We've all heard that old tired saying before – you're only as strong as your weakest link – but how many of us out there actually use it in practice? Musicians more so than most should really consider if they are following this golden rule. We all know that the most important thing when it comes to guitar is tone and yes, any musician worth their weight already knows that even a vintage thousand dollar ax will sound horrendous coming out of cheap hundred dollar amp but how many of us pay particular attention to our cables? Well, we should. I can't tell you how many times I've checked out other fellow musicians' impressive rigs only to be taken aback by the gaudy condition of their instrument cables. Some of these cables don't even seem fit enough to tie a knot with let alone send a quality signal! But fidelity aside, there are a few other things regarding cables that every musician should know. So, with that said, here are a few tips on selecting and maintaining instrument cables.
Like most of you, I've heard plenty of other musicians say that the size of a cable plays so little into the fidelity of a signal that its pretty much a non-issue. It simply doesn't matter, they say. Well, turns out it does matter if getting the best tone possible out of your setup is of any concern. In fact, its kind of a no-brainer when you think about it; the longer the distance that a signal has to travel, the weaker its naturally going to get. Does this mean you should go out and get yourself a three-foot cord? Not exactly. You want to be able to move around, I'm sure, so it all comes down to a trade off. Want to be able to run around on stage like your favorite rock star? A twenty foot cable is great for that, the only thing is, you're going to have to sacrifice some fidelity in your tone. If its worth it, rock on, but for most of us, a twelve footer or so should be considered the sweet spot for length and tone quality.
Since I'm throwing out old-timey sayings, how about this one: Cleanliness is next to godliness. Can you see where this is going? All of us know – or should know – the importance of keeping our gear clean. Most of us know to wipe the smudges off our ax, to make sure the knobs are free of rust and even clean the gunk off our strings from time to time – but how many of us give our instrument cables the same amount of attention? If you do, great! One less thing to worry about. Although it might not seem like it, instrument cables, just like strings, easily build up grease and grime over time. Even when thin and hardly noticeable, a slight film of grease on the ends of instrument cables is enough to reduce the flow of electrons of a signal. Luckily for all of us, fixing this problem is as easy as taking a soft, clean cloth and giving the cable plugs a nice rub down. You don't have to do this every single time you play either – every couple of months should be more than enough to keep those cable inputs in top shape.
Here's a pretty simple one – metal conducts electricity. On the other hand, plastic doesn't. With that said, would you rather use an instrument cable with the plugs surrounded by metal shells or plastic ones? The answer should be pretty obvious. Sure, these type of cables are a bit costlier than those that simply use injected molding around their plugs but trust me – they sound a lot better. If you ever have the opportunity, try out both of these types of cables and listen closely. You should notice the cable with the metal shells sound better. While you're at it, try and look for two or four-conductor cables instead of the bottom of the line single conductor type. If its not clear on the product page, simply ask one of our knowledgeable associates here at PAL (firstname.lastname@example.org) and they'll be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
And last but not least, this tip is probably the one that most of us out there might be a bit surprised to learn – both ends of the cables aren't necessarily the same. Ever notice how some high-audio cables show little printed arrows that point which direction the cord should be plugged in? The reason behind this is because an audio interconnect requires that the signal be able to pass at the same strength in both the positive and negative directions. If you were to connect these the wrong way, it can cause impedance mismatches which as far as tone goes is definitely not a good thing. The only problem is that most cable manufacturers fail to pay any serious attention to this so it is up to you to figure out what goes where. Luckily for us, the solution isn't hard at all. As you probably already guessed, all it takes is plugging the cable in one way and then try it out the other way – listen closely and you'll most likely hear a difference.