New guitar cable changed sound noticeably. Why?

I’ve never really believed that you would get any significant differences in sound between cheap instrument cables and the more costly brand cables. Expensive cables may be more rugged, but the insides are mostly the same right?

However - today I swapped out an old, short, cable that I used between my guitar and the amp with a new, longer, brand cable. I expected no difference at all, really. But the difference was very noticeable! The sound that came through the new cable had a lot more higher end to it. I had to dial down the treble controls on the amp and on the effects pedals to take down those ice pick highs I now had.

What gives? Do cables actually make such a difference? What is the difference then? It must be something I can measure with a multimeter somehow.

The question is then, what am I looking for when measuring cables? I have only a very basic understanding of electronics so I would appreciate a rather simple explanation on what I should be looking for.

I put this here rather than CS, since I’m after factual answers on measurable differences in instrument cables. I’m not looking for opinions on ‘musical’ qualities or the like.

Guitar pickups have a very high impedance, so this is one case where the capacitance of the cable can have a big effect. You won’t be able to measure it with a multimeter unless it is the digital sort that can read small capacitances like 500 pF.

There is nothing mysterious about this, and it has no connection with magical hifi cables that cost a fortune. They are all scams, pretty much without exception.

The only puzzle here is that you would expect the longer cable to have more capacitance and so you would get less treble- one possibility is that the new cable is of a special low-capacitance sort specially designed for use with guitar pickups.

Alternatively, the new cable could indeed have more capacitance, but there is a resonance between the cable capacitance and pickup inductance which has been brought down into a part of the frequency range where it is more obvious.

Sorry if this more technical than you want, but those are the basic facts. Wikipedia has good explanations of capacitance, resonance, etc.

You have too many variables here to make a solid determination.

Length is one, as Bert Nobbins suggested, which will affect capacitance. Age is another, and resistance/impedance due to either is still another. This is the analog world, and many things can have an effect.

But I agree that astronomically-priced cables are probably not worth it.

Thank you for the swift replies!

The old cable is not a whole lot shorter - a little more than 6 feet. The new is 10. The new is from Fender custom shop, so I guess it should be made specifically for guitar. I use only passive pickups (CS69, Duncan SSL5, Heussel 69).

Yeah, I still think Monster cables and the like for hifi are pretty much snake oil - but I did start to wonder about instrument cables that work with different levels of signal.

I do have a digital multimeter - but it’s not something you usually bring with you to the shop :smiley: Maybe I should.

My thought was that, if there are cables in my chain that eats treble - I should get rid of them and find some that doesn’t. And I’d like to be able to test this, and not buy expensive cables and hope for the best.

I’m going to ping WordMan about this thread – this’d seem to be up his alley, as well.

I don’t see how the age of the cable can affect anything.

But there are always a few major factors that dominate, and their effect can be calculated.

Never worth it. Never. It’s plain old fraud. Wire fraud, you might say.

Probably not frequency response, but I have some old cables that have become frayed inside or are not reliable to use because of intermittent connections.

Thanks sir - but not a lot to add to what’s been said. Cables or a wireless connection affect tone. People like Stevie Ray Vaughn sought out cheapie, long curly cables because Hendrix used them (because he had to ;)). Those long, cheap cables were inefficient and cut highs - good for a feeding back Strat through a Marshall; the cut highs reduced a bit of squeal and ice-picky tone.

Sounds like you are experiencing the opposite - by moving to a better cord, you’re getting noticeably more highs.

Cool - IMHO, that means you should learn to work the Tone and Volume controls on your guitar a bit more! What kind of guitar/pickups and amp?

This is just a WAG off the top of my head. If the cord is a coaxial type, could a different thickness or type of insulator between the center conductor and the outer shield/ground affect the capacitance?

On the other hand, I’d rather have more treble than I want that I can roll off than not enough.

It will be co-ax (an unshielded guitar lead would hum unusably) and yes those things will make a difference. Most likely I’d guess that the old lead had a thinner insulating* layer between the signal wire and the shielding, giving a higher capacitance.

I used to have a favourite curly-type lead that went perfectly with my tele. Teles have plenty of spare top and that lead rolled of at just the right point.
*technically dialectric, and is does make a difference what it’s made of. But in a guitar lead I expect they’ll all be using some very similar plastic, rather than say… [Eddie Izzard]Jam![/Eddie Izzard].

Is it possible that the old one was really just a piece of clothesline with phone jacks tied to both ends, and now you’re actually delivering a signal to the amplifier?

