The importance of a high-quality instrument cable for your guitar or bass is often overlooked. A high-quality cable will ensure a clear signal path, which in turn will maximize your sound quality and minimize unwanted noise. High-quality instrument cables are also built to withstand the wear and tear of frequent use, reducing the likelihood of them failing and causing signal loss during a performance. A high-quality cable may not entirely transform your sound, but the clear signal they deliver can create a noticeable difference in your sound quality and enhance your tone.
Fortunately, high-quality guitar / bass cables can be found at affordable prices, with great options available for around $40. The investment is a small price to pay for the improved sound quality and increased reliability and durability they offer.
This guide will provide you with the necessary information to make an informed decision when choosing an instrument cable for your guitar or bass. We will discuss the essential features that you need to consider and provide our top picks for high-quality guitar and bass cables.
Are different kinds of cables used for guitar and bass?
The same kind of instrument cables are used for both guitar and bass. Both instruments use a 1/4-inch instrument cable to transmit the signal from your instrument to the audio device you are using.
Although some cables are marketed exclusively for guitars or basses, their design, construction, and materials used are usually the same from a technical perspective.
Factors that affect signal quality and tone in guitar and bass cables
Factors such as cable length, capacitance, materials, build quality, connectors, and shielding can impact the performance of guitar and bass cables.
Capacitance is the ability of a material to store an electric charge. All guitar / bass cables have some capacitance, which means that when an electrical signal is sent through the cable, it encounters capacitance and some of the signal is stored or absorbed. In guitar / bass cables, higher capacitance can cause a roll-off of high-end frequencies, resulting in a duller or darker tone. In contrast, lower capacitance cables typically deliver a fuller frequency response with more clarity and brightness. For guitar / bass cables, capacitance is typically measured in picofarads (pF) per foot.
Generally, high-quality guitar / bass cables have a lower capacitance, which means less of an effect on the guitar or bass tone. A good quality cable will generally have a capacitance of around 40 pF per foot, while the highest quality cables can have under 20 pF per foot.
The type and quality of the materials used in a cable's construction affect its capacitance. High-quality cables typically use better materials and shielding, resulting in lower capacitance and less effect on your tone.
Cable length also has a direct impact on capacitance. The longer the cable, the more capacitance it will have. This is because capacitance is determined by the surface area of the conductors in the cable. The longer the cable, the greater the surface area of the conductors and the higher the capacitance.
Although some musicians might favor high-capacitance cables due to their tonal effects, depending on a cable to shape your tone might not be the most effective approach. Rather, a guitar / bass cable should focus on carrying the instrument's signal as precisely as possible, while tone-shaping gear like EQs should be used to modify your sound in a more musical and versatile manner.
Generally, it's recommended to use a cable that's not excessively long. The longer the cable, the more resistance it has, which can weaken the signal and degrade the tone. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, longer cables will generally have higher capacitance, which can cause a roll-off of high-end frequencies. Longer cables are also more prone to interference and noise pickup, which can further degrade the signal quality. For these reasons, it's generally best to use the shortest cable length possible for your needs.
The connectors in a guitar / bass cable are the plugs that connect the cable to the instrument and the audio device being used. Guitar / bass cables have a 1/4-inch jack known as a TS (tip sleeve) connector. In addition to the standard straight connectors, there are also angled connectors that can provide a more ergonomic connection and reduce stress on the cable and the instrument's input jack. There is no tonal difference between straight and angled connectors.
Higher quality connectors provide a better connection between the cable and the instrument, resulting in a more stable and reliable signal. It is important that the connectors are made of durable materials that can withstand the wear and tear of frequent use and have been properly soldered to ensure a strong and consistent connection. Lower quality connectors may not provide a tight and secure connection which can result in additional noise, signal loss, or interference.
Connectors are commonly made from materials like nickel, silver, or gold, with gold being the most corrosion-resistant and often used for high-quality connectors. The material used in the construction of the connectors can impact the overall quality and durability of the cable, but it typically does not have an impact on the tone. Thus, the choice of connector material is more about durability and resistance to wear and tear than about tonal properties.
Shielding refers to the use of a conductive material around the core of a guitar / bass cable that is used to protect the signal from electromagnetic interference. Interference can be caused by a number of sources, including nearby electrical equipment, power cables, or radio waves. Shielding works by creating a barrier between the signal-carrying conductor and these external sources of interference.
When a cable is shielded, the signal is less likely to pick up unwanted noise or interference, resulting in a cleaner and clearer tone. The amount of shielding can vary between different types of cables, with higher quality cables often featuring better shielding to provide more protection against interference.
Are guitar / bass cables balanced?
Guitar and bass cables are unbalanced, which means that they only have two conductors: the tip and the sleeve. The tip carries the audio signal, while the sleeve acts as a ground. This type of cable is referred to as a TS (tip sleeve) cable.
You can use a balanced TRS (tip ring sleeve) cable with a guitar or bass, but it won't offer any added benefits compared to using a regular unbalanced instrument cable.
Characteristics of high-quality guitar / bass cables
A high-quality guitar / bass cable is made with materials and construction techniques that prioritize signal integrity, noise reduction, and durability. The materials used can include high-purity copper or silver conductors, nickel, silver, or gold connectors, low-capacitance insulation, and high-quality shielding to minimize interference from other electrical signals. The cable's construction prioritizes the prevention of strain and damage to the conductors and connectors.
