For guitar players, quality cables are often overlooked. We are always looking to buy the best guitar, the best amp and the best-sounding pedals we can afford.
Then, once we got $3K invested in our gear, we go out and connect everything with cheap guitar cables.
The truth is, guitar and speaker cables matter -- a lot.
With a guitar signal, you are indeed as strong as your weakest link. I have seen guitar players connect their guitar set-ups with the lowest-quality guitar cable you could ever buy. It is pointless to buy a great instrument and try to carry its sound across with something that is not only not up to the task, but will actually work against it.
No matter how many noise gates or signal maximizers you connect in your signal chain, it will not help. The bottom line is, you need good cables.
Let us rethink this.
Leave The Screaming to the Fans. A good cable will be quiet on stage and in your practice room -- sometimes so quiet that the noise gate you purchased will be obsolete. The only feedback coming out of your guitar will the one you intend on.
Don’t Be A Singer. A good cable will not be microphonic. What I mean by that is that when you run around with your guitar, no strange noises, hollow sounds, pops or feedback will be coming through your guitar. If you take the cable plugged into your guitar (and amp) and whip it across the floor, it should stay quiet. If you hear things, it is microphonic. This is not a good thing for a cable, especially if you play loud and with distortion.
Built to Last. A good cable will last for years. It is true. A good guitar cable will last for years to come. By paying the higher price, you are allowing the cable manufacturer to use higher-end jacks, components and the cable itself. I have some patch and guitar cables in my set-up that I have been using for, get ready for this, 12 years! Yes, you read that right. They have been around the world more than few times and sound as good as new. Now, that is a lot of savings in the end versus buying a new cable every six months.
The Full Spectrum. Most importantly, quality cables will sound great. You will hear clear highs; you will hear well-defined lows and everything in between, loud and clear. Did you hear me say loud and clear? Good cables will carry and support the tone of your guitar. The notes will sound cleaner, fuller and with more sustain. The last sentence should have sold you by now. The difference is super noticeable.
If your cables are not of good quality, consider getting a better product. And give the bad cables as a gift to your keyboard player.
Let’s talk about the simple things you can finally do to extend the life of your good cables.
Take Pride In Your Metal. Before and during each touring cycle, during studio work or every few months or so, I always ask my tech to clean the ends of my guitar and speaker cables.
If you look at some of your cables right now, you will notice their tips might be no longer as shiny as you remember them. There is a reason for it. I found out more by asking cable guru Jean-Marc of Intex Cables what he thinks. He said the environment affects metals (steel, brass, copper, silver, etc.), and they corrode. This corrosion causes intermittents (scratchy sounds) in the cable. He recommended using #00 steel wool to get rid of the corrosion and blemishes on the connector once every few months.
I also will add that in between the steel wool treatment, it is important to wipe down all the ends with a small amount of hand soap and a terry towel (or something similar). I promise: You will notice a difference. While at it, wipe down the rest of the cable.
Don’t Cook -- Rock! If you cables look like spaghetti, you need to get it straight. Literally. Then get your cables in neat loops and tie each one up with Velcro. A good idea is to use three colors of Velcro. Each color for speaker, long and short connector cables. This will make your set-ups quicker and more professional. Nothing speaks amateur like the dude who pulls out a bundle of tied up cables from a suitcase. Don’t be that guy. You are not cooking dinner; you are here to rock.
You also can bundle several cables together with one of those larger orange cable tiers you can buy at home-improvement centers.
Keep It Clean. While making your trip to the home improvement center, pick up some Goof Off (and some gloves). Goof Off is a cool product that takes away gunk, dirt and sticky stuff from surfaces. You can dilute Goof Off with water and use it to wipe down your cables every so often. I cannot stand dirty guitars or cables, so I have them wiped very often. There is nothing worse than grabbing a guitar cable that is dirty and slimy and then picking up the guitar to play. No thanks.
While we are talking about this, do not use duct tape to tape down your cables. It leaves a sticky mess and makes you look like an amateur. Research a few online retailers that service the touring and movie industries. Then buy a couple of rolls of Pro Gaf tape. This tape is easy to tear by hand, leaves no mess and is very strong. You need this. You will never use anything else after you have experienced the power of the Gaf Tape.
Keep It Short, Stupid. Lastly, keep your cables as short as you need to get the job done. Even with good cable, you do not want to keep the length too long. For effect pedals, you need only a foot of cable in-between. Get some good ones and not the 10-in-a-pack-for-$5 patch cables. The longest cable I would ever recommend is 30 feet. Remember, this is times two if you run your pedal board to your amp. If you play smaller venues, cut it down. This means better sound for you and less clutter on stage. Unless you want to trip your singer. I have other tricks for that one.
The same concept goes for a speaker cable. Buy a well-constructed, thick cable, and only as long as you need.
Use your ears and follow your heart. See you next time.
Polish-born Metal Mike Chlasciak has recorded or performed with heavy metal greats Rob Halford, Sebastian Bach, Bruce Dickinson and Axl Rose. Mike is the long-time guitarist for Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford's solo endeavor, Halford. Mike's new album, The Metalworker, is due in spring. For more info, check out his official website and visit him on Twitter.