Of all of the things which might enhance your guitar tone. You’d probably think that a brand 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 what precisely separates a $100 cable from the $10 cable? It’s a typical question that virtually any guitar player asks himself at some time. And yet for reasons unknown, it’s almost impossible to get a definitive answer from the one source. So for today’s post, that’s the goal.
And after a bunch of research, listed here are the details I’ve compiled. Starting first with, let’s start by examining their parts. While the design can vary significantly from a single manufacturer to a different.
A regular cable contains 5 basic parts:
Center Conductor – which carries the audio signal by using an electrical current.
Insulation – containing the present, keeping it isolated from your other regions.
Electrostatic Shield – which reduces the handling noise that occurs whenever a cable is flexed or compressed.
Braided Copper Shield – which blocks interference externally sources.
Outer Jacket – which protects all of the internal parts, and gives the cable its “finished” appearance.
The main reason premium cables cost more is the materials and manufacturing methods used to build each one of these 5 parts (although I’m sure marketing hype is partially responsible also).
The 7 Key Features Affecting Performance
Guitar cable manufacturers generally focus on 7 common areas when explaining some great benefits of their product. But because it ends up, a few of these areas matter far more than others.
So let’s look at each one now. Beginning with:
The main 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 usually too poor once it reaches your amp/audio interface. And even though all sources agree that this shortest possible cable yields the cleanest sound, it’s not quite 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. And also this is almost certainly because of the fact the premium parts found in these cables (which we’ll discuss next) permit a cleaner quieter signal.
There’s lots of debate today about whether “Oxygen-free copper” or “linear-crystal copper” will improve a guitar cable’s performance. Without getting too scientific, the essential theory is the fact that these materials are “purer” than standard copper, permitting better conductivity, as well as a cleaner signal. As the theory has not yet been proven by any scientific testing, listening tests seem to advise that the main difference is in fact real.
The center conductors of guitar cables come in 2 basic designs:
solid conductors – which can be cheaper, easier to solder, but also break easier.
stranded conductors – which can be stronger and more flexible, but also more expensive.
While solid conductors consist entirely of the single wire, stranded conductors contain many strands of fine copper threads, twisted together into a solid center.
To enhance performance even more, some manufacturers give a tin coating over each strand, causing them to be much easier to solder, and adds longevity by preventing oxidation. The downside from the tin coating is it causes a phenomenon referred to as “skin-effect“, which concentrates high-frequencies of the signal toward the outer surface of the conductor, ugjsee altering the frequency response in the signal. For this reason other manufacturers prefer silver instead, that is more safe from this effect.
Polyethylene, which comes from the “thermoplastic family” of insulation materials, has a dielectric constant of 2.3.
Rubber, which comes through the “thermoset family“, has a dielectric constant of 6.5.
For this reason polyethylene, in addition to all the other thermoplastics, have grown to be more popular then ever for cable insulation. In addition they outperform thermoset in nearly every way…they’re cheaper also.
Fortunately, these materials are now cost-efficient enough to utilize even with 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. Given that we’ve covered all the 7 KEY FEATURES to search for in a quality guitar cable, let’s proceed to the following portion of this post, where we look at the best models in each cost range.