Before we begin, let’s just get this out of the way: yes, guitar cabinets make a difference, especially when it comes to open back vs closed back cabinets.
In fact, they make such a difference that we highly recommend reading this guide to open back vs closed back guitar cabinets before purchasing one, as your sound, style and whether you’re using digital modellers (Kemper, Line 6 etc.), will make all the difference. Something we’ve covered in our
The world of guitar amplification and guitar gear is filled with so many choices. You have a million guitars to choose from, a million pedals and so many different amplifiers that all contribute to the sound you want to get to.
The design of your guitar cabinet, specifically whether it’s open back or closed back, plays such a significant role in shaping your guitar’s tone, yet most people don’t even realise that the amp they’re playing may not be the sound they’re looking for, especially if you’re using a digital modeller or running a digital guitar rig. Something which we’ve covered in our benefits of FRFR cabinets article.
So, in this open back vs closed back cabinets explanation, we’ll delve into the differences between closed-back and open-back guitar cabinets, their impact on your sound, and how to choose the right one for you. We’ll skip past the tonewoods though, because that’s an entirely different blog in itself.
Editor’s note: As always, when it comes to music there are no rules, so feel free to experiment, but these are the most widely respected “rules” when it comes to guitar cabs.
A guitar cabinet, or cab, is essentially a box containing the speaker or speakers that pump out the sound of your amp. The two main types of guitar cabinets are open-back and closed-back, each offering a distinct tonal character that different guitarists tend to prefer. If you have a combo amplifier, you have the amplifier, the actual part that generates sound with the controls as well as speakers attached (AMP) but if you have an amplifier head, you just have the controls and amp, no speakers (AMP). If you just have a head, you need a guitar cabinet to hear it, unless you’re going straight into a DAW with something like the LA-Studio.
Below is a picture of the Laney Lionheart L20T-212 – a 20-watt Parallel, Single-Ended, Class ‘A’ all-tube combo amplifier with an open back design.
Again, the guitar cabinet is an integral part of your sound and its design significantly influences the way you hear your guitar and amplifier – more so than changing tubes.
Just like solid state vs tube amps it’s an important choice to make!
Open back cabinets, as the name suggests, have an open rear panel, or partially open rear panel that exposes the rear of the speakers with upper and lower panels covering the electronics. Open back cabs have been designed to let the sound be pushed out from the front and back, with some sound spill escaping from the sides of the cabinet.
With open back cabinets, you get more of a room-filling, ambient sound that fills all the available stage space that many players feel provides a more natural representation of your guitar’s tone – perfect if you’ve spent thousands on a decent guitar! With open-back guitar cabs, the high frequencies are more prominent and present and you “feel” the amp more, while the low end tends to feel looser and again, fills the room.
A major benefit of an open back guitar cab is the sound dispersion as an open back guitar cabinet provides a multi-directional sound, which fills more space around it. This is noticeable onstage, and in the studio – especially useful if you use a mic for room recordings too.
This wash of sound on stage can be pretty helpful, especially if you’re not using stage monitors. In the studio, open-back cabinets offer excellent options for microphone placement, providing a rich soundscape that can be captured using multiple microphones – you’ll often see engineers mic up the back, front and use a room mic to capture the quality of the cabinet.
There aren’t really any major downsides or cons to open back cabs – it’s just preference. Technically the open nature of open back cabinets can lead to sound spillage onstage, making it a bit more challenging for live sound engineers to control the ambient sound if there are multiple musicians onstage. It’s less of a direct sound, which is not ideal if you’re a metal or high-gain player when you want that tightness and chug. There is also a slight loss in the midrange frequency, as it’s not reflected and can escape, but if you have the mids control on your amp, just turn it up and you’ll be fine.
Fortunately, Laney amps are renowned for their exceptional midrange frequencies – part of the reason why Billy Corgan and Tony Iommi love Laney amps so much – you get the heaviness AND the detail!
However – don’t worry about sound loss or room ambience too much on stage – any sound engineer worth their salt will know how to deal with it. The main thing you need to worry about is how it sounds to you. Again, if you’re a metal player and you like the sound of an open-back cabinet – then good for you!
I’ve used open back cabinets for my entire musical career, and I’ve never had a problem with them in terms of a sound spill or lack of detail in my experience, just adjust your settings on the amp to suit.
Closed back cabinets fully enclose the speakers so you can’t see them, and they project the sound solely from the front without any spill from the back. The sound coming from your speakers that travels backwards hits the rear of the cabinet and is reflected forward so you hear more of the midrange which is ideal for distorted guitars. This is why most metal bands and certainly anyone using a digital setup with FRFR speaker cabs use closed back cabinets.
