02 June 2012

Accessories: DIY Guitar Cables


Well, if you browse any store, physical or virtual, you will see that there is some variate offer of guitar patch cables (those that you use to link your pedal effects).
Usually, you have very cheap options or very expensive options and, very few standard lengths available.

When you are dealing with a small pedal chain, this is not a great issue. You can choose a couple or three of decent cable and go ahead.
But, when you are integrating larger chains, patch cables take a greater importance, since they are extending the length of the virtual cable that is between your guitar and the amp and, we already know that the original signal can be altered in several ways (volume, gain, frequencies roll out, noise, parasites, etc) and that, that degradation increases directly to the total length of that virtual cable and inversely to the quality of the cable itself.

What I am looking for in my pedal patch cables is transparency and good preservation of the signal characteristics but, also important: flexibility and customizable lenghts.

For a very long time, one of the typical DIY cables used by guitarists around the World are George's L ones, usually with their own no-soldering-needed jacks. Evidence Audio is providing its own approach with their new Monorail cable, which is compatible with George's L jacks.

I tested both, George's L and Monorail cables and, I finally found them as not so practical. That George's L type of connection is a weak spot in your chain. Those kind of cables are not so flexible and, they tend to disconnect from that kind of  jacks, when the cable is being pushed against the floor or, bended by a close pedal.

So, I finally wanted to go my own way, buying bulk cable of a good quality and reasonable price and with the standard maker of jacks: Neutrik.

After a dilated time looking for some cable easily available in Europe, with outstanding characteristics, I decided to go for German maker Sommer Cable and their model SC The Spirit.
This one is a real Guitar Cord and not a typical patch cable, as George's L 0.255" or Evidence Audio Monorail and, it is a thick cable but, flexible enough for a pedal board use.

For jacks, I choose Neutrik maker and their model  NP2RX-Bag, angled.

Sommer Cable SC The Spirit

This is the Product Description, in Sommer Cable site.
Several characteristics took my attention. It has a very low capacitancy rate (78 pF / meter). Shield covers the 100% of the conductor. Conductor resistance is also low (39 Ohm / Kilometer). Insulating resistance is really high (> 1 GOhm / Kilometer), etc.

The way as the inner conductor is being isolated from the shield is a different approach to what I saw in other cables. Even that the inner conductor is a thread of thin strands (what gives flexibility to the cable but increases the risk of microphonics), there is a carbon film layer between both insulating layers (the insider, for the insider conductor and the outsider, for the shield), which function is to lower capacitancy and to minimize microphonics issues.

Also, strands are copper tin-plated ones. I used this kind of strands in some Guitar Wiring designs and, I found them very transparent and Hi-Fi, with a good signal level so, I thought: "well, I think this one is the right candidate".

As a side note, before going to the high-end SC The Spirit cable, I wanted to check their medium quality Tricone MKII. The external insulating is spongy and the overall feel is that is way more flexible than The Spirit but, I didn't find a real improvement in my sound.
In the positive side, this cable is really easy to work with it, very flexible and quick for peeling and soldering tasks.

The Spirit Cable is less flexible, has a greater diameter and its external insulating is thicker. Not so easy to work with it, since you need professional tools to peel off the cable, due to its diameter and thickness.
The cheap tool I was using to build 20 Tricone Cables with ease, brook just with the first cable The Spirit, that I was trying to build.
After sourcing a more professional peeling tool (Professional auto adjusting peeling pliers), everything went ok.
You are warned: don't use a cheap peeling pliers with The Spirit, you need a good tool.
This kind of professional pliers have some kind of rule that helps you to just peel off the exact centimers you need for soldering to the jack. This speeds up the process, since the lenghts of the peeled areas for Neutrik Jacks are clearly specified in Neutrik products.

When I finished building all the cables, I tested them in my pedal board and, I've immediately noticed an improvement in clarity, signal strenght and quietness. Specially the silence, the really low floor noise.
So, it worked fine to me.

Neutrik NP2RX-Bag Jacks

Here you can fin the Product Description.
I wanted to go for a Neutrik plug, since they are the standard for audio world, since a very long time.
This concrete model is angled and is one of the slimmer models that Neutrik has in its catalog. This two characteristics made this model very interesting for pedal patching cables.
Plug's case is totally metallic, what creates some kind of Faraday's Cage, that helps to reject unwanted electrical noise and interferences.
Additionally, this model is very affordable, considering its quality.

I love everything in this plug, even the plastic bag where the plug comes (disassembled) that, has a line of cut dots that allows a quick opening of the bag, stripping the plastic after that dotted line.
Mounting the plug seems complex the very first time you face the plug. Please, take a look to Assembly Instructions, it is simpler than it seems.
Once you assemble the first one, everything is clear and you can work really fast.

Just a curious finding: Neutrik NP2RX-TIMBRE Plug

This is a very curious plug that Neutrik is offering.

It seems a paradox that High-End Cable Makers are fighting to achieve the most transparent cable (without any kind of coloration of the signal, with the less strength degradation, low noise, etc.) and, in other side a Plugs Maker as Neutrik is creating a plug that can modify the tone of the cable itself!.
Makes it any sense?.

Well, Music gear differs from Hi-Fi gear mainly in that Music gear wants some kind of distortion (just the right amount and type) while Hi-Fi gear is trying to achieve the most transparent sound.
We have very well made cables, with a great control of microphonies, interferences, noises and a fair representation of the original sound coming from the guitar but, do you know what?, sometimes, you need that warmer sound that an old cheap cable can bring to you.

Watch, but specially hear, the following demo video. Interesting?


For sure, there are more cable makers and models that can be used, as well as other plugs.
Mogami's Instrument Cables are a Standard in Studio environment and, they don't use to be so expensive as other high-end makers, as Vovox (the expensiver) or Evidence Audio, by example.
Aphenol plugs are also well made and easy to assemble.

In any case, just get a good transparent cable, with good EMI rejection and low floor noise and, some quality connectors, with full metallic case and try the difference respect of your cheap bargain patch cables.

Avoid Vintage type cables, with that cotton jacket used as external isolant. During my tests I've found that cables with that kind of coat are highly prone to microphonics (all that I've tested except for Evidence Audio The Lyric II, that seems immune to this issue).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the post and for translating it into English. I've been thinking about my cables and this is very helpful as I decide what to do. Thanks!


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