It’s easy to get into the mindset of not thinking too much about your guitar cable until it goes dead at some inconvenient moment. In reality, though, the cable is an important element in the tone chain, and you don’t need “Eric Johnson” ears to hear it, as the effect that different cables can have on the sound of your guitar and amp can be quite noticeable. Cables perform differently for a lot of reasons, and every manufacturer has specific formulas for making cables that meet the parameters they set for a particular application.
Compared to the cables that audiophiles go crazy for, guitar cables are fairly inexpensive items. But cost is always a factor, and why one cable will set you back $18 while another costs ten times that relates to the materials involved (i.e., silver conductors cost way more than copper), the R&D that went into optimizing the cable for specific applications, and myriad construction details that affect things like noise rejection and reliability.
Costlier cables generally deliver clearer, more “hi-fi” sound, which obviously benefits certain styles and tastes, but price isn’t necessarily the deciding factor when it comes to a cable’s sonic transparency—witness, for example, how many pro players favor modestly priced George L’s cable over pricier options. Other factors—capacitance being one of the biggies that impacts high-frequency response—greatly affect how a cable performs. So it pays to look beyond the advertising hype and let your ears be the judge. After all, some of the most lauded guitar tones in history were probably recorded with whatever cables happened to be laying about the studio at the time, so if a cheapie cord with molded plastic plugs makes your Tele’s bridge pickup sound amazing, who’s to argue?
We tested these cables on gigs and in our studios using a variety of modern and vintage guitars from Fender and Gibson, a Nash Guitars T-63, and a selection of amplifiers that included a Carr Skylark, a reissue Fender Deluxe Reverb, a 1967 Fender Bassman, a 1969 Marshall PA20, and a handwired Vox AC-15 —Art Thompson
Boutique amp maker George Alessandro has offered his own cables for years now, and the new Instrument Two is replacing most of the cables that are currently shown on the company’s website. This blue 20-footer (a 12-foot version streets for $75) is made for tough service and features 27AWG oxygen-free copper, Switchcraft plugs, Composilex 2 insulation, and silver eutectic solder for the connection points. The plugs have heat-shrink strain relief, and the outer jacket is super smooth, coils easily, and sheds dirt better than cables that have stickier outer coverings. Sonically, the Instrument Two strikes a nice balance between warmth and jangle. It’s not super bright, but I like how it enhances the sense of body with single-coils, as well as how it brings out the punch and presence of a good PAF-style humbucker. Overall, the Instrument Two proved itself a quality match for the guitars and amps we plugged it into, making it a solid deal if you’re shopping in the higher end of the cable market. alessandro-products.com —Art Thompson
AST -B10 Pro Stage
This 10-foot Asterope is one of our go-to cables for testing guitars and amps, as its clear, uncolored response makes it easy to hear subtle nuances that might be masked by a lesser cable. The short length won’t suit all stage applications (lengths up to 50 feet are available), but the naturally lower capacitance makes this version great for gigs or recording scenarios where you’re in close proximity to the amp and pedalboard. As tested, the ST-B10 offers excellent sonic definition, and its robust diameter and strain relief equate to low noise and trouble-free performance. In fact, the only problem I’ve encountered was a bent plug on a recent Asterope we received, but this appears to be an isolated incident. Overall, the AST-B10 is an excellent choice for those who seek an accurate representation of their guitar’s sound, along with the enhanced sense of dimension that a high-grade cable provides. Fairly priced for the performance it offers, the AST-B10 should definitely be on your list of cables to consider. asterope.com —Art Thompson
[BREAK] George L’s .155
Highly regarded by tone connoisseurs such as Eric Johnson, Johnny A, and Neil Zaza, George L’s .155 cable looks deceivingly modest owing to its thin diameter and light weight. But there’s magic in the recipe of this 20-foot, low-capacitance cable, because it always rates at the top of the list in our audio tests. You can definitely hear an improvement in clarity, sonic detail, and dimension when you switch to a George L’S for your guitar cable, and the cool thing is you can buy it in bulk (it’s also available in in red, blue, orange, and purple) and quickly make your own custom-length cables and patch cords using George L’s screw-on straight and right-angle plugs (available in plain brass or nickel-plated). For players who want a more traditional appearance, George L’s offers a .225 diameter cable (black and red only) that is sonically identical to the .155. Either way, this is superior cable, so if you want to really hear what your gear sounds like, you owe it to yourself to wire up your rig with George L’s. georgels.com —Art Thompson
