Pre-Rola Celestions are generally considered to be the best sounding guitar speakers ever made. They are very collectable due to their association with 1960’s amplifiers (notably Marshall), and the guitar icons that used them back in the day, such as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
However, there is a lot of confusion about what the term pre-Rola actually means, and how we define a speaker as being a pre-Rola.
A common mis-conception debunked
Pre-Rola does not refer to a time when Celestion were “not Rola”.
Way back in 1947 ‘Celestion Ltd’ merged with ‘British Rola Ltd’ and they were called ‘Rola Celestion Ltd’ from then onwards. This was long before any greenback speakers or Celestion branded guitar speakers were ever made.
See here for the full history of Celestion.
So what is a pre-Rola?
A pre-Rola speaker is any Celestion greenback made between Jan 1966 and April 1971. During this period, the greenback labels did not have the word ‘Rola’ written on them, and so guitarists called them ‘pre-Rola’.
The Ipswich address is important to remember on the 1970’s Rola labels, for reasons I will get to a bit further down the page.
The Rola Ipswich labels first appeared in April 1971, so any speakers made after April 1971 are not classed as pre-Rola.
Both the Rola Ipswich and pre-Rola labels can be found on speakers with the ‘DD’ date code for April 71.
After April 1971
Celestion did not change the labels across all speaker models at the same time – it was a gradual transition. Speaker models produced in lower numbers, such as the 8 Ohm models, transitioned much later, some as late as 1975.
Most collectors will not class a speaker made after April 71 as being a true pre-Rola even if it has the pre-Rola label on it.
Celestion were producing speakers at both the Thames Ditton factory and the Ipswich factory from late 1968 to late 1975, so there was no need to stop using the Thames Ditton labels at that time. Maybe the 8 ohm speakers were still being made at Thames Ditton? who knows.
Earlier Rola labels can be differentiated by the Thames Ditton address:
These gold and red labels are actually very rare and were only used for a short period circa 1964 to 1965, they are the first ever greenbacks – before they were green. Very collectable!
Why do pre-Rolas sound better than other greenbacks?
During the whole pre-Rola period Celestion were using cones made by a company called Pulsonic. These are generally considered to be the best sounding guitar speaker cones ever made.
Unfortunately the factory is thought to have burnt down at the end of 1973 and with it went the formula for making those amazing sounding cones. Nobody has replicated them successfully since, though several boutique brands have attempted it, including Celestion themselves.
The good news is that you do not have to pay pre-Rola collector prices to get the Pulsonic sound. Pulsonic cones were actually used by Celestion from mid 1962 to late 1973 – well into Rola Ipswich label period. You might also find the ‘transitional’ pulsonic cones on some creamback speakers made from mid 1974 to mid 1975. These later speakers are less collectable and usually a little cheaper to buy, but will sound just as good.
Where to hear them
I recommend listening to any live recordings made between 1966 and 1971 by Jimi Hendrix, Cream (Eric Clapton), Deep Purple (Ritchie Blackmore), Free (Paul Kossoff), and Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page). This should give you a good grounding in the Celestion pre-Rola sound.
Clones and Reissues
Buying vintage pre-Rola greenbacks can be difficult. Their rarity is part of their appeal to collectors, and when you do finally find a good set without any issues (be very careful buying 40 to 50 year old speakers thesedays), they can be very expensive to buy.
There are several speaker brands that now manufacture their own pre-Rola ‘clones’. All attempting to recreate the old 60’s British sound. Brands worth investigating are Austin Speaker Works (ASW), Tayden, Eminence, Warehouse Guitar Speakers (WGS), and the Weber Legacy series.
Whilst these brands might sound appealing, people often forget that Celestion themselves are still making great speakers. They might not advertise themselves as loudly as some other brands, but I can guarantee you they have some very serious and expensive technology for researching and designing their speakers. As I always say, if you want the Celestion sound, stick with Celestion!
In my opinion the reissues and clones will get you about 80% there, but the genuine vintage speakers still sound superior. The main problem modern speaker manufacturers face is that the old materials, tools and glues are no longer available, and it is those little details combined that created the magic in those old cones.
For a good tonal comparison with some modern day greenbacks I can highly recommend this video by George Metropoulos. Although there are many similar videos on youtube thesedays I still think this recording captures their sound the most accurately and professionally: