For a piece of gear that seems to be insignificant, the guitar cable is one of the most argued components of guitar gear out there.
Just go to any guitar blog out there and watch thousands of guitarists battle to the death about what makes one cable better than the next.
This is why we’re here today, to sort out the wrong from the right so that you can find the best guitar cable for your budget and needs.
With the vast array of guitar cables (also known as guitar leads) available on the market, it can be difficult to figure out which cable characteristics best suit you.
Luckily, with years of experience, we’re going to condense all we know about guitar cables so that you can spend less time down the rabbit hole of guitar forums, and more time rockin’ that buttery tone.
- 1 What to Consider When Buying a Guitar Cable
- 2 Conductor Design and Material
- 3 Can You Use the Same Cables With A Bass Guitar?
- 4 Best High End Guitar Cables
- 5 Best Value Guitar Cables
- 6 Best Cheap / Budget Guitar Cables
What to Consider When Buying a Guitar Cable
Let’s dig a little into the elements of a top guitar cable so you can know exactly what it is you’re looking for when on the hunt. Here are some key things to keep in mind:
- Shielded Cabling
- Recording Vs. Performance
- Acoustic Vs. Electric
- Coiled Vs. Straight
Shielded Guitar Cables
Shielding is a pretty important factor to consider when looking for a new guitar cable, as it can be the difference between a clean signal and one with lots of hum.
Shielded cabling blocks interfering signals, such as radio signals, from being latched onto the center conductor. Shielded cabling can be especially great if you have noisy equipment already, as it can help to tame the signal to noise ratio.
Recording Vs. Performance
In my experience, there are not any significant differences between cables that I use live and a cable I use in the studio. There are a few small factors to keep in mind though.
If you are recording, get a shorter cable!
Guitar cables that are too long have been shown to degrade the signal with the loss of high frequencies.
When you’re recording, you’ll most likely want the sound to be as transparent as possible.
Remember, you can always take things out of a signal in processing, but you’ll never be able to add something that wasn’t there.
If you’re playing live, however, a long cable might be your best bet. Nobody wants to be glued to one spot on stage because any sudden move will send their 10-foot cable flying out.
A live cable will need to be built for durability. It will likely have amps rolled over it, beer spilled on it, and end up a crumpled mess because the sound guy never learned how to coil a cable properly. Companies like Mogami and Monster build their cables to be more durable and last longer.
Maybe you want to run from one end of the stage to the other - Angus Young style !
In that case, you’ll probably want a wireless rig. Wireless rigs can sound just as solid as regular guitar cables if you invest in them.
Many companies sell cheap wireless rigs with low-quality companders and spotty RF Performance.
While going wireless can be tempting, only do so if you have enough money to invest in a system that won’t degrade your signal quality.
Acoustic Vs. Electric
Acoustic guitar cables and electric guitar cables, no matter what anyone tells you, are the same thing.
Acoustic guitars with jacks (acoustic / electric guitars to be more exact), use pickups that are wired through the controls to the input jack, similar to an electric guitar.
If you really must know what cable would be best for your acoustic, just think high quality. You’ll want a cable that doesn’t distort your incoming signal much and one that is shielded well to protect incoming noise from resonating.
Solderless cables typically come in kits and allow you a bit more flexibility and customizability than your typical soldered cable.
Not only do you not need to worry about a cheap cable with a bad soldering job introducing a ton of noise to your signal, but you can also easily customize the length of your cables on the fly.
Your pedals are most likely chained using solderless connections, so there’s no harm in using a solderless cable as your primary driver.
Coiled Vs. Straight
Coiled cables are excellent for live performances on bigger stages that require you to be more fluid. A cable that is coiled at 10-feet is more realistically a 30-foot cable.
That being said, the longer the cable, the more it will degrade your tone. A coiled cable will likely take some of the treble off the top. They are also more likely to get tangled up, which can be a huge pain to deal with.
One interesting point, however, is that Hendrix used coiled cables all the time in his live sets and still managed to get a killer tone.
If it sounds good, it is good!
Conductor Design and Material
A conductor is what is going to transmit energy from one end of your cable to the next.
While many cable manufacturers use copper as a conductor, some companies are beginning to implement oxygen-free copper and linear-crystal copper into their cables to bring further clarity to the signal. If you’re looking for a great cable, we would highly recommend keeping your eye out for keywords like oxygen-free copper or linear-crystal.
A conductor can also be separated between stranded and solid. While stranded conductors are much more durable and flexible, they tend to be more expensive than solid conductors.
If you are okay with putting down a bit more cash, definitely go with a cable that has stranded conductors. If you want to learn a bit more about how big a difference conductor design can make, check out this article from Omni Cable.
Can You Use the Same Cables With A Bass Guitar?
Before you run out and spend money on an expensive cable marketed towards bass players, here’s what you must know about the difference between bass and guitar cables.
There isn’t a difference!
Best High End Guitar Cables
Mogami is probably one of the most famous names in the premium cable sphere, and definitely for a good reason.
First off, their cables come with a lifetime warranty, which makes it easier to choke down the heftier price tag.
