Of all the things that might improve your guitar tone. You’d probably feel that a brand new cable ranks pretty low on the list, right? At least, that’s what the majority of us assume. However there’s that occasional dude online who swears his cable makes a big difference in the world.
And precisely what separates a $100 cable from a $10 cable? It’s a standard question that virtually every guitar player asks himself at some time. And yet for whatever reason, it’s nearly impossible to get a definitive answer from your one source. So for today’s post, that’s the goal.
And after a ton of research, listed here are the important points I’ve compiled. Starting first with, let’s start with examining their parts. As the design can vary significantly from a single manufacturer to a different.
A regular cable consists of 5 basic parts:
Center Conductor – which carries the audio signal with an electrical current.
Insulation – containing the current, keeping it isolated from the other regions.
Electrostatic Shield – which decreases the handling noise that develops whenever a cable is flexed or compressed.
Braided Copper Shield – which blocks interference externally sources.
Outer Jacket – which protects each of the internal parts, and provides the cable its “finished” appearance.
The main reason premium cables are more expensive will be the materials and manufacturing methods employed to build all these 5 parts (although I’m sure marketing hype is partially responsible as well).
The 7 Key Features Affecting Performance
Guitar cable manufacturers generally concentrate on 7 common areas when explaining some great benefits of their product. But since it ends up, some of these areas matter far more than others.
So let’s examine each one now. Beginning from:
The reason you rarely see Instrument 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. Even though all sources agree that this shortest possible cable yields the cleanest sound, it’s not quite clear how much time they could be before a direct box becomes essential to extend the signal further. Because while conventional wisdom suggests a 25ft maximum…high-end brands sometimes offer options significantly longer. Which is almost certainly due to the fact the premium parts found in these cables (which we’ll discuss next) enable a cleaner quieter signal.
There’s lots of debate nowadays 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, permitting better conductivity, along with a cleaner signal. Whilst the theory has not yet been proven by any scientific testing, listening tests seem to claim that the main difference is in fact real.
The center conductors of guitar cables are available in 2 basic designs:
solid conductors – which are cheaper, simpler to solder, but additionally break easier.
stranded conductors – which can be stronger and more flexible, but also more expensive.
While solid conductors consist entirely of a single wire, stranded conductors consist of many strands of fine copper threads, twisted together in to a solid center.
To boost performance further, some manufacturers put in a tin coating over each strand, causing them to be easier to solder, and adds longevity by preventing oxidation. The down-side from the tin coating is it creates a phenomenon called “skin-effect“, which concentrates high-frequencies of the signal toward the outer top of the conductor, ugjsee altering the frequency response of the signal. This is why other manufacturers prefer silver instead, that is more resistant to this effect.
Polyethylene, which will come through the “thermoplastic family” of insulation materials, features a dielectric constant of 2.3.
Rubber, which comes from the “thermoset family“, includes a dielectric constant of 6.5.
For this reason polyethylene, along with other thermoplastics, have grown to be increasingly popular for cable insulation. In addition they outperform thermoset in almost every way…they’re cheaper also.
Fortunately, these materials are actually cost-efficient enough to utilize 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. Since we’ve covered all the 7 KEY FEATURES to search for in a quality guitar cable, let’s move on to the following part of this post, where we look at the best models in each cost range.