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Instrument Cables

The following table is the result of a visit in June 2010 to a large guitar store in Tokyo. Cable capacitance was measured with an RCL meter. The prices are in Japanese Yen, for the cable lengths listed. The exchange rate was 90 Japanese Yen to the US dollar. Note that anything made in the USA is a lot cheaper if bought in the USA. For example, an Elixir 20-foot cable was $115.50 in Japan, but only about $49.00 in the USA. The cables are listed in order of increasing cable capacitance, measured in picofarads per foot. Normally, lower capacitance gives better tone, but if you use a High-Q Cable Driver then the cable capacitance becomes unimportant.

Instrument cable
brand and model
pf per foot
Elixir Cables, 92120 10 20 10,395
Monster Rock, 21A 13 21 7,350
Providence, S102 18 16.4 7,875
Monster Studio, 12 28 21 19,425
Planet Waves Classic Series 30 15 1,917
Unknown, Chinese 40 16.4 cheap
Canare Professional Cable 46 23 2,940
Fernandes Guitars 50 16.4 788

Of course there are other factors to consider when choosing a cable. If you are using a High-Q cable buffer you can ignore cable capacitance and focus on these other factors.
  • Mechanical durability and reliable connections between cable and jacks are top on my list.

  • Cable shielding is a tricky topic because the noise sources surrounding the cable can be complicated. There may be old amplifier equipment in the room with leaky power transformers, there may be no earth grounding (especially in Japan), stomp box AC adapters can generate currents in the cable shield, there could be a ham radio antenna transmitting on the roof, and the list goes on. In my experience, even a cheap cable has adequate shielding for most situations. The High-Q cable driver will help a lot here because the source impedance is dropped from about 100,000 ohms to 330 ohms, so shielding becomes less critical.

  • Cable crackle (not the kind due to a poor electrical connection at the jacks) is caused by the triboelectric effect. Good cable manufacturers choose insulation materials that minimize this noise. Personally I have only encountered this once. in a cheap cable to which I had accidentally applied a microphone phantom supply of 5 volts. Every time I tapped or bent the cable there was a loud crackle. The waveform looked exactly like an electrical discharge: what you would normally see across a spark plug. Something in the cable seemed to be breaking down at a very low voltage. When the phantom voltage was reduced to below 0.1 volt or so, the crackle completely disappeared so I'm not even sure this was due to triboelectric charge. It might have been something the manufacturer did (poorly) to prevent the triboelectric effect.

  • This is subjective, but to me the feel of a cable is important. A cable that is thin, light, flexible, and soft is good for me. Small plugs that don't get in the way are also good.