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In the beginning, there were combo amps. There wasn’t really a need to specify at the time, so they probably just called them “amps.” Or maybe “amplifiers,” since things were more formal then and people weren’t in such a dang rush. Today, we’d call them combos, because they combine the electronic bits that amplify the instrument’s output and the speaker into one box. But guitarists wanted to be louder.
Through the middle of the 20th century, amplifier power increased, and so did the number of speakers. When a single 10″ or 12″ wasn’t cutting it, combos started to be offered with two or even four speakers to move more air. They became so large and unwieldy that some manufacturers began separating out the electronic part into a standalone head unit, which could be combined with one or more passive speaker cabinets as needed. This “head and cab” approach led to iconic stacks of high-powered amps with two 4×12 cabs, resulting in eight speakers and widespread tinnitus.
This did not, however, completely quench the thirst for volume and tone, and a new breed of speaker cabinet was required.
The idea was rooted in the massive music festivals of the late 1960s, which demanded volume levels beyond anything previously attempted.
Touring bands in the 1970s and 80s started requiring tractor-trailers to haul around their gear as they roamed the countryside in search of tone, and refined the idea in search of auditory enormity.
I am, of course, talking about the 16×2 cab. The fiercest of all speaker configurations. The most massive, ear-bending sound available. The victor and the spoils of the Tone Wars. The Geator with the heater. The boss with the hot sauce. The only megaphone fit for the voice of One Watt of Fury.
Most people will likely ask, “Wait, 16×2? Is that sixteen two-inch speakers? Like the speaker in a Teddy Ruxpin? Surely, that must sound worse than the time Carlos Santana got kicked out of a Jack in the Box for playing his guitar through the drive-thru speaker instead of taking people’s orders?” Fortunately, Dunning∿Kruger Effects operates in the uncanny valley on the continuum between science and magic. The speakers are acoustomechanically coupled, so when actuated, they form an intermodulation network that is capable of sympathetically producing bass frequencies well below the typical psychoauditory threshold.
Wait, no…most of those aren’t words. It’s definitely lacking in low end. I find myself wanting to add something like “although the first thing most engineers do is roll off the bass anyway,” but that would imply that the mids and highs were worth listening to. It also buzzes quite a bit. I would not say that it sounds “good.” I can honestly say that sixteen 2″ speakers sound better than one 2″ speaker (for which I have an odd amount of experience) and it’s shockingly loud for what it is.
The following example is the 16×2, powered by One Watt of Fury and assorted pedals. From my web searches, it seems that professional recording engineers are keeping pretty quiet about how they mic a 16×2 cab, but this recording was done primarily with an EV 635a dynamic omni about 6″ away from the center of the face of the cab, supported by a CAD M177 LDC back about 2′, mixed to taste.