Friday, June 26, 2009

8 Things To Look For When Choosing A Guitar Cable

It's time to get a new cable, and you're looking at the rack display in the music store staring down at a myriad of choices -- different brands, different models within the same brand, different prices..

This article provides a basic overview of things to look out for when making your choice. At the end of this article I'll also talk a little about some of my personal favorites.

  • The Price Factor: Not all cables are created equal, and you usually get what you pay for. When in doubt, get the mid-priced cable if you're on a budget. As a guide, these usually run about a dollar fifty a foot for a pre-made cable with 1/4" plugs on each end.
  • Molded vs Metal Jacket 1/4" Plugs: Molded plugs are characterized by the plug's outer jackets being made of the same material as the cable. The plugs are also permanently molded and fused to the rest of the cable. Personally I would avoid these as they are impossible to repair at the plug end, which is where most cables develop faults over time. I like the metal-jacket 1/4" plugs which can be very easily repaired by anybody who is handy with a soldering iron.
  • Strain Relief: In the old days (read: a decade or so ago) this was characterized by a metal spring that was attached to the metal plug which served to protect this part of the cable that was most prone to damage from being rested against a sofa cushion or chair when seated while playing. At some point, cable manufacturers all but did away with this metal appendage, replacing it instead with a vinyl or rubber sleeve. Still it's better than nothing, so look out for this.
  • Cable Length: If you're gigging you'll need a cable that's at least 15' but not more than 20' in length. 25' cables I find, are too unwieldy and can be a nightmare to uncoil if it gets entangled in itself. For recording or practicing, a cable 10' or less should suffice.
  • Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC): OFC is purified copper intended to provide the best electrical conductivity. Better conductivity equals to more transparency and truer tone transmission from guitar to amp. Many brands offer OFC cable. Even some low-end, cheap cables -- which might be a case of false labelling, so beware.
  • Nickel vs. Gold Plated Plugs: Along with Oxygen Free Copper, gold plated connectors are another concept borrowed from the audiophile industry. Gold plated plugs offer better conductivity than nickel and also do not tarnish readily. Nickel tends to oxidize over time, giving it a dull grey, cloudy appearance. Other than this, I personally don't think gold plugs make much of a difference in terms of fidelity.
  • Foil Shielded Cable: This is a feature I always look out for in a good gig cable. Foil shielding, a layer just underneath the vinyl outer jacket, surrounds the insulated copper wire and braided wire, acting as a shield against radio frequency interference (RFI). These cables are usually much stiffer and also do not tangle easily.
  • Use Your Ears: As a final test, try out different cables. Do A/B comparisons using the same guitar and amp settings. Put the amp on standby when switching between cables so you don't have to touch the volume controls. Listen for signal transparency -- the cable that allows the most pleasing frequencies through to your ears is the one you should get.
Some of my favorite cables include:
  • George L's. Great for recording as I find them to be very transparent but are too fragile for gig situations.
  • Evidence Audio's Lyric -- One of the most transparent and extremely sturdy.
  • Monster Cable, Bass model -- A friend of mine turned me on to these. The bass version sounds more transparent and has a wider sonic range than the guitar model. Thanks Serge!
  • Having said that, I've used the same Peavey cable for more than 10 years! It's my favorite for the sheer number of years of good and loyal service it has provided me.


  1. Heya Clinton, thanks for sharing the good stuff. You seem to be quite prolific at it too. Before you get too deep, I think it's a good idea to start grouping your posts - eg. Gear, Attitude, and importantly, technique and theory related stuff to be divided into Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Levels. In the long haul, it will serve your readers well.

    Cheers & Thanks Again.

  2. Noted my friend -- that's good advice. Thanks. RoRK on, Roland!



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