First off let me repeat what others have said, uber expensive cables are not worth it. Quality cables are worth every dime. Lake, Mogami and the like have lower resistance and more fidelity as a consequence. Connectors make a huge difference as well, Neutrik, Amphenol etc but if you have a bad(cold) solder joint, all advantages are thrown out the window.

Guitar cables should no be more than 25’ without a buffer as a general rule, this includes patch cables in the total.

This is only true if you do not like the sound you get out of very long runs with crappy cables.

One more thing, Gold Plated Connectors. If you have copper cable how does gold(a slightly better conductor) help at all? It doesn’t.

Capt Kirk the live sound engineer

The advantage of gold is that it doesn’t corrode. When they dig up old shipwrecks out of the ocean floor, the copper coins come up in a black/green mass, the silver comes up black, and the gold comes up shiny and gold.

In the real world, you don’t leave your audio cables dunked in saltwater for eons. If you leave your cables in an unheated storage unit for a couple of years you may have some corrosion problems (as the air heats/cools moisture will condense on the connectors and will eventually cause corrosion), but for stuff that stays indoors this isn’t an issue.

As Capt Kirk noted in the quoted text, the conductivity of the gold layer doesn’t even really buy you much. And while gold is a better conductor than tin, copper is actually a better conductor than either of them.

So for the most part, using gold connectors on most things (guitar cables, stereo cables, etc) is a bunch of hooey designed to give the cable seller more money.

While retailers are more than happy trying to push gold connector cables on you (more commission for them), you can actually run into problems mixing gold and tin connectors (i.e. using a gold plated cable with a device that has tin plated jacks). I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but as I recall it’s more of a physical process than a chemical one. However it works, over time you can end up with a non-conductive layer forming between the two metals. Probably not an issue with a guitar cable since this gets plugged and unplugged a lot, but it could be an issue for audio equipment that is set up in the studio and doesn’t typically move around.

If you are close enough to the ocean that you can smell the salt in the air then you’d probably want to invest in gold plated connectors. Otherwise, there’s no reason to use them.

Thank you all for your replies. I’m going to experiment a bit with some of the cables I have, maybe try out some of the brands Capt Kirk mentioned.

I do that quite a bit - but now I guess I got more range to work with with the tone controls. I have a partscaster with fender CS69 and a Duncan SSL5 in the bridge and an Epiphone LP with Haussel '69 pickups, and a 50’s wiring kit in it. Laney CUB12 amp - but I also use an old Behringer V-Amp with headphones when I want to be nice to the neighbours :slight_smile:

True that. With the old cable I had the treble controls way up, so there was little more to go on. It seems a lot more normal now.

My God you’re right! :smack: I do have some clothesline outside that has a metal spiral core. Perhaps I should try it sometime - maybe come up with something radically new :slight_smile:

Yea, a connector’s plating material is so thin that the bulk resistivity value of the plating is almost never an issue.

You’re probably referring to fretting corrosion. It can be a problem for tin-on-tin contacts in environments where vibration is present, and/or where the connector is subjected to wide temperature swings. It’s even more of a problem for gold-on-tin contacts. It’s not a problem at all for gold-on-gold contacts. Another potential problem is galvanic corrosion due to the dissimilar metal interface, but this only occurs in the presence of moisture or some kind of electrolyte.

At any rate, there’s usually no problem with using high-quality tin-on-tin connectors. Same goes for nickel (chrome) plated connectors, which are often used for audio jacks.

To the OP:

This guy has done some SPICE simulations for one combination of pickup, cable, and amplifier.

As you can see from this graph, cable capacitance has a definite effect on frequency response. It should be stated, however, that this SPICE model is for his setup only, and will not necessarily be valid for your setup due to differences in the pickups, cables, and input impedances of the amplifiers.

There can be some other possible things to consider.

Dielectric adsorption can cut signal, and better cables use better dielectrics. However this is more subtle. The actual structure of the cables may be different. Whilst we are used to guitar cables that are simple coax, a better cable is made from shielded twisted pair, with the shield connected at one end only. (This, I might add, leads to a directional cable - and is the probably source of the mythology of cable direction in audiofool circles.) The usual go to for info is Rane’s reference site. Here and here. The wiring guide is Rane Note 110, and this particular wiring, number 5 in this note.

The downside is that this style of cable typically has a higher capacitance. But then again, better choice of materials can mean you are still ahead.

Albert Collins was famous for his 100 foot cable, and the attendant forays into the audience. So much part of his act that he continued to use it long after wireless was usable. He had to add significant capacitance to his setup to get back the long cord sound when he used a sensible length. But he mostly played bridge pickup on a tele - and that needs a lot of taming.