Of all of the things which might enhance your guitar tone. You’d probably believe that a whole new cable ranks pretty low on the list, right? At the very least, that’s what many 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 typical question that virtually every guitar player asks himself at some time. And yet for some reason, it’s just about impossible to obtain a definitive answer from any one source. So for today’s post, that’s the goal.
And after a bunch of research, listed below are the important points I’ve compiled. Starting first with, let’s begin by examining their parts. Whilst the design may differ significantly from one manufacturer to a different.
A typical cable consists of 5 basic parts:
Center Conductor – which carries the audio signal via an electrical current.
Insulation – which contains the existing, keeping it isolated from the other areas.
Electrostatic Shield – which cuts down on the handling noise that takes place each time a cable is flexed or compressed.
Braided Copper Shield – which blocks interference from outside sources.
Outer Jacket – which protects all of the internal parts, and offers the cable its “finished” appearance.
The primary reason premium cables will cost more will be the materials and manufacturing methods used 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 focus on 7 common areas when explaining the advantages of their product. But as it turns out, some of these areas matter far more than others.
So let’s examine each one now. Starting with:
The main reason 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 generally too poor when it reaches your amp/audio interface. Even though all sources agree the shortest possible cable yields the cleanest sound, it’s not really clear how long they may be before a direct box becomes required to extend the signal further. Because while conventional wisdom suggests a 25ft maximum…high-end brands sometimes offer options significantly longer. Which is nearly certainly because of the fact that this premium parts used in these cables (which we’ll discuss next) enable a cleaner quieter signal.
There’s a lot of debate today 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. As the theory has not yet yet been shown by any scientific testing, listening tests manage to suggest that the real difference is actually real.
The center conductors of guitar cables come in 2 basic designs:
solid conductors – which are cheaper, easier to solder, but additionally break easier.
stranded conductors – that are stronger and a lot more flexible, but also more expensive.
While solid conductors consist entirely of a single wire, stranded conductors contain many strands of fine copper threads, twisted together into a solid center.
To boost performance even further, some manufacturers give a tin coating over each strand, making them easier to solder, and adds longevity by preventing oxidation. The down-side in the tin coating is that it creates a phenomenon known as “skin-effect“, which concentrates high-frequencies from the signal toward the outer surface of the conductor, ugjsee altering the regularity response in the signal. This is why other manufacturers prefer silver instead, that is more safe from this effect.
Polyethylene, which comes from your “thermoplastic family” of insulation materials, has a dielectric constant of 2.3.
Rubber, which comes from your “thermoset family“, has a dielectric constant of 6.5.
This is why polyethylene, as well as all other thermoplastics, are becoming increasingly popular for cable insulation. Not only do they outperform thermoset in almost every way…they’re cheaper as well.
Fortunately, these materials are now cost-efficient enough to make use of 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 each one of the 7 KEY FEATURES to search for in a quality guitar cable, let’s proceed to the following section of this post, where we consider the best models in each price range.