On top of that, these crystal clear and undeniably transparent cables are pretty much the studio-standard for professional recording.
Complete with an oxygen-free copper core, a conductive polymer shield, and a PVC anti-static shield that makes the cable near dead silent, we can tell you beyond our positive experiences with Mogami cables that they are the real deal.
Right out of the box, you’ll notice that these high-end cables come with a unique woven fabric rather than a rubber coating, meaning you can purchase these in a variety of styles and colors.
Not only does it look and feel better than most cables, not to mention free of tangles and kinks, but the sound with these cables are as near transparent as Mogami cables.
The 20 AWG ultra pure copper center conductor gives it an excellent, pure signal. Need a solid high-end cable to gig with? This cable may just be your best bet in the premium realm.
Monster is known for their hardcore marketing in the premium audio world, and while it may bother some, they do have the products to back it up.
Their old-school classic coiled cable is a perfect example of that. It comes with a 20 AWG copper conductor, 90% copper spiral wrap shielding, and an ultra-durable, coiled jacket that will rock with you through the craziest of gigs.
This is one of our favorite high-end cables for taming bright guitars, as the coiled cables naturally do.
Best Value Guitar Cables
Our list for best value cables includes our top three cables that we believe have the best mix of quality and price.
Right off the bat, the thing we love about these guitar cables is that they utilize high-quality Neutrik plugs. Typically, cables that sport Neutrik plugs are pretty expensive, so for the low price, we’re pretty impressed.
The Geo-Tip is another unique little feature on the Planet Waves American Stage Cable that lets you know when you are fully plugged in by making a nice clicking sound.
This is an overall durable, and high-end cable that we think is best for those in need of a reliable gigging cable.
Just slightly more expensive than the Planet Waves American Stage Cable, the Planet Waves Circuit Breaker is another excellent value cable for live performances.
It comes with a built-in mute switch that mutes the signal when you plug it in or take it out of the jack, getting rid of the nasty noise that comes with accidentally unplugging your guitar when your amp is at 11.
It also comes designed with some sweet 24k gold-plated plugs that help to keep it from corroding.
Take note that the connectors are a little wide, so if your jack is set deeper in the hull of your body, it might be difficult to plug it in.
With a bright red jacket and a thick, durable build, the Red Dragon truly lives up to its name, yet with all its power, has quite a nice price tag.
It enables you to play very transparently with its oxygen-free copper and high-density shielding. Not only does it work great for studio recording, but because of the PVC layer for added durability and electrostatic shielding, it is also an excellent cable if you’re looking for a long-lasting piece of performance gear.
There’s no doubt that the Red Dragon is one of the most unique value cables around.
Best Cheap / Budget Guitar Cables
Although HOSA isn’t the most popular name out there for guitar cables, they have had tons of experience in making high-quality, yet affordable sound tech for over three decades now!
With a traditional build, such as the oxygen-free copper conductors, metal plugs, and an OFC braided shield, this is your run-of-the-mill guitar cable that is simple and affordable.
This is an excellent cable for someone who is playing a lot at home or in the studio, as it doesn’t have the best rating regarding durability, relative to higher end cables.
This used-to-be guitar amplifier manufacturer back in the 1960’s is now making some of the most popular, affordable guitar cables around.
It has double insulator shields and oxygen free copper wrapped up in old-school braided tweed.
If you’re someone who likes the classic aesthetic of tweed and the idea of a no-frills cable, this might be a solid choice for you. That being said, the GLS Audio Tweed Cable is not the most durable or long lasting, so keep that in consideration if you’re aim is longevity.
What we love about Fender Instrument Cables is that they are incredibly affordable, yet are built to last in live situations.
The reason being is that they are designed to withstand kinking and twisting, letting you thrash around with them as much as possible without compromising the performance.
With tons of different designs, OFC conductors, quality shielding, and lifetime warranties, these might be our favorite choice for cheap guitar cables.
Some people have had issues with the cables failing right out of the box, which we assume is just a manufacturer defect, but other than that there are not many bad things to say about it.
Let It Ring!
The best thing you can do when deciding what guitar cable to buy is to either listen to them or test them out side by side!
Audio companies can try to sell you their products using fancy mumbo-jumbo and tech-savvy language, but at the end of the day, guitar cables are only as good as they sound – to you.
That being said, the Mogami Gold is at the top of our list. The price may be premium, but when you consider the fact that it’s a durable cable, has a crystal clear sound and is essentially good for life, it’s a hard one to beat.
We hope our guitar cable buying guide has helped you on your quest to create your perfect sound!
There are also cables with a shielded twisted pair design as opposed to coaxial designs and I use the former as I much prefer them in use practically and soundwise.
ENRICO DI ROCCO says
Hi, I heard that Monster classic cable 1/4″ connectors are slightly bigger in diameter than standard connectors. This In the long run will create a distance within the jack input and thus other cables will end up being loose in the jack or having an intermittent sound due to the gap created by the larger diameter of the monster classic. Is there any truth to this?
Hey Enrico – We have not heard about that. If we can confirm this with some good detailed sourcing, we will update the article. Thanks for your input!