Open Back vs Closed Back Guitar Cabinets

Blake Tone Talk

Part 1 of our Cabinet Talk series

It’s a classic conundrum. Many players over the years have debated the merits of guitar cabinet design. The question that is often at the top of the list….

“Should I buy an open back cab or a closed back cab?”

The answer, as with most everything tone related, is “It depends.” Let’s dive into the pros and cons that each version offers.

Open Back
As a general rule, open back and partially open back cabinets have a more airy sound to them. The mids and lows are not as hard hitting or pronounced. The high end is more present and the bass has a looser feel. Some feel that open back cabinets reproduce a guitar more naturally.
Some advantages to open backs are they are generally lighter, they have a small, temporary storage space (for speaker cables mainly), easier access for swapping speakers, and they give you another spot to place a microphone for more recording options.

Closed Back
The closed back sound is a tighter mid and low focused sound. Highs are mildly attenuated and closed backs lean toward a fuller, more powerful sound. Closed also tend to have a bit more projection. Closed back cabinets give a player a more compressed feel and tone. Closed is not to be confused with sealed. Sealed cabinets are used by bass players normally and are a different animal all together.
A big plus from a practical standpoint is that the speaker is more protected from damage. This isn’t a real problem while playing a gig, it’s a danger during transport. A sloppy roadie (or sloshed guitar player) has a better chance at potentially puncturing a speaker in an open back cabinet.

Ok, So which do I want then?
Best way to answer that is to look at what style of music you play, where you play, and if you are talking primarily live shows, or studio time.

The ACDC cover band you play in at Big Bill’s Beer Shack is probably going to be best served by a Marshall style closed back cabinet. By the same logic, your indie, ambient, dance influenced studio project would likely benefit from the options and atmosphere provided by an open back Fenderesque cab.

Using one or the other isn’t going to wreck the feel or tone you are aiming for, but it’s nice to have the right tool for the right job. Most genres that are considered “heavy” (metal, punk, hard rock etc.) will primarily be using closed back guitar cabinets to provide the punchier low end. Where more traditional, less aggressive styles would likely benefit from wider sounds of the open back design.

The System

In closing, it’s important to note that these are generalizations. There have been a great many sparkling tones coaxed out of a closed back cabinet, just as there have been heavy hitters played through open backs.

Your guitar tone is a system. Everything from the strings to the speakers effects your sound in a unique way. The key is knowing what you have (or want) and utilizing it in a way that fits your sonic goals.

Stay tuned for part 2 where we talk about the most baffling part of guitar cabinets!