A guitar lead is the cable used to connect up your guitar to your amplifier, passing on the signal created by your guitar’s pickups to your amp so that it can become audible. It might not be the most glamorous part of your rig, but it is pretty essential! Despite the name, guitar leads are not exclusively used by guitarists, but are an essential bit of kit for any instrument that needs to be plugged into an amplifier, including bass guitars, violins, mandolins and many others besides. Guitar leads come in a variety of sizes, can be made of different materials and can also vary greatly in price. In order to understand why there is such variation in the world of guitar leads we first need to look at how they actually work.
How does it work?
Guitar leads can be made of slightly different materials and have some variations in design, but they also consist of the same basic elements:
- Copper Core: This is the most important element of the cable as it does the job of carrying the signal from your guitar to your amp. Copper carries electricity very well and as your guitar only supplies a very small signal (0.1-1v) it’s a perfect choice for a guitar lead.
- Shielding: The copper core is first wrapped in insulation and then in a layer of braided copper shielding, the purpose of this is to keep outside electrical interference from reaching the signal passing through the copper core and creating the kind of buzz and hum that every guitarist dreads!
- Outer Casing: This is the visible outer layer of the cable and is usually made of either rubber or a durable fabric. The outer casing of a cable needs to strike a balance between flexibility and durability, so you can move around on stage as much as you like without worrying about it breaking!
- ¼” Jack Plug: This is the metal bit at either end of your cable which plugs into your guitar or amp. The tip of the jack plug is connected to the copper core inside the cable via a terminal inside the plug, carrying the signal from your guitar into your amp. Jack plugs are typically either made form nickel or gold and some manufacturers claim that gold casing provides a better tone, although the jack plug casing has very little to do with tone or clarity, so the main appeal of gold plugs is really just aesthetic! Jack plugs can either be straight or right angle jacks depending on the location of the input jack on your guitar; some guitars, such as Telecasters, have the input jack on the side of the guitar, and a lot of players prefer to have a right angle jack to stop it from sticking out too much.
So now we know what a guitar lead is and how it works, what is that makes one lead good and another one bad? Is it worth spending a bit more on an expensive cable or do they all essentially do the same job?
What makes a good guitar lead?
Even the best guitar leads cannot actually improve your tone; the ultimate goal of a good guitar lead is to provide clarity, i.e. altering the signal produced by your guitar as little as possible before it reaches your amp. However, a cheap guitar lead will not only lack the clarity to transmit your tone purely but will also be much more prone to interference from external electrical signals, resulting in every guitarist’s worst nightmare; the dreaded sound of buzz or hum ruining your carefully crafted tone! Overall, to achieve clarity a cable must be made of good conductive materials (usually good quality copper) and also have effective shielding around the core to stop other electrical items interfering with the signal being passed through the cable.
The difference in sound between any decent quality guitar lead is really something that only the most trained ears can pick out, and even then the difference is only very small, so when it comes to picking the right cable what is it that make a guitar cable good value for money? In a word, the most important aspect of any guitar lead is durability; whether a cable will stop working after the first time you step on it, or whether it will stand up to the rigours and strains of years of performing and touring. The overall build quality of every aspect of the cable is important, but there are two key elements:
-Outer casing – This protects cable from being damaged or twisted and also helps with shielding and noise interference. A good outer casing will have a balance between protection and flexibility, and the best cables tend to made of either good quality rubber or a thick wound fabric.
-Connectors – The main job of good quality connectors is to stand up to being regularly plugged in and out without corroding or loosening over time. They should also protect the solder joints that connect the copper core to the tip of the jack from being knocked and damaged. As we’ve already mentioned nickel connectors sound just as good as gold ones and are probably even more durable without the price tag!
What we recommend:
Here’s a handy guide to a few cables that we recommend at various price points:
Best Budget Option - from £6.99
Fender’s Performance series cables show how to make an affordable guitar cable without compromising on quality - backed with a Lifetime Guarantee. The cable is coated in a durable but suitably flexible rubber casing so it will fare well even with heavy use. Overall, a great cable for practising and performance. See the Fender Performance Series Cables >
Another Budget Option - from £9.40
The Planet Waves Classic Series cable, like the Fender Performance cable, features a robust rubber outer casing to keep the cable well protected, but also has the added protection of strong moulded plastic connectors at either end, shielding the plugs from any sort of strain. 12 Month Warranty. See the Planet Waves Classic Series Cables >
Fun Budget Cable - from £7.99
The Fender California series instrument cables offer the same great quality that you expect from Fender cables, with features such as OFC copper-stranded braided shield and a strain relief collar, but what makes these cables really stand out is just how great they look! All of the California series cables feature a durable, translucent plastic jacket, available in the classic Fender colours of Candy Apple Red, Surf Green and Lake Placid Blue. If you want a quality guitar lead with looks that stand out from the crowd, the California series cables is everything you need! Lifetime Warranty. Available in Green, Blue & Red. See the Fender California Cables >
Professionals Choice - from £10.99
Our favourite cable is the Fender Custom Shop series, offering a perfect combination of durability, value and great looks (yellow tweed or black tweed) - backed with a Lifetime Warranty! The thick braided jacket is what makes this able stand out; not only does it look great in black or tweed, but it is also engineered to provide ample flexibility on stage without ever kinking or twisting. The Custom Shop series does everything you need a cable do, is as tough as any cable out there and has great looks to boot! See the range of Fender Custom Shop Cables>
Price and information correct at the time of creating this page 28/07/2015