Posts Tagged ‘guitar cables’

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen that I have a fairly sensitive bullshit radar. It’s not that I’m a natural skeptic, but I’ve been around gear for so long that when I see something that has a super high price and claiming all sorts of improvements to my tone, I become quite a bit wary. And especially when it comes to cords and wires, I tend to be quite a bit of a skeptic. But the exception to that is instrument cords.

Now this is not going to be a comparison article where I say one particular cord is the best, blah, blah blah… When I see articles like that, that’s when my BS alarm goes off. But by the same token, I’m also not of the belief that you can just use any old cable and you’ll sound great.

On Low Capacitance

Since the ’90’s, cable manufacturers have been touting their low capacitance cables, and how a low capacitance cable opens up your sound. The argument is that with a lower capacitance, less electricity will be stored in the cable, allowing more signal to pass through. Amazingly enough, I actually agree with this. The effect of capacitance in a cable is that it acts like a low pass filter, essentially rolling off the highs. By lowering the capacitance, more highs pass through the cable, thus allowing much more of the signal to get to your amp.

BUT… Low Cap Doesn’t Mean It’s Better for YOU

Manufacturers of low cap cables will make you think they are simply better because they allow more signal to pass through to the amp. In general, that’s a good thing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. You see, more of something doesn’t mean it’s better. Sometimes, it’s just more.

I have a couple of low capacitance cables, but I only use those for certain guitars, like my acoustic, where I want the full range of signal to pass to my acoustic amp or a board. But I actually tend to use a cable that has a higher capacitance for my electric guitars because my entire chain is set up to be pretty bright. I actually like to have some of the highs rolled off.

And since I started using my Godin Artisan ST-V, I’m actually in search of an even higher capacitance cable for that guitar. It’s bright, Bright, BRIGHT! And though I roll off the highs on my amp when I use it, I want a little help prior to my amp. That way, I can effectively set up my amp one way to serve a couple of guitars during a gig. It’s a kind of a convenience thing.

Does Low Cap = Better Quality?

Yes and no. I say this because in general, it seems that higher quality materials need to be used to achieve lower capacitance.

But as we all know, build quality varies from manufacturer. For instance, hands down, Mogami makes about the best cables in the business, at least as far as build quality goes. They use really high-quality materials and have all sorts of features built into them. But you pay for that quality and those features; on the order of at least twice as much as a similar cable.

I use Mogami XLR cables for vocals. Even my cheapo Sennheiser e835 and my Sennheiser e609 instrument mic sound much better with my Mogami XLRs. And with a great mic, it’s like removing a blanket from the mic. Admittedly though, the sound difference is subtle – the “blanket” is thin as it were – but it counts. But I cherish those (read: I don’t want to “f” them up), so I rarely take them to gigs. For gigs, and frankly because the audience won’t be able to tell the difference, I just use some generic brand cables like Monster or whatever the house may have.

Back to instrument cables, I generally get cables whose quality is good enough, so I tend to go with middle-of-the-road Hosa cables. Their build quality is solid, though nowhere near on par with Mogami. But I’m also a real stickler for treating cables well, so my instrument cables tend to last a long time.

And by the way, Hosa makes a line of low cap cables that are very affordable and work just fine; no hiss, no crackle when the tips move. That’s all you need right? You can get a 10-foot cable for around $20.00.

The point to this is that yes, you can get the ultimate build quality with something like a Mogami or some boutique cable maker. But low cap can be had at a decent build quality and you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get it.

So… Does It REALLY Make a Difference?

Yes. But you have to look at it from the perspective of how the cable fits in with the rest of your rig. I know I took some time to get this conclusion, but I wanted to take some time illustrate this very important point: Low cap cables will give you more of your signal, but you may just find that you don’t like getting everything.


Read Full Post »

I was looking around for new gear to talk about and ran across this video at Guitar World:

All I can say is… interesting. As said in the video, the power wire has a tiny amplifier built into the jack that connects to your guitar powered by two long-life batteries.

Not sure how I feel about it, which is why my reaction was a lot more mild. It’s certainly cool, adding more gain to your input signal. According to the R&M Tone Technology web site, the cable comes in 0-6dB gain options. I guess the thinking is that more gain gives you more dynamics, but it also changes the overdrive point of whatever drive pedals you’re using, or if you’re going straight into the amp, where your amp breaks up.

