What type of cable does your guitar need? This article will answer your questions by providing an ultimate guide to guitar cable types. In this article we look at;
- What are Guitar cables?
- Guitar Cable types – Unbalanced Cables
- Guitar Cable types – Balanced Cables
- Five Examples of ideal Guitar Cables
Did you know you can actually pay up to $6000 for a guitar cable? Yes, it true some cables cost significantly more than others, but what are you actually paying for? Well, the answer pretty much varies from one situation to another. For example, are you gigging, recording in a studio or just practicing? For now, let’s see what matters most when it comes to choosing your guitar cable.
WHAT are GUITAR CABLES, their KEY PARTS and HOW THEY WORK?
For those playing guitar, especially electric guitar, using amplifiers is a must. Guitar cables, in this case, play the role of connecting the two (your guitar and the amplifier), thereby ensuring a smooth audio quality (obviously, unless you choose to use wireless connection method).
- What are Guitar Cables?
So, here comes this essential question, what exactly are guitar cables made of and how they work together to reproduce your guitar sound?
The very first part we need to mention is the center conductor, which is made of a bunch of stranded copper wires. Basically, its purpose is to carry the guitar sound signal to the amplifier and then the speaker. You may wonder, why copper? Because it is conductive. However, there are other materials capable of serving the same purpose, including platinum, gold and silver. But imagine a conductor made of gold, too much to handle, right?
Next, the dielectric insulator is that one white-colored layer that surrounds the center conductor. It is made of either thermoset or thermoplastic. The dielectric insulator plays the role of insulating and separating the conductor from the shield. Don’t downgrade its use, since depending on its size and material, the dielectric insulator can also significantly affect the tone of your guitar. Also, the insulator material can govern the flexibility of the cable itself. Get yourself a thin insulator if you want a more flexible cable.
Another part of the instrument cable is the shielding, which covers the insulator. The shielding serves two specific roles. First, it will implement the return signal to complete the signal starting from your guitar to the amplifier. Secondly, it automatically prevents all electromagnetic interference from your surroundings. Clearly, poor quality shielding will negatively affect your tone by letting noises (humming, buzz, radio signal, etc) into your audio.
Finally, the outer jacket is the remaining part we want to mention. As its name suggests, the outer jacket is used for protection and advertisement. It prevents the cable from being damaged as it is assembled to resist impact, moisture and toxic chemicals. As for advertisement, the manufacturer may print their name or color on the outer jacket with an aim to distinguish their products from others in the market. Plastic jackets are most commonly used, suggesting that people prefer cables with physical durability.
And that’s it. We just walked you through 4 basic parts that form a cable for your guitar. For now, let’s see the difference between unbalanced and balanced cables, as the two are usually misunderstood as interchangeable for your guitar because of their identical appearances.
2. Guitar Cable Types – Unbalanced Cables
Unbalanced cables or instrument cables are designed to carry weak signals from your guitar to an amp, in which the signals are boosted to a level “usable” enough to hear. An unbalanced cable includes a basic conductor wire (signal wire) and a shielding, which is also known as the ground wire. The conductor wire is surrounded by the ground wire within the cable. With these two wires, this kind of cable only needs two conductors at the connector, which is one major characteristic you can use to distinguish the unbalanced and balanced cable.
So what are they there for? Well, the ground is responsible for carrying part of the signal and, at the same time, acts as a protector that shields the main conductor wire from outside interference noise, TV frequency, radio transmission and lights humming for example (although in fact, it is not that good at preventing 100% noise, which is why it is widely spread in the guitar playing community that an unbalanced cable is susceptible to noise).
Unbalanced cables work best at connecting a guitar to an amplifier, but as we are on the note of noise picking, and because long unbalanced cables are more apt to picking up noise, it should be 15-20 feet long at maximum, especially in the case when it is used in a not-so-quiet environment and with low level of signals surrounding.
TS cable is the typical unbalanced cable for guitars, probably the most common one. It is also referred to as the ¼ inch cable. TS stands for Tip Sleeve. The tip part of the cable is for the guitar signal while the sleeve part carries the ground signal. The cable itself is always ¼ inch with a black band named the insulator ring separating the tip and the sleeve. TS cable is unbalanced and mono.
RCA cable is also referred to as the phono plug or mini-jack plug. RCA means Radio Corporation of America. It is the unbalanced and mono connection which is mostly used for stereo equipment. RCA cable normally features a red and white channel connection. At first, it is designed to replace the ¼ inch TRS jack connection, but not quite gain people’s interest, and you can see both of them in the market nowadays.
As guitars produce unbalanced signals, RCA cable can also be used for guitar beside TS cable, the typical one. However, the drawback here is because of some grounding issues in their designs, RCA cables are more prone to buzzing. Choose wisely!
3. Guitar Cable Types – Balanced cables
On the other hand, balanced cables are the opposite of unbalanced ones, with the capability to carry strong signals. A balanced cable consists of 1 extra wire, it now has 2 conductor wires wrapping around each other and a single ground wire. About the conductor wires, one is usually called the hot wire and another is the cold wire. Both of them carry the same signal waveform, but the difference is the cold cable is like the mirror image of the hot one as it produces a reversed polarity of the signal.
With basic knowledge, we all know that it is like adding a positive number with its negative form, 10 and -10 for example, the result will be 0, which means the signal will be canceled. Now why do they have this mirror thing just to result in the signal being nowhere to be found? In fact, as the noise picked up by the two signals when they travel along the cable are identical, having two signals that are inverted means the interference noise will also be inverted, and therefore, the noise in each signal will cancel each other out. When the two signals reach the amplifier, the cold one will be flipped, resulting in the original signal being reserved and the noise being canceled. Thanks to this feature, balanced cables are more common to longer cables (up to 50-100 feet).
