hz.. Resonance Frequency 85 Hz.. Sensitivity 100 db.

Another outstanding model from Celestion, an updated version of a Dino classic. This is the more modern version of the speaker that replaced the Greenback in Marshall cabs in the late 60’s. 30 watts vs. the Greenbacks 25 watts. Much louder than the Greenback and able to withstand more of the punishment that players in the late 60’s were putting their speakers through. This was the time period when boosters and Fuzz pedals really started to catch on. Greenbacks were getting blown at all the big outdoor concerts and this was the answer Celestion came up with. Oddly, it obviously wasn’t an attempt to replicate the Greenbacks tone because it’s quite a different animal. Where the Greenback was a crunchy little monster the G12H was much smoother. It lacked the edge and bark of the Greenback but added one of the most buttery, overtone filled midranges of any 12” speaker I, (at least), have ever come across. The tone just has all kinds of things going on. Beautiful harmonics. A deep rich bass. Rather than crunchy think thunky. It could produce a real pile driver kind of sound.

The G12H, (and it’s darker and even richer brother the Heritage Series G12H), is my absolute favorite speaker for use with neck pickups. Damn. Whether Fender style singles or P-90s or PAFs or any type of neck humbucker, the G12H is my first choice. When it comes to rich overtones nothing I’ve ever played sounds as complex as the G12H. Man, you put a set of these in your cabinet and your going to hear shit coming out of there that you didn’t even know was in there. If you’re someone who doesn’t like your speakers to color your sound then these are not the speakers for you. These add color to the point of becoming as mesmerizing to the artist as they are to the audience. Top

Heritage Series G12H

30 watts. 50 oz. Ceramic magnet. 8 or 15 ohm. Frequency range 55 to 5000 Hz. Resonance Frequency 55 Hz. Sensitivity 100 dB.

This is the Heritage model of the G12H that’s made to the original specs of what is probably the classic Dino speaker. It uses the same parts, etc. as it was built in the late 60’s. Of note* Two versions were produced in the late 60’s. One for guitar cabs and one for bass cabs. Another oddity in how things work out, the bass version became the favorite of lead guitar players of the time. It had a fuller, darker tone that went great with Fuzz pedals and sounded almost ethereal with reverb. Very spacey, which, of course, fit the time period perfectly.

I have this model in a front ported Ear Candy cab and absolutely love it. For the trippy sounds of my youth nothing else reproduces aural flashbacks that just send me through the ceiling. Now. Because it always comes up. How does it compare to the G12H (Anniversary). Well, it depends on what your looking for. The Anniversary model is brighter and a bit more articulate. The Heritage model is darker with richer overtones. The Anniversary would probably be a better match for music from 1980 to present day. The Heritage is far better for the more classic rock tones from the late 60’s on through the 70’s. It’s just a matter of what you like. The G12H, (in one form or the other), will satisfy virtually any guitarist. For Heavy Metal, I would pick the Anniversary for the lead solos and the Heritage for the monster chugging of the rhythm guitar. I do think the Heritage is the better of the two for solos on the neck pickup and for long sustaining notes while the Anniversary sounds a bit better for bridge pickup solos and a more striking attack.

Personally, the G12H is my favorite Celestion speaker. Top

Heritage Series G12-65

65 watt. 35 oz. Ceramic magnet. 8 or 15 ohm. Frequency range 80 to 5000 Hz. Resonance Frequency 85 Hz. Sensitivity 97 dB.

This is the newest member of Celestion’s Heritage line of speakers. It shares in the replacement for the Greenback lineage but, in this case Celestion attepted to reproduce the tonal qualities of the Greenback in a speaker with a higher wattage handling capability.

What are you going to do with the boys. The Greenback was and is the Greenback. One nice thing about the Celestion's never give up is that while they keep failing in the exact goals of this endeavor they do come up with some nice speakers along the way.

Ok. What’s different about the G12-65 tonewise? Well, first off, to me the top end sounds both brighter and crisper, while the midrange doesn’t seem as crunchy as a Greenback. The G12-65 also sounds more controllable. More civil. Easier to tame. Again, these aren’t necessarily bad things. Just different. It tends to sound better in the hands of players who don’t have the skill level to wrestle a Greenback into submission. The bottom end also sounds a bit starker than the Greenback. More open. The Greenback sounds tight but full at the bottom. I can see why players looking for something similar to the tone of a Greenback but easier to get a smoother lead tone would prefer the G12-65. I gotta give it that. With more than twice the power handling capability and a simpler tone structure to navigate through it has many pleasing qualities that many players would prefer over the Greenback.

I’m old. I’d still pick the Greenback, but, I’m not you.

Well, that pretty much wraps it up. I don’t claim to be right in my opinions and if yours are different than mine I hope you weren’t offended. We all hear things differently and what’s pleasing to me might not be your cup of tea. You should always look for an opportunity to check different types of speakers out yourself before deciding to buy. I look at reviews as food for thought. The reviewer felt this or that way and gave his opinions and impressions as to why. His taste in music is somewhat revealed in his writing so I at least have a handle on how he hears things. And I've tried to keep the Dino perspective while doing so. Top