Best patch cables 2023: tidy up your ‘board with our pick of the best patch leads

Pancake patch cable plugged into a guitar pedal
(Image credit: Future)

If you've committed to building a pedalboard, the initial driver is likely to be a combination of organization and portability. Having lots of random, mismatched guitar cables is stressful if something goes wrong mid-set. Not only are longer cables untidy and make it harder to move your ‘board, but they’re heavier too. When building a board, we’d recommend purchasing a brace of the best patch cables you can afford to give your organization (not to mention your confidence) a boost.

Off-the-shelf patch cables (also sometimes called pedal couplers) are excellent, with mechanical failure rates way lower than they used to be, even at the budget end of the market. You can also build your own patch cables to ensure you get the right sizes, and there are solderless patch cable kits from several companies. In this guide we’re going to look at the top patch cables you can buy right now.

Best patch cables: Guitar World's Choice

Based on both the low price, and the fact that they've been rock solid for us, we've got to recommend the Donner Guitar Patch Cables. With six in a pack, there's enough to wire up a good chunk of your pedalboard, and they don't look ugly either. The only downside is that they're more difficult to come by in some locations depending on distribution. If you can't get the Donners, then the Planet Waves 3-pack is also excellent value, though a bit higher-profile at the jack end.

At the highest end, there's Mogami guitar cables, but we don’t feel there's much benefit to cables that plush. A better compromise is something like the Ernie Ball Flat Angle Patch Cable or Fender Angled Jack Patch Cable, which are still premium, but not excessively so. In the case of the Ernie Ball, they also come in a pancake version, ideal for tighter pedalboards.

Best patch cables: Product guide

Best patch cables: Buying advice

Boss BPC-4 patch cables

(Image credit: Boss)

Now, if you’re wondering whether the type of patch cables you choose really matters, the honest answer is that there's not a huge amount of complexity when it comes to off-the-shelf options. In our experience, there's only a small gap in quality between the cheapest cables you can buy and the most expensive. 

If you get generic patch cables off eBay, you might come unstuck, but we still use patch cables we bought for $1 fifteen years ago that are still going strong. That said, if buying online, it could be that you want the peace of mind that comes from a branded cable with a guarantee.

TS or TRS?

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Most of the time you’ll need cables with TS connectors, which are the same standard as you’ll find on regular guitar instrument cables. TS stands for tip-sleeve and this kind of cable carries a mono signal, which is perfect for most guitar pedals because they’re usually mono too. 

Even if you do own a stereo pedal or two they are likely to have distinct left and right input and/or output jacks that still require mono TS cables. You’ll just need one for each stereo channel or, better still, a dual cable.

Occasionally, you may come across a stereo pedal with a single input and/or output jack that can be configured for mono or stereo by flipping a tiny internal jumper switch. When set to mono it’ll take a regular TS cable but in stereo mode you’ll need to use a TRS cable. TRS stands for tip-ring-sleeve, and it can either be used to carry a stereo signal or a balanced mono signal. 

It's worth reiterating that for the vast majority of pedals you’ll just need a bunch of mono TS patch cables. So, if you’re not working in stereo, don’t sweat it.

What’s hidden inside a TS patch cable?

A TS cable is coaxial, with a core of multiple copper strands that carry your audio signal and a braided copper sheath that acts as both shielding and a ground. Between the two will be  layers of insulation plus, of course, there’s an additional thick outer layer of protective insulation too, usually made of PVC. In order to carry a signal, the core is soldered to the tip of the connector, while the woven sleeve is grounded to the body. 

Many premium brands are quick to point out that they use low capacitance, oxygen-free copper and gold plated connectors, but are these upgrades worth paying for? Well, oxygen-free copper will provide greater signal reliability and is more resistant to corrosion. Just. 

The fact is, almost all copper destined for cabling manufacture will be free of oxygen anyway. And, while it’s true that capacitance can rob your tone over long cable runs, it’s hardly an issue for short patch cables. Similarly, gold plated connectors are more corrosion resistant, but the coating is soft and wears rapidly.

Our take is that the performance claims you’ll read about for capacitance, oxygen-free copper and gold plate aren’t just snake oil, there’s some good science behind them. But, in the real world, the benefits are almost insignificant. That said, gold-plated connectors do look rather fine, and will match your gold lamé suit!

Buying the best patch cables for you

The main things you need to consider when investing in the best patch cables are the type of jack end and the length of the cable.

Most jacks won't be straight, as pedalboard real estate is limited. These days, in addition to standard right-angle jacks, there are lots of different variations on the low-profile, or 'pancake' jack. Particularly for pedals that have side-mounted jacks rather than the now-standard top-mount jacks, having a few pancake jacks to hand is invaluable.

Standard lengths are usually about 15cm, 30cm, 50cm and various lengths up to a meter. If you are building cables from a patch cable kit, then you can custom-build your cables to exactly the right length.

There's also the question of aesthetics – some cables, like the Fender custom shop patch cables, look amazing, but that aesthetic does come at a cost. At the end of the day, cool patch cables make for great Instagram content, but we've not found that they improve our tone or playing.

A few patch cables are available in a rainbow of different colors, which may look a little gaudy but can be immensely useful for finding your way around a complex pedalboard.

If you decide to build your own, then you need to choose between solderless and a kit that you need to solder. It's possible to make robust cables using a solderless kit, so to some extent the choice is about personal preference. It's worth investigating, assuming you have the tools and the confidence to use them. Here however, we've only recommended solderless kits.

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Alex Lynham

Alex Lynham is a gear obsessive who's been collecting and building modern and vintage equipment since he got his first Saturday job. Besides reviewing countless pedals for Total Guitar, he's written guides on how to build your first pedal, how to build a tube amp from a kit, and briefly went viral when he released a glitch delay pedal, the Atom Smasher.

With contributions from