Guitar Cables

Found a good post on understanding guitar cables:

Well, there are two factors to think about in terms of cable–tone and construction.

The primary reason for tonal differences between cables results from a cable’s capacitance.

Cable capacitance, together with pickup inductance and pot resistance in a guitar equiped with passive pickups, form an oscillating circuit with a resonant peak at a certain frequency. That frequency is usually in the 2khz to 5khz range–above the fundamental frequencies of the guitar but in the “presence” range of the guitar’s upper harmonics.

The more capacitance–either by virtue of using higher capacitance cable, longer runs of cable, or both–the lower the frequency of the resonant peak, the darker and more focused the system will tend to sound. The less capacitance–either by virtue of using lower capacitance cable and/or shorter runs–the higher the frequency of the resonant peak, the brighter and more open a system will tend to sound. This effect will be signficantly more pronouced with lower inductance pickups (single coils) and lower resistance pots (250kohm, for example). It can be a fairly subtle difference that can be perceived numerous ways. For example if a certain peak accentuates frequencies associated with pick attack, a cable that produces that peak in a system can be perceived as sounding “faster.” The effects are also, as you can tell, system dependent. It’s not that a given cable as a tonal quality of its own, it’s the nature of how the capacitance of the cable functions in a given guitar signal chain.

Some people prefer higher capacitance cables like the Canare at 49 pF/ft. Some prefer lower capacitance cables–I use Gepco XBand at 23 pF/ft. It’s all a matter of tuning your system to taste.

There’s no correlation between cost and capacitance. Nor is capacitance a measure of quality. There are plenty of durable cables made from high quality materials at a range of costs and capacitances.

In terms of noise you want a cable that is well shielded from radio frequency and electromagnetic noise–so a double shielded cable with a braided or spiral shield is ideal. Foil shields are not as good. In addition, a cable with a semiconductive PVC shield layer as well–like the Gepco and the Mogami–will shield against microphonic handling noise.

Finally, you need to make sure the plugs are high conductivity and the quality of the terminations and stress relief are good. If you buy your cables from Lava Cable they’ll terminate with great G&H plugs and they do a fabulous job terminating.

So cable capacitance of your choosing, quality copper, well shielded, well terminated– those are the things that make for good cable. “Best” would be impossible to choose. If you’re looking to experiment with cable I recommend trying a bunch of well made cables of varying capacitances–Gepco XBand, Mogami Platinum, Canare, Dimarzio, and the super low capacitance Elixir (10 pF/ft) are all good relatively inexpensive choices–to see what works to your taste in your system.

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