Greetings wonderful people. Welcome back to the JAMS Blog. This week we continue with our discussion of guitar cables. What makes a great Guitar Cable? Last week we focused on the bulk cable construction, this week we look at the connectors.
The 1/4" Connector Design
Guitar cables almost primarily use a standard 1/4" connector, named after the diameter size of the connector. 1/4" connectors are commonly used in many audio applications. This type of connector is used for: instrument (line level signal), speaker, balanced audio, or stereo audio. This can get confusing, especially since a guitar cable and speaker cable can easily be confused. But there are ways to distinguish it all.
The connector on the left is a TS connector (Tip Sleeve). This 2 contact connector provides a mono signal. The connector on the right is a TRS connector (Tip/Ring/Sleeve). Notice the two black rings on the connector which divides the different points of contact. This 3 contact connector provides a stereo signal.
1/4" connectors come as a two contact version or three contact version. Two contact versions are referred as Mono or TS (Tip Sleeve). These connectors are designed to send a signal and ground. Three contact versions are called Stereo or TRS (Tip/Ring/Sleeve); designed to carry two signals and a ground. This is typically used for balanced signals (think microphone cables) or stereo signal. Connectors used for guitar cables are 2 contact versions. Speaker cables also use TS connectors. The difference speaker and guitar is the cable/wire that is used.
These two cable assembles look almost identical. However, one is an speaker cable and one is a guitar cable. You may notice the assembly on the left has a large thicker cable, a good indicator that is has larger gauge copper necessary for speaker cable.
Can I used a Guitar Cable instead of a Speaker Cable or Vice Versa?
Short answer, no. Long answer, well there’s a reason that the industry sells two different options and it's not just to make more money. The two are a completely different signal. Speaker cables carry signal with power. This requires larger gauge copper which ranges between 18awg and 12awg. Shielding is not found on speaker cable as interference is not an issue. Guitar cables carry a low voltage signal and a smaller gauge copper is used, ranging from 24awg to 18awg. Shielding is required to keep out interference.
So, if you use a guitar cable for a speaker cable then you run the chance of having a poor under powered signal. Don’t be surprised if your cable/equipment runs hot and is subsequently damaged. If you use a speaker cable in lieu of a guitar cable you will know instantly as a noticeable buzz will ensue. I would definitely make sure I have the right cable. Most the time the jacket of the cable will indicate “Speaker” on “Instrument”. If not, most times you can remove the 1/4" connector barrel and look at the solder connectors. If their are two equal wires its a speaker cable. If you have a center conductor with the shielding used as the ground then you have an instrument cable.
Now let’s look at connector options. I personally classify three tiers of connectors: Molded, Standard, and Professional.
These connectors are factory made assemblies where the connectors are assembled with an injection molded boots. These tend to be found on your most budget friendly cables. Once they break, and they will break, they are virtually impossible and impractical to repair. If you find guitar cables like this I advice not using them as they tend to be assembled with cheap cable. My only exception is the Planet Waves Series cables.
You’ll find this connector design on our your basic guitar cables and sometimes dressed up on your nicer cables. They are a great option; sturdy, robust, and good performance. If you build your own cables they are easy to assemble and offer a good strain relief option. Many times you can use a shrink build-up or covering to make the connector assembly more durable.
As I mentioned, some brands will dress up this basic design to make them distinguished. There are many variances of this type of connector. You’ll see different colored barrels, logo branded barrels, and other varieties. In essence they are all basically the same design. A great option and the industry standard.
My preferred choice for connectors are the Neutrik Professional Series Plugs. They feature a rugged diecast shell, slim design, and stout ¼” connector. These connectors feature a unique chuck boot design that provides exceptional strain relief. This makes the cable less likely to break or the solder connections to come lose due to bends and twist at the connector. The Neutrik Professional connectors look tough, are tough, and provides an excellent performance. They are easy to assemble and easy to disassemble when repairs are necessary. These connectors are typically double the price from your standard connector but are worth the extra cost if you want an upgrade for durability and performance.
A great connector paired with the right wire is the perfect recipe for a great guitar cable. Use a Neutrik Profession Plug on 20awg guitar cable with 95% braid shield, such as the Rapco Studio Cable, and you have yourself a high quality guitar cable fit for guitar king.
For questions or further details about guitar cables or custom assemblies visit our store location and see what we have to offer a JAMS.