TRS and XLR cables are some of the most common types of balanced cable. They are also known as speaker cables or stereo cables since both of them require a balanced line level signal.
CAN we use BALANCED CABLES for GUITARS?
The question is, can we use a balanced cable for guitars, which is the instrument that produces unbalanced signals?
It should work just fine. However, there is no point using the balanced cable, which is best known for its capability to prevent 100% noise, as that best characteristic would be a waste in this case. As mentioned before, guitars output unbalanced signals, so the balanced cable would be of no use.
In the worst case, using speaker cords/balanced cables like TRS or XLR cables, which are usually more expensive than those unbalanced ones, for your guitar may even result in unwanted noise since unshielded conductors in balanced cables would pick up interference from other electrical equipment.
For now, let’s see our finding of top 5 best guitar cables – a list of what you actually need upon clicking this article!
4. FIVE Typical Examples of GOOD Guitar Cables
MOGAMI GOLD SERIES INSTRUMENT CABLE
First and foremost, you simply cannot leave Mogami Gold Cable out of this list. And to be able to get mentioned in the first place over others, what exactly does Mogami cable offer?
4.7 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon proves its quality. Mogami Gold provides you with the clearest, purest tone along with absolutely no background noise. Consisting of an oxygen-free copper conductor, a sub-shield, a UHD (Ultra High Density) spiral shield and a carbon impregnated PVC anti-static shield, Mogami Gold ensures that no noise, even the handling noise, is allowed to penetrate to your guitar audio. More remarkably, thanks to the wiring with Mogami High Impedance Cable, this cable is able to preserve the unique tone of the guitar.
Mogami is considered a top choice for professional recording studios. Mogami Gold Series cable is available in different lengths, ranging from 3 to 25 feet long. Mogami also offers its users a Limited Lifetime “No Excuses” Warranty, an interesting feature.
PLANET WAVES AMERICAN STAGE CABLE
Built with an exclusive tip design called the Geo Tip and is produced by Neutrik, a partnership of Planet Waves, American Stage cable can fit into all kinds of jacks, ensuring a secure connection. Its 95% copper braiding and 100% shielded coverage allow no interference or handling noise. When coming along with the low capacitance, American Stage delivers exceptional signals from your guitar.
Available in right-angle ends, straight ends and straight-to-right angle, American Stage guitar cable also varies in its lengths from 10 to 30 feet, ideal lengths for medium runs. The cable features exclusive In=Out technology, providing clean and stable sound. A good choice for recording guitarists, especially when it is ranked mid-range at an affordable price.
GLS AUDIO TWEED GUITAR CABLE
As its name suggests, GLS cable comes with a flexy tweed jacket. Therefore, it would be suitable for those seeking for durability. Moreover, GLS Audio Tweed cable consists of three strain relief layers, an internal rubber booty strain relief, an external rubber heat shrink strain relief along with an internal metal clamp strain relief, which ensures a non-trouble usage for years.
GLS Audio Tweed guitar cable is also equipped with oxygen-free copper for both the center conductor and the insulator shield. Now that we are on the note of shielding, this cable is double-shielded by an OFC insulator shield and a conductive PVC inside.
What’s most mentioning about this cable is GLS Audio Tweed ranks 38 Picofarads per foot, an extremely low number, which is good because lower Picofarad rating indicates good sound quality. Some cables even have their rating at 200 Picofarads, they may work fine, but will not produce better sound quality compared to other lower rating ones.
FENDER DELUXE SERIES INSTRUMENT CABLE
You may not expect Fender in the list of instrument cables. Yet here they are, great construction with a competitive price for you to choose. 24K gold plated connectors – an exceptional material for connectors – help preserve your guitar sound overtime without tarnishing or degrading it.
Fender Deluxe Series instrument cables have a built-in strain relief within its custom-molded ends plus a braided shielding designed to convey 100% of the sound purity for conductance and durability. In its outermost, a tweed jacket that is soft woven offers full protection for the cable itself. With its length ranging from 3 to 25 feet, Fender Deluxe Series cables fit all of your usage purposes. A name worth considering for the list of best guitar cables.
HOSA-210 STRAIGHT TO STRAIGHT GUITAR CABLE
A budget and popular choice for those new to the game or bedroom players. Behind its affordable price is a Hosa 210 Straight to Straight guitar cable with an oxygen-free copper conductor for signal transparency. In addition, a high-density OFC braided shield ensures that no noise can enter your guitar audio.
Although HOSA 210 does not offer any innovation, it does the work well and is a great choice for mid-range guitar cables.
You may get confused as to why spend $6000 on just a guitar cable but not a reasonable $100 since they are cables that do not significantly affect the tone of your guitar. After reading this article, we hope that the information we provide, including how guitar cables are constructed, types of guitar cables and the list of best guitar cables available in the market, will help answer your confusion.
Spending a considerable amount for quality guitar cables is worth it due to their exceptional features. Don’t just buy the cheapest cable out there, at least choose the one that can preserve your guitar tone and last.
Also, unless you already have a balanced cable laying in your house, remember not to spend an extra amount of money to buy a balanced one for your guitar, as it would be of no use for an instrument that uses unbalanced outputs! Thank you for reading and see you in the next article.