The closed-back design results in a more focused, punchy tone with crisper definition and a lot more “chug”. The sound is way more directional, which can make it slightly harder to hear on stage unless you’re directly in front. However, this increased directionality is great for sound engineers as they can easily control the sound without dealing with the ambient ‘wash’ produced by an open back cabinet and there’s less spill into the other mics on stage.
One of the key benefits of a closed back cabinet is that they tend to have less of the natural ambience that open backs do, but they make up for it with a more direct, laser focussed sound with plenty more “chug” and midrange detail that many metal and hard rock guitarists prefer, especially those who play with higher levels of gain. Less spill also makes it easier for sound engineers to control onstage, which is a bonus for everyone.
They are also better for FRFR cabinet users and digital modelling amplifier setups as you don’t need a guitar cabinet sound, you just need a flat response to let your CabSim or IR sound shine.
There’s no real downsides or negative aspects to a closed back, it’s just personal preference. But one of the sound differences, which might be noticeable if you’ve just made the transition from open back, is that you’ll find that there’s not a great deal of natural ambience with a closed back speaker cab. Closed back cabs can be a little harder to hear onstage if you move around as the sound is more directional due to the speakers and back panel forcing the sound to only come out of the front. However, if you’re just standing in one place – you’ll not only be fine but love the roar of an amp firing right at you.
I have to say, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it just comes down to what sounds better to you! In my experience, you can really enjoy the focused sound of a closed back when you need to hear yourself onstage or want a tighter sound from distortion.
In summary, the main difference between open-back and closed-back guitar cabinets is that open-back guitar cabinets have an open section in the back, where you can literally see the speakers. Closed-back guitar cabinets completely enclose the speakers. Closed-back cabs provide a tighter sound as the sound can only go forward, and open-back can provide a more open, slightly washier sound as the sound escapes through the front, back and sides.
Our resident tone wizard and creative mind behind some of Laney’s most well-respected amplifiers , Simon Fraser-Clark sums it up perfectly:
“With a closed back, like the Lionheart, Supergroup, LFR and Laney GS range of cabinets, you get more punch and chug and more of that midrange frequency that guitarists covet – it’s where the detail is. When the sound of your guitar travels backwards on a closed back, it hits the rear of the cabinet and is instantly reflected forward by the rear panel, so you hear more midrange which is best for distorted guitars where you need the detail.
Open backs like the CUB 212 cabinets and Lionheart combo amps tend to be less midrange-heavy, as the midrange content isn’t reflected via the back panel and escapes backwards. However, the option is still there to EQ them back in.”
Sound-wise closed back cabinets offer more punch and “chug” with more midrange power. Open-back cabinets, however, tend to have less natural midrange frequency as the midrange frequencies aren’t reflected within the cabinet but instead escape from the back.
The sound that travels backwards inside a closed back cabinet hits the rear and is reflected forward, enhancing the midrange. This makes closed-back cabinets ideal for distorted guitar tones when you need detail.
Open back cabinets let the sound travel backwards. The general consensus is that open back cabinets provide a more open natural sound, with slightly less detail.
In the digital realm, especially when using FRFR or the Laney LFR cabinets the concept of open back vs closed back is slightly different.
When creating a cabinet impulse response that is featured on the likes of an IR or CabSim, a digital representation of the cabinet’s sound, it’s vital that internal cabinet reflections are reduced so you’re not influencing the sound of the Cabsim or Cabinet Impulse response.
With the Laney LFR cabinets, which are FRFR cabs, we make sure to use highly effective damping within the cabinet, creating what could be described as the “deadest of dead cabinets.” This approach ensures the most accurate representation of the cabinet’s sound, free from confusing signals caused by internal reflections.
As Simon puts it:
“We have very effective damping within the LFR cabinets so we don’t confuse the signal which has already been modelled via your Line 6, Kemper or Torpedo CabSims. The deadest of dead cabinets give you the most accurate representation of your CabSim.”
The Laney Cub-Super CUB-212 is an open backed 2 x 12 Cabinet that is lightweight and easy to transport. Although they’re from the CUB amplifier series, they make an ideal partner for any Laney guitar head. This open back cabinet delivers pure vintage tone in a small format and can be used in either landscape or portrait depending on how you want to hear it and is the perfect partner to the CUB-SUPERTOP amp head. Within this awesome open back cabinet are 2 custom voiced HH drivers. These drivers/speakers feature enormously detailed and complex overtones, a warm low-end, a rich vocal mid-range and a beautifully detailed top-end so you hear every aspect of your guitar and any FX pedals you choose to use!
The Laney LA412 4 x 12″ Celestion G12H loaded cabinet is a closed back cab from the Laney Supergroup series and an authentic replica of the original LA412 cabinet used by Tony Iommi for the Black Sabbath recordings and tours up until 1979. A quick glance at the list of Laney Supergroup players shows you just how well-respected this amp series is in the music industry.
