Ask this question in a room full of musicians and you may trigger a Civil War! Everyone has an opinion and it seems that the more complex the explanation, the less real information you get! While it is true that expensive guitar cables are not necessarily the best in quality and sound, it is also true that cheap cables will never perform as well or last as long. As I have stated in past, it will always ultimately be your decision, based on facts, price and “the test drive”!
First off, let’s talk about the cable itself. You want to find a cable that is well shielded. Shielding will prevent the loss of high end and will prevent radio frequency [RF] interference. Anyone who has used an unshielded cable has no doubt been plagued by buzzing, humming and the random radio station coming through their amp. Highs are often attenuated or rolled off. You also want a cable that is flexible and supple. When storing your cable, always coil it in relaxed loops. Do not bend or wrap it tightly. This will stress the wire and cause fractures in the strands that will degrade the cables performance. If your cables outer casing is a rubber compound, then clean your cables periodically with a damp towel. Do not use any chemical cleaners or de-greasers as these will deteriorate the outer coating and eventually ruin your cable. If your outer casing is cloth, then you are out of luck in the “cleaning” department. There is no real way to clean the cloth casing without using chemical that can damage the casing or the rubber sleeve underneath.
What about Coiled Cables? I knew you would ask that! Actually I knew I would ask that for you. My personal opinion is simple. Never use them! Most of the coiled cables I have seen, used or tested have been poorly manufactured. Even if the quality is average, the pressure of the coil pulling back on the connections is greater than you think. The weight of the cable in that coil is distributed so all the stress is on the connection between the cable and the plugs on each end. Your chances for stress failure are great and the overall quality of craftsman and performance is low. Not a great value, even at bargain basement prices.
The second point to consider are the plug ends of the cable. The ends are typically ¼” banana plugs, unless you have a custom connector set installed on your amp, guitar or both. There are two popular styles of ¼” banana plugs, the straight plug and the 90 degree plug. Some guitarists prefer the 90 degree plug on the guitar end of the cable when the receptacle is located on the front of the guitar. If the receptacle is located on the back edge of the body, then the straight plug is usually preferred. The end that plugs into the amp is usually a straight connector.
The plug housing can be made up of Plastic, Rubber or Metal. Plastic is typically used on low quality cables and should not be considered in any serious choice for cables. Metal housings are the toughest and can withstand the abuse that musicians tend to inflict. They are also the easiest to repair, if you are the type of musician who enjoys working with your hands and are handy with a soldering iron. The last type is the molded, rubberized style. These can’t be repaired without completely replacing the end, but a good quality molded end will have strain relief qualities and should hold up well with everyday use.
So how long will a cable last? That depends on the use and care you give your cables. One thing is guaranteed though; ALL cables will eventually go bad for one reason or another and you have the choice of either purchasing new cables or buying cables with a Lifetime Warranty in the first place. That’s right; there are companies out there who stand behind their product with a full replacement lifetime warranty. That means that if anything happens to your cable, all you have to do is take it back into the dealer that sold it to you and you get a replacement right then and there! Not all warranties are full replacement. It is important to read the warranty and understand what is covered. Two manufacturers that come to mind who offer full replacement are Mogami and Monster, but there are more out there and you will have to do some research. The other factor for convenient full replacement is to buy your cables from a dealer near you who carries your cable brand as normal stock. If you choose to buy your cables from an online source, you may want to choose one that also has brick & mortar store fronts, like Guitar Center, so you don’t have to mail your cables in and wait for your replacement.
Even though all “new” cable ends will conduct and pass the signal with little resistance, nickel plated plugs will tend to oxidize over time and lose conductivity. A better option for the long haul is a gold plated plug. This will help with signal flow, but remember that the female ends in your guitar and your amp are still nickel plated. There are ¼” cleaners that you can buy to keep the female receptacles clean or you can use contact cleaner on a Q-Tip or sponge tip wand to clean the contacts inside your guitar and amp periodically.
Third, cable length is also important. As a rule of thumb, never exceed 25 feet for a single cable or as a total run of cables that may be daisy chained from your guitar, through your effects and into your amp. This length limitation will keep loss to a minimum and will still allow for freedom of movement on most stages. NHXH cable