John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. He is a former automatic-transmission repairer, welder, and hobbyist game developer.
A decent guitar cab is essential to any good rig. Sure, guitar and the amp are critical to the sound, but you can have the best guitar/amp set up in the world, it’ll still sound poor running through your PC speakers, or something similarly unsuitable.
The thing is, guitar cabs can be expensive. For what is essentially just a speaker in a wooden box, you can end up paying a lot of money. Of course there’s more to it than that, but the simplicity of what a guitar cab is means that it’s a very doable home DIY project for many. Not to mention it can be considerably cheaper than a comparable store-bought cab.
So let’s look at how to make one.
The first step along your road to DIY guitar cab greatness is, of course, choosing your materials. There are a few things to consider when deciding what to build your cab out of.
Price is obviously one. As with most things in life, the more you’re prepared to spend, the better you’re likely to get, but you don’t need to remortgage your home to make a good cab. Things like MDF and plywood are much cheaper than, say, solid pine, or birch, but they’re also less pleasing to the eye, not as good acoustically, and not as strong. That being said, the wood you use will have less effect on the sound of your cab than the design does (unlike a guitar). And though weaker than hardwood, MDF or plywood should be fine for a simple cab, as long as you’re not planning on submerging it in water.
The next thing to consider is the final look you’re going for. If, for example, you would like a varnished wood finish, you certainly don’t want to use composite wood, such as MDF. On the other hand, if you’re planning on wrapping your cab in tolex, leather, or fabric, it doesn’t really matter what material you use from a cosmetic standpoint—nobody will see it. Painting is a bit of a weird middle-ground between varnishing and wrapping. Visually you should be fine with either composite or hardwood, so long as you sand it nice and smooth before you paint.
One final thing to consider is how much you want to spend on accoutrements. Things like carry handles, corner protectors, and feet. If you are using a hardwood, you can probably get away without using corner protectors, whereas composite wood really needs those vulnerable edges protected. Similarly, hardwood should be strong enough to support a simple leather strap for carrying your cab, whereas, with composite, you’d be better off going with inset side handles to spread the load more and eliminate the risk of the handle breaking off when carried.
Design Your Cab
The design is largely up to you. You could make a plain cube with a hole in the front. You could be adventurous with some sloping edges. You could stick with a safe, black colour-scheme, or you could get extravagant with multiple colours. When it comes to how the cab looks, it’s very much down to your own personal preference. Sure, if you’re planning on making and selling guitar cabs, you’re going to want to make something that other people will be interested in owning, not just yourself. But that’s a different article for someone with more experience than I.
There are some things that need to be observed if your cab is going to work as well as it can, however.
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One of the most important things you need to ensure when designing and building your own guitar cab is that the structure of the cab is strong. By “strong,” I don’t mean it should be able to withstand the weight of a small car, but rather that the structure should be solid and have no loose or vibrating parts.
One of the worst things you can have in a guitar cab is flimsy design that allows vibrations to occur when sound is being pumped through it. This can lead to most unsatisfactory sound. And, as you can probably appreciate, saving a lot of money by making your own DIY guitar cab isn’t really a benefit if the guitar cab sounds rubbish.
Okay, a plain guitar cab doesn’t have a much in the way of electronic components to worry about, but those few that it does have, you need to get right. This aspect of cab-building begins with the speaker. If you’re building a cab the size of an average 4x12, you need to ensure the speakers you put in it are up to the task. Nobody needs a 4x12 cab if they’re only running a little 5W practice amp, and the capacity of speaker you put in your cab should reflect that.
By the same token, the wiring you use to get from your input jack to your speaker needs to be up to spec for the signal you will be putting through it. Speaker wire is relatively cheap, so it’s fine to go a bit overkill with the rating of yours. Just don’t use wiring that is rated for less than your speakers.
As far as the input jack itself goes, the most important thing is to ensure the connection between the wire and the jack is solid. Sure, you can plump up the extra cash for fancy gold connection and expensive brands, but ultimately a basic jack for a few pounds will likely sound just as good if wired properly.
Open or Closed
Possibly the most important design decision you’ll have to make with regards to the actual construction of the cab is whether to go with a closed or open back design. Both are perfectly acceptable guitar cab designs, but both offer differences in the tone produced that you’ll need to consider.
Open backs (which generally aren’t completely open) are better at filling a room. That is, they will fill a space with sound much more completely than a closed back cab, which just projects sound forwards. They also provide additional options for mic’ing the cab when recording. Placing a mic at the rear of the cab can give you a very different sound to a mic at the front. One final advantage to an open back cab is that, if you’re playing a smaller live gig where perhaps monitoring is not an option, your drummer will be able to hear you far better than with a closed back. Assuming the drummer is behind you, of course.
Obviously all of the above can be reversed for closed backs. They have a more directional sound quality, you can only mic them in the front, and they don’t really fill up a room in the same way that an open back does. Whether those are negatives depends on the use case. There are many cases in recording situations where a closed back cab is preferable.
The real matter of preference lies in the tone itself. Close back cabs tend to have more low end. If you’re after a bit of a bassier sound to your guitar, perhaps closed back is the way to go.
As the writer, I’m making the assumption that if you’re reading this article your interest in cab-making is more of a hobby than a desire to start your own company selling cabs. If I’m right in that assumption, then the final piece of advice I will give is don’t take it too seriously. Have fun, don’t worry if it’s not perfect.
You can always have another go...