Of all of the things which might improve your guitar tone. You’d probably feel that a new cable ranks pretty low on the list, right? At the very least, that’s what most of us assume. However there’s that occasional dude online who swears his cable makes all the difference in the world.
And what precisely separates a $100 cable coming from a $10 cable? It’s a common question that virtually every guitar player asks himself at some point. And yet for some reason, it’s almost impossible to get a definitive answer from your one source. So for today’s post, that’s the goal.
And after a lot of research, listed below are the details I’ve compiled. Starting first with, let’s start with examining their parts. As the design can differ significantly from one manufacturer to a different.
A typical cable contains 5 basic parts:
Center Conductor – which carries the audio signal with an electrical current.
Insulation – which contains the existing, keeping it isolated from the other regions.
Electrostatic Shield – which cuts down on the handling noise that takes place when a cable is flexed or compressed.
Braided Copper Shield – which blocks interference from outside sources.
Outer Jacket – which protects each of the internal parts, and offers the cable its “finished” appearance.
The key reason premium cables cost more is the materials and manufacturing methods used to build each of these 5 parts (although I’m sure marketing hype is partially responsible as well).
The 7 Key Features Affecting Performance
Guitar cable manufacturers generally focus on 7 common areas when explaining the benefits of their product. But since it ends up, many of these areas matter way over others.
So let’s take a look at every one now. Starting with:
The reason why you rarely see Guitar Cables that exceeds 25ft-in-length is…”unbalanced” instrument cables get progressively noisier as length increases. Beyond that, the signal-to-noise ratio is normally too poor when it reaches your amp/audio interface. And while all sources agree the shortest possible cable yields the cleanest sound, it’s not exactly clear how long they may be before a direct box becomes essential to extend the signal any further. Because while conventional wisdom suggests a 25ft maximum…high-end brands sometimes offer options significantly longer. And this is almost certainly because of the fact the premium parts used in these cables (which we’ll discuss next) allow for a cleaner quieter signal.
There’s lots of debate these days about whether “Oxygen-free copper” or “linear-crystal copper” will improve a guitar cable’s performance. Without getting too scientific, the fundamental theory is the fact that these materials are “purer” than standard copper, allowing for better conductivity, along with a cleaner signal. Whilst the theory has not yet yet been shown by any scientific testing, listening tests seem to suggest that the difference is certainly real.
The center conductors of guitar cables can be found in 2 basic designs:
solid conductors – that are cheaper, much easier to solder, but additionally break easier.
stranded conductors – which can be stronger and a lot more flexible, but also more expensive.
While solid conductors consist entirely of a single wire, stranded conductors include many strands of fine copper threads, twisted together right into a solid center.
To enhance performance further, some manufacturers give a tin coating over each strand, causing them to be easier to solder, and adds longevity by preventing oxidation. The down-side of the tin coating is it results in a phenomenon referred to as “skin-effect“, which concentrates high-frequencies of the signal toward the outer surface of the conductor, ugjsee altering the regularity response of the signal. For this reason other manufacturers prefer silver instead, that is more resistant to this effect.
Polyethylene, which will come through the “thermoplastic family” of insulation materials, has a dielectric constant of 2.3.
Rubber, which will come from the “thermoset family“, includes a dielectric constant of 6.5.
For this reason polyethylene, along with other thermoplastics, have grown to be more popular then ever for cable insulation. In addition they outperform thermoset in almost every way…they’re cheaper as well.
Fortunately, these materials are now cost-efficient enough to use despite budget cables, so it’s mostly a non-issue. However…certain high-end cables feature special polymers with even lower capacitances, for ultra-premium performance. Now that we’ve covered each one of the 7 KEY FEATURES to search for in a quality guitar cable, let’s move on to the next section of this post, where we consider the best models in each range of prices.