Furthermore, high-quality guitar / bass cables usually come equipped with molded strain reliefs that provide added protection at the connection points, as well as connectors that are both easy to grip and securely fit into the inputs they are plugged into.
A high-quality cable will be able to withstand the rigors of regular use, including coiling and uncoiling, being stepped on, and being packed and unpacked for gigs and rehearsals.
How much do high-quality guitar / bass cables cost
High-quality guitar / bass cables typically range between $20 to $100, with some high-end options costing considerably more. Investing in a high-quality cable is a wise decision as it can improve your tone and offer greater longevity compared to cheaper, lower quality cables, saving you the cost of frequent replacements.
While it's true that higher-priced cables generally use better materials and construction methods, it's important to note that price alone does not guarantee quality. Some lower-priced cables may still use decent materials and be well-constructed, while some high-priced cables may not provide a significant improvement over more affordable options.
How long do high-quality guitar / bass cables last
The lifespan of a high-quality guitar or bass cable can vary depending on several factors, such as frequency of use, storage conditions, and overall maintenance. With proper care, a high-quality cable can last for several years or even longer.
One of the main factors affecting cable lifespan is frequency of use. Cables that are used frequently, such as by professional musicians who play multiple shows per week, will obviously wear out more quickly than cables that are used less often. Similarly, cables that are subjected to more physical stress, such as being stepped on or pulled at awkward angles, will also wear out more quickly than cables that are treated more gently.
Storage conditions can also affect cable lifespan. Cables that are coiled tightly or bent at sharp angles may develop kinks or other damage that can eventually lead to failure. Storing cables in a dry, cool environment and using proper coiling techniques can help to extend their lifespan.
It is recommended to regularly inspect your cables for signs of damage, such as fraying or loose connectors, and repairing or replacing them as needed. This can help to prevent more serious issues down the line. Cleaning your cables regularly can also help to prevent corrosion or other damage to the connectors.
Best guitar / bass cables
Our top picks
We've compiled a list of guitar / bass cables that we recommend based on their overall performance. It's worth noting that there are countless other capable options available on the market as well.
Regardless of which option you choose from our list, each one is a great choice. Keep in mind that all of the options in this list have additional features not mentioned here and this guide provides just a basic overview of each one.
D'Addario PW-G Custom Series
D'Addario PW-G Custom Series cables deliver a pure, noise-free signal thanks to low capacitance, oxygen-free copper conductors and double-layer shielding. Its gold-plated connectors provide a solid, corrosion-resistant connection to your instrument and audio device. The cable is designed to be durable and reliable, with double-molded strain relief to protect the soldering points. Overall, it's a great budget-friendly instrument cable for guitar and bass players.
5 foot / 1.5 meters: ~$18
10 foot / 3 meters: ~$25
15 foot / 4.5 meters: ~$30
20 foot / 6 meters: ~$35
BOSS BIC series
The BOSS Instrument Cable (BIC) is a high-quality cable that delivers exceptional performance for guitar and bass players. The cable features an oxygen-free copper core wire, along with 24K gold-plated contacts on the connectors, resulting in precise and high-quality signal transfer. The heavy-duty braided shield offers both noiseless operation and reliable durability, providing a long-lasting cable that you can depend on.
5 foot / 1.5 meters: ~$26
10 foot / 3 meters: ~$30
15 foot / 4.5 meters: ~$37
20 foot / 6 meters: ~$43
Fender Professional Series Cable
The Fender Professional Series cable has a thick gauge design that can withstand frequent use and high-quality components that provide a transparent tone. The cable has 95% oxygen-free copper spiral shielding, which helps to protect against interference and noise. Overall, this cable is a durable and dependable option for guitarists and bassists and delivers great sound quality.
5 foot / 1.5 meters: ~$23
10 foot / 3 meters: ~$33
15 foot / 4.5 meters: ~$38
18.6 foot / 5.6 meters: ~$40
Ernie Ball Braided Instrument Cable
The Ernie Ball Braided Instrument Cable has a braided design that is tangle-resistant and very rugged, allowing it to withstand heavy use. Dual-conductors within the cable deliver a clear and reliable tone, while the dual-shielding design effectively reduces noise and maintains signal integrity. Additionally, this cable is built with 99.95% oxygen-free copper, providing excellent corrosion resistance and long-lasting durability, making it a great choice for guitarists and bassists.
10 foot / 3 meters: ~$27
18 foot / 5.4 meters: ~$35
25 foot / 7.6 meters: ~$43
High-quality guitar / bass cables provide a clear signal path, minimize unwanted noise, and offer durability and reliability, reducing the likelihood of signal loss during a performance. With great options available for affordable prices, choosing a high-quality cable is a small investment that can make a noticeable difference in the overall sound of your guitar or bass.
While a high-quality instrument cable is essential for clear and reliable signal transfer, Neural DSP guitar and bass plugins are the key ingredient for achieving world-class tones. Our wide range of plugins are suitable for every genre and playing style, and are trusted and used by some of the world's top musicians. All of our plugins come with a 14-day free trial, so you can try them out risk-free.
To use our plugins, all you need is an audio interface to connect your guitar or bass to your computer. Be sure to check out our guides on choosing an audio interface and connecting your guitar or bass to your computer to get started.