You have marine grade birch ply for tonal quality, and the straight, single angle 4 x 12” cabinet is loaded with four Celestion G12H 75Hz drivers/speakers built in the UK using the same parts and specification of the Celestion drivers around at the end of the 60’s and early 70’s. If you want a powerful, vintage tone, you’ll love this. Perfectly paired with the Laney Supergroup heads such as the Laney LA-Studio, Laney LA100SM as used by Billy Corgan and the Laney LA30BL.
The Laney LT212 is loaded with 2 x Celestion G12H 70th Anniversary drivers/speakers picked especially to deliver the great range of clean, crisp, dynamic and open guitar tones associated with high-quality tube amps, in particular the Lionheart range.
The built-in kickstand allows you to lean the cabinet back so you can angle it up towards your ears and hear it better onstage!
If you run a digital guitar rig, then you need an FRFR cab designed to give you the most precise sound possible. The Laney LFR-212 closed back speaker cabinet is a powerful full-range flat response (FRFR) powered cabinet that gives you plenty of options if you need to run a digital rig. Loaded with a pair of vertically spaced, custom-voiced 12” drivers/speakers and a 1” LaVoce Compression driver the LFR-212 delivers detailed, precise, full range response with no unwanted colouring which is ideal if you have cab simulators running from your digital rig. It’s also got a built-in LED light!!! How cool is that?!
The main benefit of an angled cab, like the Laney Supergroup LA212, is that you can hear it better onstage as the speakers point up towards your face! Straight cabs point towards your body or legs where you won’t hear them as much. There’s also some feedback control as the sound from the top speakers is directed upwards and not straight into the guitar pickups, so it reduces the chance of feedback occurring, especially at high volumes.
When it comes to angled vs straight cabs, there is a difference in sound, but mainly how you hear it when playing it, less so when recording. Some guitarists, myself included, like to angle their cabinets up towards them. The reason for this is when you angle your amp speakers up towards you, you can hear it better onstage, as it’s not just firing sound at your legs. The Laney LT212 has this ability thanks to a built-in stand that lets you lean it back.
An angled cab, usually in a 4×12” setup has the top two speakers angled upward, whereas a straight cab has all the speakers pointing straight forward. Most guitarists feel that a straight cab also has a larger volume and slightly deeper bass, hence why you’ll see some guitar players, have a bottom 4×12 straight and top 4×12 with angled speakers at the top. It’s the best of both worlds.
Whether you’re an experienced, road-weary guitarist or a beginner, understanding the impact of your guitar cabinet on your sound will help you in the long run. Open back and closed back cabinets each offer unique tonal characteristics that can significantly shape your guitar’s sound and by exploring and experimenting with these options, you can find the perfect match for you. But always remember, there’s no right or wrong answers or “best” option, and if you’re like me, it’s good to have both on hand in case you want different sounds. Also, if you want to know whether you need a smaller guitar cabinet or the benefits of 1×12 vs 2×12 guitar cabs, read our other articles!
Open back guitar cabinets have an open section in the back, where you can see the speakers. Closed back guitar cabinets completely enclose the speakers. Sound-wise closed back cabinets offer more punch and “chug” with more midrange punch. The sound that travels backwards inside the cabinet hits the rear and is reflected forward, enhancing the midrange. This makes closed-back cabinets ideal for distorted guitar tones.
On the other hand, open-back cabinets tend to have less midrange as the midrange frequencies aren’t reflected within the cabinet but instead escape from the back, resulting in a clearer, more open natural sound. Fortunately, Laney amps are known for the exceptional focus on midrange, so you’re covered if you use a Laney amp.
Yes, guitar cabinets do make a significant difference when it comes to Open Back vs Closed Back. The type of cabinet, whether it’s open back or closed back, influences the directionality, tonality, and presence of the sound.
Open back cabinets Like the CUB-212 tend to produce a more ambient and natural sound, while closed back cabinets like the Laney Supergroup LA412 provide a laser-like focused sound with a lot more punch as there is no way for the sound to escape except forward. The choice between the two, as always, depends on your personal preference and what sounds better to you.
Open back cabinets might be better for you if you prefer a more ambient, natural sound for rock or blues, while closed back cabinets could be your choice if you’re after a more focused, punchy tone for heavy rock or metal. However if you run a digital rig and want to preserve the sound of CabSims or IR loaders with an FRFR speaker, the Laney LFR series cabinets are your absolute best choice, providing crystal clear sound without any colouring. The choice between open back vs closed back cabinets will always come down to personal preference and the specific sound you’re aiming for.
Just try out different types of cabinets and trust your ears – what you prefer is always the right choice. Experiment with both open back and closed back cabinets, and see which one you like the sound of better.