It’s official: pairing your guitar’s pickups with your amp’s speaker “like fine wine and cheese” is a thing – find out why it makes all the difference to your tone

Pairing pickups with speakers video
(Image credit: Future)

We are just going to assume that if you are reading this, much of your intellectual energies are expended in the search for better electric guitar tone – agonizing over the best overdrive pedal for your amp, trying to mend the relationship between your wah and fuzz, all that jazz. But have you thought about how your electric guitar pickups are interacting with the speakers in your guitar amp?

You would not be alone if not. But perhaps we should. The good dudes at Mojotone Pickups think so, and sent Justin Cody Fox and Worth Weaver into the studio to shoot an explainer video for GW that might just open up a new front in the battle for perfect tone. 

And when you think about it, of course it matters. There is a direct relationship between the output of your pickups and the speaker’s wattage, ie how much power it can handle.

Gibson PAF pickups

Gibson PAF pickups into a low-wattage speaker will yield more speaker movement, with the speaker exerting more influence on your tone. (Image credit: Future / Adam Gasson)

There are some fundamentals to steer our thinking on the matter – helpful, given that yesterday most of us are consumed with tone quandaries elsewhere on the rig. Fox says that, speaking broadly, a lower-wattage speaker will break up easier, and so if your guitar has a PAF-style humbucker pickup and a 25-watt Greenback, you’re going to get a bit more cone movement and tone from the speaker.

If you swap that Greenback out for a 65-watt Creamback, you are going to hear more of the pickups and the guitar amp than the speaker. It’ll stay out of the way. Those with large pedalboards might want a more efficient speaker for a more transparent sound.

Fox cites Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood rig as the archetypical high-efficiency speaker setup that perfectly pairs with single-coil pickups

“I think he used two Vibro-Verbs and Jackson Browne’s Dumble amp. He used an Altec Lansing 15-inch speaker and he used EV speakers in the Dumble cabs. All the speakers used were super-high effeciency, and so he was putting a lot of volume, a lot of output in his overwound single-coils into a very efficient speaker setup, so a lot of what you are hearing is pure volume.”

All of this matters because it affects the tone. Yeah, good luck getting SRV’s tone at home – there’s just the small matter of being able to manipulate the Fender Stratocaster like one of the greatest blues guitar players ever. No small thing. Also, good luck getting a Dumble to play through. But Fox’s point stands. This high-efficiency speaker rig will pair nicely with a Strat.

“There’s not a lot of speaker movement,” he says. “So what you get out of that is a lot of low-end thump and clarity. And you don’t really have any breakup in the speaker at all.”

Welcome to your next tone rabbit-hole. We hope you enjoy your stay. Check out the video above for more.

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.