In the life of a practicing guitar player, the instrument cable can be a relatively small decision that makes a lot of difference. If it’s not getting in your way or shorting out at the worst possible time, the instrument cable should simply do it’s job; Connect your electric guitar to the loudest thing you can find.
There are thousands of choices out there, but whatever you choose, rest assured that you can’t screw it up as long as it works. Just make sure it fits your sound, style, and budget.
The most important factors in choosing new cables are the price, the sound quality, the durability, and the style. Occasionally you will want a cool color, a unique wrap, or a high performance sound, but not always. Strip away all the bells and whistles and the cables you choose simply need to connect your gear.
GUITAR CABLE COMPARISON
Here is a blurb from an article courtesy of Ultimate Guitar Tabs The Truth Behind Guitar Cables that really sheds some light on the finer points of a quality cable:
Shielding: To keep interference from reaching the "hot" center conductor where the signal is passing, the copper "shield" covers the conductive core. The shield is usually formed of braided copper, and a low transfer impedance to the ground is the sought-after quality.
Insulation: The copper conductor must be insulated to preserve signal quality, and of course to protect the user. Most insulation is made from thermoset (rubber and neoprene) or thermoplastic (polyethylene and polypropylene) materials spread over the conductor, then vulcanized. Insulation doesn't affect signal quality and is usually standardized across cables. The thickness does, however, determine cable flexibility.
Protection against 60-cycle hum: Many cables, especially higher-priced ones, advertise a strong protection against electrical hum. The sad truth though is that this hum (sourced from 60 and 120Hz frequencies from power sources) are usually low enough in frequency to be stopped by anything but a ferrous metal component. The best defense against hum is to keep coiled-up excess cable stored away from power sources such as amplifiers and power splitters.
Connecting Ends: We've all seen the attractive gold-plated connectors on some big-name brands. And of course, if it's gold, it's better... right? While many people believe that gold-plated connectors are "better", they don't know why. Gold is an attractive anti-corrosion element, but signal-wise, there is no benefit of having one connector over the other at the frequency range for instruments.
WHO ARE (SOME OF) THE BIG NAMES?
A short list: Conquest, DiMarzio, Fender, Lava, Mogami, Monster, Planet Waves, Premium Audio Cables, Rapco Horizon, Seismic, Spectraflex, World’s Best Cables, etc. The list goes on. Apparently every music brand and their mom got into the business of making instrument cables.
Here is a quick breakdown of some popular choices from Amazon.com. The possibilities are endless, so this comparison is regulated between $10.00 - $100.00. I also decided to limit my choices to 10 foot cables exclusively. By no means is this the only price available, but it helps to highlight the cost trends from company to company.
Planet Waves represents your most basic choice. It’s composed primarily of plastic with 4k gold-plated plugs. This cable will work for most situations but comes with a limited lifetime guarantee. In my opinion, this is a negative because it implies that the lifespan of the cable is relatively short and will eventually need to be re-soldered or replaced.
A right angle type connector is ideal for those guitar players with an effect pedal at home. The right angle works well in keeping cables organized and many players never go back after getting angles.
This cable stands apart partially because of it’s braided tweed cloth jacket. It feels much more inviting to the touch and can help your gear standout in a sea of confusing black cables. This cable has a strong flexibility and durability factor and can even be rolled and stored with ease. For a pricier, objectively cooler option, try the Spectraflex Vintage series.
DIMARZIO INSTRUMENT CABLE
I like this cable because it has a long track record of dependable products and it comes in cool colors. It has few other defining features, but sometimes you just want a red cable to match that candy-apple Fender you just picked up. No judgments.
Mogami is defined as a High Definition cable. The price is a bit steep, but it boasts silent handling and a lifetime warranty. That means you could send it back a thousand times and the customer never pays another cent after retail. A quality warranty implies that Mogami created a long-lasting, reliable product in the first place. The cable is made from a unique PVC material that is both flexible and highly durable. Buy if you have the cash to burn.
This unique cable has a heavy-duty, white PVC outer jacket that seems like a balance between curly and straight styles. This cable performs like a champ when playing out because it is designed to lay over top of existing instrument cables. When playing with the full band, it’ll save you the time and hassle of constant tangling.
QUALITY GUITAR CABLES - CAN YOU HEAR A DIFFERENCE?
In this video, DIY Guitar Pedals makes a stunning case for why most cables sound pretty much the same. After comparing a 4.5m Lava cable and a 6m Squire cable, very little difference can be heard. The Lava cable is three times as expensive and sounds exactly the same. Doing his due diligence, he even tried using an effects pedal vs. direct in. Nice work video guy and I totally dig your accent.
HOW MUCH DO YOU REALLY NEED?
It’s always better to make more with less. If you play basement solos with a single guitar and a classic amp, then you might not need more than one or two quality cables. Buy a middle-road option and pick something that you really like. On the other hand, if you are a member of a larger group of musicians, poor cables can make a small problem into a headache. I recommend choosing a cheap set to keep at home and a flashy, expensive set for the shows. This way, the wear-and-tear is shared and all your gear is right where you need it to be.
Also don’t forget to label your new cables when playing a public venue. The quick and easy way is to wrap some tape around the connectors with your initials. It’s much easier to keep track of your stuff and avoid awkward conversations with sound guys with sticky fingers.
TL;DR // CONCLUSION
A good cable cannot make you a better musician; but a bad cable can bring you down. Buy a cable with a full warranty like GLS or Mogami. Pick something that matches your style and preference.