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Greenback Speakers – An Overview
Ceramic speakers (aka ‘greenbacks’) first appear around late 1964 to early 1965. They have a slightly more aggressive tone compared to the alnico magnet speakers. Amp manufacturers switched to ceramic speakers, mainly because they were cheaper than alnicos, but they also proved to be a perfect match for the edgy, over-driven guitar sound that was emerging at the time, think Cream era Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.
The ceramic magnets used on Celestion guitar speakers came in four main sizes. The larger magnets have a higher power handling because they can absorb more heat.
- G12H – Heavy magnet (50oz) – rated 30w or 25w depending when made*
- G12M – Medium magnet (35oz) – 5 watts less power handling than G12H
- G12S – Small magnet (28oz) – 5 watts less power handling than G12M
- G12L – Light magnet (20oz) – 5 watts less power handling than G12S
Generally speaking, the bigger the magnet, the louder and bigger the sound will be. The G12H and G12M speakers are the most popular models.
*Power handling increased by 5 watts around late 1967 due to a change in the design of the voice coils.
Shown below are some of the most commonly found Celestion greenback models from the 1960’s & 1970’s.
Note – the speakers evolved through the years, so any small details shown such as the cone stamps, labels, and magnet covers, may be different depending on when the speaker was made.
T1134 (15 Ohm)
The T1134 model was probably the first ‘G12H’ speaker Celestion ever made.
According to the Celestion log book, it was first introduced in Nov 1964 and has an impedance of 10-12 Ohms. However, all the ones I have seen have been 15 Ohm.
They were mainly used by Selmer, probably as a successor to the T731 alnico, and they were then very quickly superceded by the T1217. So T1134 may have only had a production run of about 12 months or so. As such they are quite a rare speaker model.
They usually have pulsonic cones stamped H1777 or 003 with the welvic doping on both sides of the cone. Rated 25 watt, with the hammered/oyster paint finish to the chassis.
Notice the unusual solder terminals. The lead wires come through a pair of rubber grommets below and then upto the metal solder points above, very few Celestion guitar speakers were made like this. The change in chassis design is probably the only noticable difference between T1217 and T1134. The log book entry for T1217 does confirm this: “as T1134 but with new type pressure housing”.
T1221 (15 Ohm) & T1220 (8 Ohm)
T1221 is Celestion’s most legendary speaker – the classic G12M speaker with the 75Hz cone. Known simply as “the greenback” ever since its reissue in the 80’s.
The T1221 was the stock speaker in Marshall lead guitar 4×12 cabinets (1960 model cabs) from the mid 1960’s up until the late 1970’s and was also used by many other brands at the time. As such it is an absolute classic speaker and can be heard on countless albums. Famously used by Angus Young and an important ingredient in Van Halen’s “brown sound”.
The date of entry into the Celestion log book is 6th May 1966 (see Michael Doyle – ‘History of Marshall’ book – p137), however they were definitely made earlier than this. Marshall were using them in 4×12 cabs by late 1965, and I once owned one dated March 1965.
After a few years of non-production in the 1980’s (what were they thinking?) Celestion re-issued this speaker in the late 1980’s and they are still making them today. Now available as 20w heritage reissue (also re-labelled as EVH), or the standard 25w model.
A popular speaker with classic rock and blues guitarists. The tone is often described as ‘woody’. This is a tighter sounding speaker than the G12H and compresses nicely when pushed hard enough, with a warm and ‘juicy’ sounding mid-range, and a little more character to the tone than the G12H.
Other variants include the T2168, which is the same as the T1221 but without the plastic magnet cover.
The T1221 went through a lot of changes through the years. The first speakers were rated 20w and had no doping at all on the cones, really great sounding speakers and it is very rare to find those first ones nowadays.
Over time Celestion made small changes to the specification, probably to make the speaker more durable. This included; more doping on the cone edge, and increased power handling. As a result the speaker had more warmth and loudness, but at the cost of other desirable traits such as responsiveness and clarity (in my opinion).
T1217 (15 Ohm) & T1234 (8 Ohm)
T1217 is easily the most common G12H model from the 70’s. It was the stock speaker with many UK brands in the 1970’s, such as Orange and Carlsbro, with Marshall being the notable exception.
Very nice sounding speakers – louder than the G12M and more ‘boomy’, but less compressed and more fluid. Strong in the upper mid range.
Note – if you do find a set of T1217 in an old Marshall cab, there is a good chance they are non original, or worse – fakes, especially if they have white Marshall labels on the back.
Similar speakers are the T1862; as T1234 but no plastic cover, and T1279; as T1234 but with the VOX/JMI colouration and label
T1217 was entered into the Celestion log book on 6th May 1966, however I have owned several examples earlier than this, and I know they date back to at least Feb 66 (see photo below). Originally they looked very similar to the T1134 with just the gold Rola Thames Ditton labels on the back, but with the standard solder terminals. The familiar green covers appear very soon after this around March / April 66.
The first T1217’s were rated 25 watts and had welvic doping on both sides of the cone. The doping on the back of the cone was phased out around late 67, roughly the same time the voice coils were upgraded by 5 watts.
