Guitar/Cables

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Since you are likely to encounter cables at some point in your guitar playing career, it is important learn about them. This is especially true if you play the electric guitar. With the electric guitar, the use of an amplifier is essential and the cable is the only connection that links the two together. So in order to ensure a good sound, you need to use the proper cabling.

A comparison of 4 jack types. From left to right: A 2.5 mm jack (often used with cellphones), a 3.5 mm mono, a 3.5 mm stereo and a 6.3 mm stereo

Audio Cables[edit]

Two styles of 6.3mm jack

Jack Plugs[edit]

Plugs and Jacks are one style of connector used to connect audio equipment together. Jacks are the "female" side of the connection into which Plugs -- the "male" side of the connection are inserted. Anyone who has ever used a set of headphones is familiar with at least one type of jack. A jack is simply the end of a cable that lets it connect to another audio device. They come in many different sizes, but for guitarists the most important ones are these:

  • 3.5mm mono - small microphones and LINE Out or LINE In small audio devices (z. B. sound map)
  • 3.5mm stereo - headphones and LINE Out or LINE In small audio devices (e.g. sound map).
  • 6.3mm mono - LINE Out or LINE In larger audio devices (guitar amplifier, mixers, etc.), e-guitar, Send or Return of effects equipment, microphones and loudspeakers.
  • 6.3mm stereo - combining Send and Return with effects devices, Stereo microphones and headphones.

Plugs and Jacks are often referred to among audio professionals as "tip-sleeve" or "tip-ring-sleeve" connectors. If one looks closely at plug at the end of a typical set of headphones, one will note that there are white or black plastic rings separating metal surfaces. Each of those metal surfaces is connected to a wire that is used to send audio from one side to another. The notch found in the tip of the connector is used to give the connection some resistance to being inadvertently disconnected (though it hardly compares to the positive locking of the XLR connector following).

The 6.3mm (or 1/4" as it's commonly referred to) mono connector is commonly used for connecting a guitar to an amplifier. Since a guitar, from an audio point of view, really has no sense of left-to-right difference, only two wires are needed, so this mono or "tip-sleeve" connector is fine for the job. The tip carries the audio signal, while the sleeve carries the ground side of the audio signal.

Looking at a pair of typical headphones for a portable music player, one finds three metal sections. The 3.5mm stereo or tip-ring-sleeve connector uses the tip for left-hand audio, the ring for right-hand audio and the sleeve for ground. Look further at a set of headphones for a smartphone like Apple's EarPods, and one finds four metal sections: tip for left-hand audio, ring for right-hand audio, little sleeve for control signals produced by the volume/play-pause controller, and big sleeve for ground.

Choosing Good Cables[edit]

Choosing the right cable for an electric guitar is all about preserving the tone that the luthier and you have worked so hard to create. Many different styles of patch cables are available in differing lengths and using different brands of connectors, cable and jackets. A good patch cable has been made with the rigours of guitar playing in mind: It will use high quality connectors (look for Neutrik or Switchcraft on the connectors themselves as two high quality brands), will be constructed using high quality cable, and will often offer some strain relief using a reinforcing sleeve or spring-type arrangement at the point where connector and cable meet. A good cable will lay flat when fully extended with no tendency to curl or twist. When connected between the guitar and amplifier, the connections should feel solid, with no excessive play or looseness. There should be no appreciable noise added to the sound of the guitar, and when the guitarist grasps the connector body while connected to the guitar and amplifier there should not be an increased hum heard.

Patch cords often come with rubberized jackets, fabric jackets or vinyl/polyvinyl jackets. The first two are particularly good as the main guitar-to-amplifier connection, while the third is more suited to use between effects units or from the effects units to the amplifier. The choice between rubberized and fabric jackets mainly comes down to personal preference, though, the rubberized cables are somewhat easier to clean off should they come in contact with sticky or damp substances common in some performance locations.

Good patch cables will be priced in the US$20-40 range for a 3-meter cable. A good quality cable will have a lifespan of five to ten years if properly cared for.

XLR plugs[edit]

XLR plug and socket

These plugs are very durable and they are the plug of choice for professional recordings, and non-professional recordings. Nearly all professional stages and sound studios are equipped with XLR connections... some home studios have XLR connections, thanks to the invention of retail outlets. Loudspeakers and mixers are also often connected with these cables too

The plugs have a catch mechanism, which prevents inadvertent separation of a patch cord. In order to be able to pull a XLR plug from the socket, you have to press the release mechanism. A XLR connection always consists of 3 phases. One phase transfers the mass while the other two transmit the audio signal. Usually one of the two audio signals is misphased in transfer, in order to remove any effects from signal distortion.

MIDI Cables[edit]

MIDI cable pluged into a port.

Right now, the 5 pronged MIDI cable are always used for data transfer, but originally they were intended for use with high quality stereo equipment. At that time this 5- pronged cable represented a variant to Stereo, which existed beside the identical, 3 pronged mono execution.

Today these cables are used almost exclusively for the transmission of MIDI control signals between MIDI capable music instruments, amplifiers and computers. Since it does not depend on fast data transmission rates, shielding of the individual wires inside the cable is not necessary.

Polyphonic or Hexaphonic Guitar Cables[edit]

In order to transfer each string to a guitarsynth, polyphonic guitar effect or guitar2MIDI, a few different connectors have been used, but the one introduced by Roland/BOSS in 1989 has clearly turned into a standard. Its a DIN 13pin as it has been used in car radio before and apart from the 6 strings (pin 1...6) it contains the standard mono output (pin7), a volume control (pin8), an up/dn switch (pin10/11) and +-7V (pin 12/13). A problem is that ground flows only through the week housing contact.

Other polyphonic connectors:

  • 7pin Lemo, used by ARP Avatar guitar synth (1977)
  • 24pin rectangular used by Roland before the 13pin DIN (1977-88)
  • Neutricon used by Paradis Guitars (1985-96)
  • subD used by Photon (around 1984)
  • multiplexed stereo 1/4" used by Shadow GTM (around 1984)
  • RJ45 Ethernet style used by Gibson Digital Guitar (since 2005)

Other Cables[edit]

Power Cables[edit]

Warning: All these cables and connectors are intended for a high supply voltage! Changes or repairs to such cables can be dangerous!

Mains Power Cable[edit]

Mains Power lead

A three slot conductor plug designed to International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) specifications. Sometimes called a "kettle plug" or "kettle lead". The kettle lead is designed for use with mains power outlets.


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