Archive for the ‘cables’ Category


I asked myself this question this morning while having my morning cup. I was ruminating on various ways to make my signal chain a cleaner. It’s pretty clean as it is, and I pride myself on having little to no electronic noise when my rig is at rest. But I still want it dead quiet. I don’t know if it’s entirely possible, but I knew there were things that I could do. So I started coming up with a punch list of things including getting high-quality cables with good shielding; replacing any non-true-bypass pedals on my board that often cause noise; things like that.

Then I stopped and asked myself, “Where am I at with my tone? Am I reasonably satisfied with it? Is there any specific thing that really needs addressing?” And the answer to those questions was no. I looked at my list and decided they were nice-to-have’s but not really addressing and particular problem or “hole” in my tone. Truth be told, as of late, I’ve been using pedals A LOT less as of late. While I may kick in an overdrive pedal occasionally, and usually have my reverb on, I’ve been doing without pedals. In fact, for the past couple of gigs I’ve played, I haven’t used pedals at all, except for a tuner!

I guess this is the dark side of being a gear slut; it’s really a borderline addiction; an urge akin to an itch you can’t scratch, a unicorn that can’t be caught. Like the cursed pirates in the Pirates of the Carribean, the desire for gear is a lust that is never slaked, or at least easily slaked. At times it gets to the point of not even having a reason for getting the gear – I just have to have it! 🙂

I was actually surprised by my moment of lucidity, and actually relieved that I pulled myself back from the brink of investing yet another few hundred dollars into gear. I also realized that as far as my rig is concerned, I’ve sort of reached a point where the law of diminishing returns is starting to kick in. Yeah, it would be nice to have high-end, expensive cables (I still may do that just for my pedal board), but at this point, it doesn’t really buy me much – even my pedal cables. And while I believe I would get an improvement in my tone, I think the improvement would be more subtle than anything else.

So here’s some food for thought: The next time you want to buy some gear, ask yourself if you’re already satisfied with your tone. Be honest. You may be surprised to find that you are.

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cablesAs much of a gear slut that I am, I’ve realized that I’ve completely overlooked one incredibly important piece of gear at GuitarGear.org that can have a huge effect on your tone: The guitar cable. Actually, I’ve shied away from this subject, much like I shied away from talking about speakers. Why? Because like speakers, there’s really no definitive way to classify cables as “good” or “bad,” no matter what materials are used. It’s a very subjective thing; that is, you have to use your ears to make the determination of what sounds good to you and what doesn’t.

Lots of manufacturers and gearheads will spout off terms regarding cable materials and electronics, and while those things are important, ultimately they’re only contributing factors and not one single thing will make one cable better over another. As I said, use your ears.

What’s in a cable?

A cable consists of four basic, discrete elements: A conductor, a dialectric, a jacket, and the plugs. The conductor is what transports your electrical signal end-to-end through the cable. Most conductors are made of copper, though some are coated with silver. There are pure silver conductor wires that some audiophiles swear by, but they are typically incredibly expensive. A colleague of mine wired his entire home stereo system with pure silver wire, costing him hundreds of dollars. But he swears by the purity of sound that this conductor produces. Regarding copper, the more pure the copper, the better the signal conductance, so in a sense, a cheap wire using cheap copper, will probably not sound as good as one that’s made from more pure copper.

The dialectric is a sheathing around the cable and is an essential component in that as the electrical signal flows down the cable, a large amount of the signal travels along the outside of the conductor. As you might think, some of that signal may “bleed” off, and indeed that is what happens. This is where the dialectric comes into play. It basically absorbs the electrons that break off the flow, then puts them back into the flow. Different materials are used as dialectrics, though teflon tends to be regarded as the best dialetric material.

The jacket is the visible layer of the cable that you see but typically, just underneath the jacket are insulators and shielding, to protect from transmitting signal out or letting external signals in.

Finally, we have the plugs. These are made up of a variety of materials from unplated brass to gold, nickel or silver plating. Each of these materials provide a different tone. Mind you, gold is not necessarily the best conductor, but it does provide excellent protection against corrosion, which will have a serious effect on your signal.

So what’s the big deal about capacitance?

Capacitance is probably the most common term bandied about by alleged pundits of cables. Essentially capacitance is a measurement of how much signal a conductor stores. At first blush, a lower capacitance number should indicate a much more efficient signal. But from what I’ve come to understand, capacitance, while important, is only part of the picture with respect to the overall tone of a cable. Throwing about this term without context is akin to throwing about a frequency response curve for a speaker. In that case, it gives you an idea of where the tone is delivered, but until you put that speaker in a cabinet, you’ll never know how it really performs. It’s a similar thing with capacitance. It’s only part of the whole picture. For me, though I mean no disrespect, I tend to ignore people who bandy about capacitance as something that should affect one’s decision to purchase a cable.

I asked a friend about this, and he said that yes, capacitance is an important consideration, but if a dialetric material is used that’s fairly absorbent and doesn’t return electrons back into the flow, what you’ve gained in capacitance, you’ve lost in the dialectric. I’ll be the first to admit I’m no electronics wizard, but that seems plausible enough to me.

So what do I look for?

Ultimately, for me it boils down to tone. I’ve recently taken a real liking to Monster Standard 100 cables. To my ears, they provide a great balanced tone. No, they don’t have gold plating or any silver, but it’s a good, versatile, all-around cable that I think sounds great. They also have great shielding which is really important in protecting against RF. But that’s me – to my ears they perform great. However, after trying out both the Acoustic and Rock models recently, I’m seriously considering of making an investment in those cables. I know there are others out there. I just have to find a place to try them out.

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