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A Perfect 10?

by vaughn skow July 02, 2010 5 min read

Would you like a free WGS speaker?  Well, we’re still looking for a winner!!  Whoever correctly names the most amps from blog #1 wins a free WGS speaker!  So, check out blog one and give it your best shot.  We will be giving away a speaker on the Fourth of July (we are, after all a very patriotic bunch).  So far, your odds look very good, so come on troops, hit me with your best shot!!!  Now, on to this week’s blog.  Some of you might have caught my brief review of the WGS American 10’s in the May issue of Vintage Guitar magazine.  I thought you all might be interested in reading the entire, long format review.  I’ll warn ya, it gets pretty in-depth.  Only true tone seekers should continue beyond this point!

Nothing ultimately affects electric guitar tone more than the speaker does.  A speaker swap can completely transform the volume, tone and responsiveness of an amp.  This is especially true in the case of a tube amp, where tubes and speakers share a unique symbiotic relationship. 

I have a real sweet-spot for the ten-inch speaker.  My two favorite amps push air through a quartet of ten-inchers, a 1959 Fender Bassman and a 1967 Super Reverb.  In each case, the speakers are low-wattage alnico transducers.  In a gang of four, these little guys can really deliver the goods.  Big, full, powerful, and yet syrupy-smooth tone to die for.   We all know how amazing four tens can sound, but what about a single ten?

Over the years I’ve drug home nearly every 1-10 tube combo I ran across.  I’m always searching for that mystical, magical, little amp that can easily be carried in one hand, yet can keep up with a full band and deliver the tone of my 4-10 combos.  From 15 watts to 40 watts, vintage and modern, I’ve tried them all.  In every case, that single ten confined to a petite cabinet was the main limiting factor.  As part of my admittedly insane quest, I’ve crammed nearly every ten inch speaker known to man in those poor little unsuspecting combos.  Unfortunately, I never quite obtained my goal. Band-sized aural nirvana, it seemed, just couldn’t be had in a sprite-sized amplifier. 

The dream returned at last summer’sNAMM show in Nashville.  Strolling down the isles, some sweet vintage-looking speakers at the Warehouse Guitar Speakers (WGS) booth caught my eye.  As I fondled the merchandise, a company rep asked if I wanted to hear one in action.  Of course I did, and what I heard in their demo room impressed me greatly.  I plugged into a simple tube amp with a small cabinet, and the sound was huge - just plain perfect, in fact.  The real shocker: inside was a single 10-inch alnico speaker.  Was this the perfect ten I had been searching for?

While technically a “new” company, WGS has a lineage that can be traced back to the glory days of American speaker manufacturing.  They make speakers the old fashioned way, by hand, in Paducah Kentucky.  WGS brand speakers have only been available since 2006, but they have quickly created quite a buzz with their well-regarded line of “British” voiced speakers. The ten that I heard was among the first offerings in their new “American Voiced” line.  I put in my order right away for two of the first units to roll off the line, one Alnico version (G10A) and one Ceramic(G10C).   I had to wait three months for them.  They were worth the wait.

First I decided to see what they could do for a couple of my low-power 1-10 tube combos, an 18-watt Champ II and a 15-watt Pro Junior. Those little amps are pretty sweet sounding in their own right, so the real challenge was to increase their volume and bass response sufficiently to keep up with a full band. Both the Alnico and ceramic versions gave me enough volume increase to accomplish my goal!  The Alnico version has 34 ounces of Alnico protruding out back, so only the ceramic model would fit in the Pro Jr’s tiny cabinet, but in each case, the results were stellar.  Bench test results revealed about a 5dB overall clean volume increase in each amp. The most pronounced improvement, however, was in the bottom end, which saw an incredible 10dB jump in the 200-400Hz range.  These little amps now sound huge.  The low-end is tight, defined, and more voluptuous than seems possible in such a minuscule package.  Both speakers have a decidedly vintage/American sound, very full and balanced.  The big bottom is equaled with shimmering highs that, right out of the box, were smooth and complex, while never sounding the least bit brittle or sterile.  The Alnico’s highs are especially smooth.  The mids are just perfect, very vocal and three-dimensional.  They both also have a fantastic articulation and touch sensitivity that belies their high power rating. With a powder coated frame, seemed paper cone, treated paper surround, and paper dust cap, these speakers look unquestionably vintage - and they sound just like they look, similar to low-wattage vintage American alnico tens.  The difference is that, with 1.5-inch Kapton formers, they are capable of handling about 75 watts RMS - nearly four times that of the vintage models.

My Pignose G40V presented the biggest challenge.  This pint-sized 1-10 combo is an honest-to-goodness 40-watt tube amp sporting a pair of 6L6’s in the power section.  The little piggy sounds quite nice through a good external cab, but I’ve never been able to find a speaker that allowed the amp to purr in its own tiny particle board cabinet.  Stock, this amp sounds awful; any bad adjective you can think of would describe it.  I’ve tried over a dozen speakers in it.  Vintage alnico’s sounded decent, but their lack of efficiency and power handling made them unfit for the job.  A pricey model with a hemp cone warmed the amp up so much that it sounded like it had a thick quilt over it.  Many modern tens were tried; all sounded better than stock, but still thin and sterile in that tone-challenged little box.  I even upgraded the transformers and swapped some caps and resisters here and there, resulting in only a slight improvement in tone.  I was eager to try both the G10A and G10C in this amp; I was optimistic, but I wasn’t holding my breath.  As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. The ceramic sounded great, easily the best I’d ever heard in that amp.  But the alnico, it was perfect.  Smooth sweet highs, syrupy vocal mids, and more tight, defined bass than seemed possible from a single ten in a tiny cabinet.  These are truly amazing speakers.

If you’re looking for a speaker to transform your 1-10 combo into a gigging workhorse, this is it.  The G10A is easily the best sounding ten-inch speaker I’ve ever heard, and if price is a concern, the ceramic version delivers 90% of the goods for a quarter of the price.  With 34- and 38-ounce magnets respectively, they may add a couple pounds to your amp, but it is well worth it.  A final note, I just mounted the WGS tens in my brown Fender 2-10 Super.  Perfection!  I may have to order another pair.  Warehouse Guitar Speakers just might have done it: a perfect ten.

About Vaughn Skow

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