Of all of the things which might enhance your guitar tone. You’d probably think that a new cable ranks pretty low on the list, right? At least, that’s what the majority of us assume. Then again there’s that occasional dude online who swears his cable makes all the difference in the world.
And what exactly separates a $100 cable coming from a $10 cable? It’s a standard question that virtually any guitar player asks himself sooner or later. But for reasons unknown, it’s almost impossible to acquire a definitive answer from any one source. So for today’s post, that’s the aim.
And after a ton of research, listed here are the facts I’ve compiled. Starting first with, let’s begin by examining their parts. As the design can vary significantly from one manufacturer to a different.
A standard cable includes 5 basic parts:
Center Conductor – which carries the audio signal via an electrical current.
Insulation – containing the current, keeping it isolated through the other parts.
Electrostatic Shield – which decreases 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 the internal parts, and offers the cable its “finished” appearance.
The main reason premium cables cost more is definitely the materials and manufacturing methods utilized to build all these 5 parts (although I’m sure marketing hype is partially responsible too).
The 7 Key Features Affecting Performance
Guitar cable manufacturers generally give attention to 7 common areas when explaining the advantages of their product. But because it turns out, many of these areas matter far more than others.
So let’s take a look at each one of these 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 normally too poor by the time it reaches your amp/audio interface. Even though all sources agree the shortest possible cable yields the cleanest sound, it’s not exactly clear just how long they may be before a direct box becomes necessary to extend the signal any more. 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 that the premium parts used in these cables (which we’ll discuss next) enable a cleaner quieter signal.
There’s a lot of debate nowadays about whether “Oxygen-free copper” or “linear-crystal copper” will improve a guitar cable’s performance. Without getting too scientific, the basic theory is the fact these materials are “purer” than standard copper, allowing for better conductivity, along with a cleaner signal. As the theory has not yet yet been proven by any scientific testing, listening tests manage to claim that the difference is in fact real.
The center conductors of guitar cables are available in 2 basic designs:
solid conductors – which can be cheaper, easier to solder, but additionally break easier.
stranded conductors – which can be stronger and much more flexible, but in addition more expensive.
While solid conductors consist entirely of a single wire, stranded conductors include many strands of fine copper threads, twisted together into a solid center.
To boost performance even more, some manufacturers give a tin coating over each strand, making them simpler to solder, and adds longevity by preventing oxidation. The down-side in the tin coating is it results in 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 of the signal. This is the reason other manufacturers prefer silver instead, that is more safe from this effect.
Polyethylene, which comes through the “thermoplastic family” of insulation materials, has a dielectric constant of 2.3.
Rubber, which will come from your “thermoset family“, includes a dielectric constant of 6.5.
This is why polyethylene, in addition to all the other thermoplastics, are becoming ever more popular for cable insulation. In addition they outperform thermoset in nearly every way…they’re cheaper also.
Fortunately, these materials are actually 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 each one of the 7 KEY FEATURES to find in a quality guitar cable, let’s start working on the following part of this post, where we glance at the best models in each price range.