This striking, beefy cord caught my attention as soon as it arrived. As much as I dig many low-profile cables, there is an undeniable feeling of solidity and quality when you plug in an Intex. These cables are handmade, use solid metal parts, and just feel durable as hell. I love the hexagonal connectors and the spring-steel strain relief. Sonically, the Intex is a very pleasing cable, with a balanced, full tone. There is no exaggerated emphasis in any part of the spectrum, but I wouldn’t exactly call the response “flat” either, just musical. It exhibited low handling noise even on high-gain tones. When you add up the unique look, great sound, and top-quality materials, Intex cables more than justify their price point. They say on their site that they only make one product, with a great number of flavors (cable length, cable color, connector shell color, etc). They’ll even put your name on the connector! Definitely worth a try. intexcables.com. —Matt Blackett
Just when coil-cords are all the rage again, along comes Monster with its version of the ubiquitous cable of the ’60s. The Classic stretches out to 21 feet and features 90-percent copper spiral wrap shielding and a rugged Duraflex jacket. The polished, all-metal plugs (straight and right-angle on our review sample) look plenty durable, and have internal strain relief for protection against breakage at the critical cable-to-plug solder points. The Classic is a hefty cable that tugs a bit with lighter guitars, and, in terms of sound quality, its warm response makes single-coil pickups sound rounder and more burnished, while still maintaining plenty of crispness and authority with humbuckers. If you’re into pristine clean sounds the Classic isn’t the best choice, but if want beefiness in your tone, and appreciate the look and convenience that a coil-cord affords, the Monster Classic is an excellent choice. monsterclassic.com —Art Thompson
Paul Reed Smith has joined forces with Van Damme Cabling to deliver cables with high-quality construction and high-fidelity tone. Van Damme’s notable clients include Abbey Road Studios, Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Coldplay, and countless other iconic musicians. Made in England, PRS cables are available in two forms: “silent” and “regular.” The silent cables do not pass signal until the sliding Silent Switch, mounted on the cable’s sleeve, fully recesses. This occurs only when the cable is plugged all the way in, allowing full contact with the jack on your guitar. I found this very useful for avoiding the pops and hums that are normally experienced during the process of switching guitars. Players who utilize headstock tuners and don’t have a way to easily mute their signal while plugging in and unplugging their instruments now have a solution. The silent cables also feature gold-plated contacts and a reed switch that will not corrode. The regular cables have many of the same components (minus the mute function), including conductors made from silverplated ultra-pure oxygen-free copper wire with a flexible PVC/Neoprene composite covering. This great-sounding cable offers excellent sound, doesn’t get tangled, and is easy to coil at the end of your gig. prsguitars.com —Paul “TFO” Allen
Spectraflex has been producing instrument cables for decades, along with cabling for hospital equipment, military aviation, and commercial elevators. The N-Flex series is similar to Spectraflex’s Original and Vintage series, but features Neutrik plugs. These 1/4" slimline shelled 14.5mm plugs have a chuck-type strain relief that will withstand a considerable amount of abuse. The N-Flex provides balanced frequencies and delivers a very slight bump in the midrange that I find to be a desirable. N-Flex cables utilize 20 AWG ultra-pure copper-center conductors, 95-percent copper shielding, and a tough PVC outer jacket with a braided nylon covering that comes in a variety of colors and patterns. After inspecting the clean solder joints and bulletproof strain relief, I’d be totally comfortable using an N-Flex cable as a jump rope before a gig. If you are looking for a low-noise cable with great tone, a durable build, and a unique look, the Spectraflex N-Flex will fit the bill. spectraflex.com —Paul “TFO” Allen
Distributed exclusively by Hosa Technology, Zaolla Silverline guitar cables feature solid silver inner conductors for transparent tone and optimal headroom, stranded-copper outer conductors to boost midrange frequencies for a flatter overall response, and precision formed polyethylene dielectric to minimize capacitance and high-frequency attenuation. The ZGT-015’s high-density, oxygen-free copper braid increases durability and enhances EMI/RFI rejection, while conductive PVC is used to absorb electrostatic interference and provide additional EMI/ RFI rejection.
The ZGT-015 also features Oyaide chrome-plated brass 1/4" connectors, which have solid phosphor bronze contacts that receive a two-step plating process in which silver is added for conductivity along with rhodium for corrosion protection. While Zaolla’s claim of “100 percent alien technology” is bemusing, this 15-foot cable is highly flexible, immune to handling noise, and it offers excellent top-to-bottom balance and a clear, detailed presentation that can make your amp sound more dimensional. Bottom line: If you’re looking for a high-performance cable and cost isn’t an object, Zaolla Silverline’s ZGT-015 is a worthy contender. hosatech.com —Art Thompson