I would actually see this as a benefit for single-coil, or low-output humbucker-equipped guitars, where that extra gain will get you overdrive earlier on. Not sure how I’d like it with hotter pickups such as the ones that are in my Gibson Nighthawk Reissue.

But at $39.00 for a 20 footer and $43 and $47 for 30- and 40- foot cables, it might be worth it to try out. For more information, visit the R&M Tone Technology site.

Read Full Post »

In my last post on cables, one of the respondents replied with a couple of great links. One of them was to Roger Russell’s site on a discussion about speaker wire. In that article, he had a very useful table on wire gauges and maximum cable lengths you should use. I grabbed the table, reformatted it for GuitarGear.org. Here’s the table:

Wire Size 2 ohm load 4 ohm load 6 ohm load 8 ohm load
22 AWG 3 feet max 6 feet max 9 feet max 12 feet max
20 AWG 5 feet max 10 feet max 15 feet max 20 feet max
18 AWG 8 feet max 16 feet max 24 feet max 32 feet max
16 AWG 12 feet max 24 feet max 36 feet max 48 feet max
14 AWG 20 feet max 40 feet max 60 feet** 80 feet**
12 AWG 30 feet max 60 feet** 90 feet** 120 feet**
10 AWG 50 feet max 100 feet** 150 feet** 200 feet**

The “**” indicate that in reality a 50 foot cable length is actually optimal.

I dig information like this because it’s a great reference for when I’m buying cables.

With speaker cables, what you’re concerned with is not capacitance, like you are with instrument cables. What you’re concerned with is resistance. You COULD use a material that has much less resistance than copper, like gold, but you’ll get much more bang for the buck by just going up a gauge (down in number). Personally, I just use 12 gauge wire for my speakers, and the lengths are only 4 feet, so I can use pretty much any load and be assured that I won’t create too much resistance between my amp and cab.

Read Full Post »

Audiophiles for years – excuse the pun – have heard cable manufacturers’ and experts’ claims of “cable break-in.” It’s a huge, ongoing debate, though most seem to believe it’s folly. In the guitar world, I haven’t heard of this from cable manufacturers; at least from the brands I buy. But I have heard it from seemingly well-informed musicians who claim they can hear the difference between a broken-in cable and a brand new cable. These people pride themselves on their “golden ears,” and often pull rank by providing their “bonafides” of degrees or what-not to add credibility to their claims. They are so convincing that lots of uninformed, unsuspecting musicians fall prey to their claims and in turn take them as scientific fact. Then in turn spend hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on super, high-end cables that they’ll “break in,” and magically, their tone will be right. Hey! More power to ’em.

Me? I won’t mince words: I think they’re full of shit.

There is no scientific basis for cable break-in. It’s purely subjective. And with cable manufacturers who make the claim that their cables sound better after they’ve been broken in, to me it’s all just pure marketing bullshit. But some of these “pundits” and their sycophants (I love that word) will bring Einstein into the equation with the following quote:

Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.

I dig that quote! But then it just points back to the subjectivity of cable break-in. Note that NONE of these so-called experts have ever provided numbers behind their claims. But they’ll take it further with an argument that it’s not the wire, but the insulation that breaks in; that is, the molecules of the dieletric will align to the signal over time. I _might_ buy this for a constant, uniform signal, but audio signals are random, plus the signal’s AC outside of any device in your chain. And again, they don’t have numbers to back this up. Molecules lining up to a random signal? If you buy into that, I have a couple of rental properties in Indiana I’d like to sell you (that’s actually true, and I’m trying to unload, er, sell them).

As I always advise, do your homework and find out for yourself. If you can hear those differences – though most everyone claims they’re psychological as opposed to physical – then I commend you on your auditory acuity. But my question, dear readers – especially for us regular joes – is this: If us mere mortals can’t hear that difference, does it really matter?

Read Full Post »

I was perusing Solid Cables site this morning, and couldn’t find any pricing, so I surfed their dealer list to see how much I could get a 10′-12′ cord for. I found this site that had one of their Dynamic Arc Ultra cables listed for $135.95! OMG! I think the most I’ve ever paid for a cable was $80, and I still have that cable – it’s great; well-made with solid construction. People have raved about real high-end cables in the past, and I’m wondering how big of a difference they make. In any case, I put together a poll to see what people would pay for a cable. Here it is:

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »