What do Jimi Hendrix, Kit Richards, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Angus Young, Tom Morello, have in common? Well, besides the fact that they are hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings with mad guitar skills, they all had top-notch audio gear that, believe it or not, wasn’t manufactured in an intergalactic supersonic factory, but right here on Earth. Now, don’t get me wrong. Having high quality gear won’t necessarily make you a better guitar player, but it will definitely help you sound less horrible.
But, once you start searching for a guitar cable, it won’t take you long to realize that are a ton of different brands and types available on the market. So, what is the difference between all the cables out there? Why should you spend more than $50 on a 3 meter cable, when you get it for less than $10? Should you buy a TRS cable, or one with an XLR ending? As you can see, there are many factors to consider when buying a guitar cable.
Well, first you need to understand what a guitar cable actually does. It is basically a cable that is used to carry the signal from the guitar to another device such as an amplifier, a tuner, a pedal, and so on. At both ends of the cable there are guitar cable connectors, most often a phono plug which may be straight or angled and carry one or two signals.
There are three basic types of guitar cable connectors. The TRS (tip, ring, sleeve) connector is available as a standard one-quarter inch or one-eighth inch. It has an additional ring, two conductors, a shield, and it is used for connecting balanced equipment. The XLR is a circular connector that can have three or nine pins, it is also used for balanced equipment, and features positive, negative and ground connections. And finally the most common connector – the TS (tip, sleeve) or Jack Plug which is used for unbalanced connections. At first glance it looks like the standard 1/ 4 or 1/8 inch connector with a single ring for insulation between the sleeve and the tip. It is always important to buy the right connectors for your guitar and, of course, buy quality connectors.
As far as the cable itself there are several things you should remember.
- Never buy a cable that is longer than what you actually need since the longer the cable, the more the signal deteriorates, especially with the higher notes.
- Buy a cable with a quality core. That is the inner part of the cable that actually transmits the signal. Usually copper is the best material for the core and in general you should go for the thicker core.
- Shielding is also very important. It is what prevents outside magnetic waves from interfering with the signal from your guitar. Braided shields offer the most protection but are not very flexible, spiral-wrap has a nice balance between protection and flexibility, while foil wrap is the most flexible but not as durable as the other two.
- You also want to go for a thick and durable jacket (the soft outer layer) and it shouldn’t be too stiff.