If you are in the market for a new speaker cabinet it is best to know the lingo that the product descriptions use.
Two of the terms you will come across are ‘front loaded’ and ‘rear loaded’ speakers.
How the speakers are mounted in the cabinet sure seems important but how much of a difference does it make?
Front-loading versus back-loading does have some effect on the tone of a cabinet although it is usually considered subtle. You should try both to discover which design fits your style and if you don’t hear a major difference then consider the front-loaded cabinet for easier repair and speaker swapping.
Honestly, I think that there are bigger considerations than how the speakers are mounted.
But they say there’s no such thing as a stupid question so let’s try to figure out some of the advantages and disadvantages of each style.
What are front-loaded guitar speakers?
Before talking about how the speakers are mounted it is necessary to know what they are mounted to.
The baffle is the front board of the cabinet with cutouts for the speakers, and the outer rims of the speakers can be screwed to the front or back of the baffle board.
In regard to sound performance, Celestion touts front-loaded cabinets for their clear, open, and neutral sound, recommending them for clean tones.
However, Diezel Amplification categorizes front-loaded speakers as tight, focused, and great for heavy styles.
Well, that sounds a bit contradictory so…I think it’s best to listen for yourself to decide if front-loaded speakers are right for you.
What are rear-loaded guitar speakers?
Your second choice for speaker mounting is behind the baffle board.
This style allows for a boost in the middle and lower-middle frequencies for a more rounded sound.
Celestion suggests this for robust high-gain tones while Diezel recommends rear-mounted speakers for traditional styles.
Maybe it’s best to just abandon the genre advice and focus on practicality.
What is the difference between front-loading or rear-loading speaker cabinets?
I and many others consider the real difference to be how easy it is to access the speakers in a front-loaded cabinet.
This style has a removable grill cloth that is usually attached with Velcro and the back of the cabinet is sealed.
If you blow one of your speakers and are lucky enough to have a spare, you can remove the grill cloth and you only have to remove the four-speaker bolts to replace it.
And if you are recording and you want to swap speakers to try different tones this is also the way to go.
A rear-mounted cab has a removable back for speaker access.
Since the cabinet has to be very firmly held together this means a lot of screws have to come out before you can get to your speaker, far less convenient.
Now I have repaired a lot of speaker cabinets and I can offer a drawback for each design.
For the front-loaded speaker style, the Velcro that attaches the grill cloth can become smashed or clogged by lint with a lot of travel over the years.
This can lead to the grill cloth not attaching well and falling out sometimes.
For the rear-mounted design, the removable backboard has a lot more potential for loose screws due to vibration and can cause rattling and horrendous noises as the cabinet resonates.
Neither issue is the end of the world and can be fixed but they are worth mentioning.
Should you really worry about how speaker cabinets are loaded?
If you haven’t figured it out by now I can’t honestly say that I have ever noticed a difference in tone between the two styles.
But some people, especially sound engineers, can hear things that I can’t.
And the difference is there: Celestion has a neat graph showing the decibel response over a frequency range for front and rear-mounted speakers.
There is a visible decibel difference between 200-2000 hertz (most guitars have a range of about 80-1400 hertz).
Personally, if everything else was equal, I would opt for front-loaded speakers if I was buying a new cabinet for maintenance reasons.
But it’s always nice to educate yourself about the differences and you can decide if the slight frequency variance is important to you.
Are there any other important features of speaker cabinets?
There are plenty of other factors to consider as well. You can get more bass response with a larger cabinet, or you can try an open back cab design, which fills the room more, rather than just projecting frontwards.
With a rear-mounted speaker cabinet, you could experiment with taking the back off since it is removable.
And swapping the speakers in the cabinet is a popular way to change up the tone too.
Celestion speakers are the most famous but they can be pricey while Eminence has earned a good reputation in recent years and offers pretty good value.
Of course, if you want to swap speakers then that is a reason to check out front-loaded speaker cabs.
But it all comes down to the total package: the cabinet that sounds best to you.
I suggest having some pity on the guys and gals that work for delivery companies and not ordering a mammoth speaker cabinet online.
Instead, support your local music stores and take a good listen (in person) to the speaker cabinets that you are interested in.
Take a friend with you for a second opinion and to judge the sound from close and far away.
The shop will probably let you bring in your own amp to test the speakers with and that way you can hear what fits your style and make an informed decision.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.