In my opinion, as well as the opinions of many others, speakers are THE most important part of the signal chain when it comes to your tone. You could have the greatest guitar, pickups, amp, and pedals in the world but if your speakers aren’t any good your tone will never be what you want it to be.
Enjoy the following article from Brian’s Harding’s website, Bygone Tones, on Pre-Rola Greenbacks Explained. This is part 1 of the article so if you want to read part 2 just go to his website. If you have any questions about vintage speakers or want to get some, feel free to email Brian as he’s always been very gracious to answer questions I have.
You can visit Bygone Tones at www.bygonetones.com
Pre-Rola Greenbacks Explained- Part 1
So What is a pre-Rola?
Pre-Rola Celestions are generally considered to be the best sounding guitar speakers ever made. Furthermore, they are very collectable due to their history and association with old 60’s amplifiers (Marshall in particular) and hundreds of guitar icons known to have recorded and gigged with them back in the day: Jimy Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimi Page, Jeff Beck, Paul Kossoff, Ritchie Blackmore, to name a few- these are some of the most influential guitarists of all time! However, a lot of people are confused about what the term ‘pre-Rola’ actually means and what a ‘pre-Rola’ speaker is.
A Quick bit of History
Originally, two companies existed:
- The British Rola Company Ltd.- established in 1934
- Celestion Ltd.- established in 1927
In 1947, long before any guitar speakers or “Greenbacks” were ever made, British Rola bought Celestion and the resulting company was known as ‘Rola Celestion Ltd.’ Very Late in 1968 the company expanded and opened a second factory in Ipswich Suffolk named the Ditton Works. In 1975 production gradually came to a close at Thames Ditton, with all production from then onwards done at Ipswich.
So what is pre rola?
The term ‘pre-Rola’ was invented by guitar players (be afraid!). Basically, it refers to a period of time when Celestion were using a certain type of label on their greenback speakers (Jan 1966 to April 1971). This label did not have the word Rola written on it, so guitar players called them ‘pre-Rola’ labels to differentiate between the later Rola Ipswich labels. The key thing to remember about the 70’s Rola labels is the Ipswich address. Any Rola labels with the Thames Ditton address on them are likely to be earlier still (1964 to 1965) and actually pre-date the pre-rola labels.To explain things in a bit more detail I will need to differentiate between a ‘pre-rola label’ and a ‘pre-rola speaker’ (a speaker can have a pre-rola label on it – yet not be classed as a pre-rola speaker!)
Pre Rola Labels
Pre-Rola labels have the ‘Thames Ditton Surrey’ address at the bottom, and omit the word Rola. Guitarists called them pre-rola labels because they came before the labels with the ‘Rola Celestion Ltd’ text and the Ipswich Suffolk address.
Pre Rola Speakers
The pre-Rola labels were standard across most speaker models from January 1966 to March 1971. This is known as the pre-Rola period. So, any Celestion Greenbacks made during this time are said to be pre-Rola speakers. The company was called ‘Rola Celestion Ltd.’ during this time but they were simply not printing the word Rola on the labels.
April of 1971 is the transitional month for the labels (on the T1221 model). So, there are some April of 1971 speakers with the pre-Rola label and classed as pre-Rola speakers, but some have the Rola label and therefore cannot be classed as pre-Rola speakers. All getting a bit silly now? Both speakers are exactly the same apart from the label.
Non Pre-Rola Speakers- With Pre-Rola Labels
The pre-Rola labels continue to be used sporadically on certain speakers after April of 1971 and well into 1975. However, any speakers made after April of 1971 are not classed as true pre-Rola speakers by most collectors, even though they might still have the pre-Rola label on them.
pre-rola speakers- with rola labels
So vice-versa, there exist some speakers made during the pre-Rola period that came with Rola written on the labels. Remember, the company was called ‘Rola Celestion Ltd.’ from 1947 onwards so some labels do have it written on them. Crazy, huh?
Here is a pre-Rola speaker made in mid- 1966. Notice the Rola Celestion text. Underneath this amp makers’ label is a pre-Rola Celestion label. So long as the speaker was made between January of 1966 and March of 1971, it’s safe to call it a pre-Rola.
The first greenbacks
You might read, in certain books, that the first Greenback speakers were pre-Rola’s. This is incorrect. The earliest pre-Rola label I have ever seen was on a speaker dated January of 1966. Before this, all ceramic speakers (aka Greenbacks) came with just a gold and red label. The text at the bottom reads ‘Rola Celestion Ltd.- Thames Ditton Surrey’ (not Ipswich). These are the first Greenback speakers and were made around 1964 to 1965. These speakers are incredibly rare and very collectable!