At one time, you’d get a guitar cable and when the plugs didn’t fall off or short out, it was a good cable, right? Now we have now esoteric guitar cables that cost just as much as some guitars, and claim all types of tonal benefits – but can cables really really make a difference, or is it all just smoke and mirrors? If you are using a guitar or bass fitted with active pickups you can sit down now, because the selection of cable will make very little difference, because of the very low output impedance of active circuitry. However, if (like the majority) you make use of conventional passive pickups, then yes, cables do really make a difference.
The Cable Conundrum
The electrical resistance of Guitar Cables is insignificantly tiny in comparison with the impedance from the pickups and controls, so that won’t affect your tone a great deal, but cable capacitance is an additional matter altogether. A capacitor is formed whenever two electrical conductors will be in placed in close proximity, and for a particular spacing, the greater the surface part of the conductors, the greater the capacitance. The core and screen conductors of typical guitar cable may create a capacitance of about 30 picofarads per foot (or 100 picofarads per metre), so that it follows that the longer the cable, the greater capacitance you may have hanging on the production of your guitar.
Placing a capacitor across a sound circuit creates a low?pass filter, and given this, you may expect an extended cable (or one using a higher capacitance than normal) to kill your guitar’s top end – which is the argument employed by those companies making esoteric guitar cable. However, there’s actually far more to obtaining a great guitar sound than merely picking a low?capacitance cable.
Firstly, before anyone gave cable another thought, guitarists were making great?sounding records using standard guitar leads, in case you’re after imitating their sounds, there’s little part of seeking out an ultra?low-capacitance cable: that could help make your guitar sound brighter than theirs did. All things considered, the entire background of guitar sound is made on technological imperfections. Today we could produce a guitar pickup having a 20Hz to 20kHz response, we could build perfect amplifiers without any audible distortion and we could connect those to state?of?the?art speaker systems which cover the complete audio spectrum. But we’d hate it! It could be acceptable for quasi?acoustic rhythm playing, nevertheless it just ain’t rock & roll!
Another intriguing and important fact about guitar cable capacitance is that it doesn’t only act as a low?pass filter. An electric guitar’s pickups are produced from coils of wire, causing them to be highly inductive. Wire a capacitor across an inductor and you get a tuned circuit, rather like a mixing desk’s mid EQ set to improve. When it comes to a typical guitar, the tuned circuit is pretty well damped, as a result of resistive parts inside the volume and tone circuits and the resistance in the pickup coil itself, however you can certainly still get a 1?2dB hump in the response. When you purchase low?capacitance cable, the tuned circuit will resonate at a higher frequency, whereas a higher?capacitance cable will push the pickup resonance downwards. Either way, the tonality of the pickups will change.
This knowledge can be helpful, because if your instrument lacks sparkle, picking a low-capacitance cable could improve matters significantly. What’s more, you should check the end result before spending your qnwpup through making up an extremely short conventional cable (a few feet should work) to see the way your tone changes in comparison with your standard cable. On the contrary, should your guitar sounds thin and lacking in punch, a standard high?capacitance cable could possibly ensure it is sound better.
A further consideration, taking this into account, is definitely the behaviour of radio systems designed for guitar. Most of these disregard the cable capacitance issue, or just put a low?pass filter inside the receiver, but that won’t change the resonant frequency from the pickups such as a real cable does. If you utilize a radio system and discover the tone seems thinner, why not try wiring a capacitor of 200?400pf throughout the jack plug at one end from the short cable that connects the guitar to the transmitter and see if that helps?
Summing up then, cables really do make a difference with guitars who have passive, magnetic pickups. However, there’s no simple answer about what form of cable will continue to work best along with your instrument because, just like the amplifier and speaker, the cable is an element of the sound. Paul White