T1281 & T1534 (16 Ohm) & T1460 (8 Ohm)
I am including T1281 and T1534 together here because they are basically the same speaker. According to ‘dr.decibel’ at Celestion.com, the T1281 is the Marshall labelled version, and T1534 is the standard Celestion label version. These are the G12H speakers with 55Hz cones.
The T1281 first appears around October 1966, and was an exclusive model to Marshall. They were used in the 100 logo 4×12 cabs (model 1982). It is regarded by many as “the Hendrix speaker” because he can clearly be seen using these cabs in old footage.
Loud and bassy, with the thick sounding lower mids. Also used by countless other pioneering guitarists back in the 60’s such as Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore. The T1281 is probably the most sought after greenback model of them all!
The original T1281 was a 25w speaker with the white voice coil fomer and the pulsonic cone usually stamped ‘SP444’. Like most G12H of the period it also came with the welvic doping on both sides of the cone.
Quite a different sounding speaker to the more commonly seen 30w version made late 67 onwards. They are tighter sounding and less boomy. It is this 25w version that Jimi Hendrix was likely to be using in his iconic tall pinstripe Marshall stacks, most notably during his legendary Monterey performance in June 1967.
Very rare speakers to find in usable condition thesedays. Surprisingly, Celestion have never reissued this classic 25w G12H used by Hendrix. Come on guys!
T1511 (16 Ohm)
T1511 is the 55hz version of the G12M speaker. It was the stock speaker in Marshall bass cabs (model 1935) from around mid 1967 until the very late 1970’s. They were not exclusive to Marshall as I had originally thought, but are pretty rare to find in anything other than Marshall.
Notice the wide band of doping on the front edge of the cone compared with the T1221.
Note – Pre-rola speakers always have 75hz printed on the labels, and this applies to all 55hz speaker models, not just the T1511. Always look for the white ‘102 014’ stamp on the cone and this verifies that it is the 55Hz cone. Only the later ‘Rola Ipswich’ labels have 55hz printed on them.
T1511 was designed for bass but is a popular speaker with guitar players due to the different tonal characteristics compared with the T1221. It has less mid-range, and more of a scooped tone.
This is another classic speaker crying out to be reissued.
T1417 (16 Ohm) & T1416 (8 Ohm)
T1417 is the most commonly found ‘G12S’ model. It was used in various PA cabs and 1×12 combos in the 1970’s, and is apparently dr.decibel’s favourite speaker.
The G12S range are very mis-understood and under-valued speakers in my opinion. They are excellent speakers.
The T1417 is basically the same speaker as the T1221 G12M apart from the 7oz smaller magnet. It has a little less bass, and a little less volume, with a slightly warmer mid range. Ideal for playing at home or smaller venues.
‘Pre-rola’ period speakers can be identified by the small red sticker in the center of the magnet (see first photo).
T1517 is a similar speaker often found in Selmer gear and usually has a G12M sized plastic magnet cover.
T1976 (16 Ohm)
T1976 is a G12H model often found in old Laney supergroup, Laney klipp, and Dan Armstrong cabinets. It has a 75Hz cone but has a silver dust cap and a four ridge spider support.
The four ridge spider is made from a softer material than the 6 ridge spider found on most other guitar speakers. It allows for more cone movement and this results in a louder speaker, with a looser feel.
T1977 (16 Ohm)
Quite a rare speaker model. G12M magnet with the low resonance 444 cone and silver cap. 50Hz bass resonance on the label.
T1886 (16 Ohm)
Quite a scarce G12H model with 55Hz cone and four ridge spider. Usually found in Marshall ‘Artiste’ combo amplifiers from the early 70’s. By the late 70’s they found their way into certain 4×12, and 2×12 Marshall cabs, usually Artiste or bass cabs.
T1886 sounds looser with more fluidity compared to the T1281, perhaps better suited to bass than guitar.
T1871 (8 Ohm)
The T1871 is an 8 Ohm G12M speaker with 55Hz cone, similar to a T1511, but has the softer four ridge spider. Resulting in a more ‘open’ tone and a little more volume. Very nice sounding speakers.
Apparently made as early as 1971, but definitely much more common during blackback era (late 70’s). Probably a speaker designed for Vox, as they seem to turn up in late 70’s AC30’s quite a lot.
T1440 (16 Ohm)
T1440 are probably my favourite Celestion speaker model, partly due to their rarity, but mainly because they just sound so awesome! These are a G12S model with 55Hz cone, and have just a thin band of doping at the cone edge.
They are punchy sounding speakers, with tight bass and clear highs, without the warmth and strong mids of the T1417. Try a pair of these with a 20w or 18w amp and crank that sucker!
‘Pre-rola’ period speakers usually come with a G12M magnet cover and the label ammended with a little red ‘S’ sticker. Another example of Celestion being short of labels during the 60’s.
A similar model is the T1449 which is basically the same speaker as far as I can tell. The Celestion log book entry for T1449 mentions a change in the doping, but having owned both models I could not see or hear a difference between them.
T2115 (8 Ohm)
An 8 ohm G12H model with silver dust cap and 75Hz cone. Often found in front loading ‘Maine’ cabinets and combos. Most commonly found as blackbacks from the late 70’s, and as such the cone is typically the ‘1777’ stamped Kurt Mueller.
T2114 is a similar speaker with an M sized magnet.