Are expensive guitar cables worth it?

Picture – Thiago Barletta

Today I’ll attempt to shed some light and give you my opinion on cables! How exciting. Although it may seem quite mundane, for the electric guitarist, cables are a very important piece of the puzzle. You ain’t gonna have much joy using your ’59 Les Paul and Hand-wired AC30 without a cable now, are ya?! 

So, what’s the main difference between a £7.99 cable and a £40 cable? Let’s jump in. 

First, I’m going to dispel some myths. I’ll be clear here, these are only my opinions, based on some basic research as well as my own experience.

Oxygen Free Copper (OFC).

You may see a lot of brands talk about oxygen levels in their cables. Allow me to explain:

Inside our guitar cables is the metal copper. Copper is what carries our guitar signal to the amp. So it’s quite an important material! 

*WARNING – A very amateur science lesson coming up*

To transform raw copper into a conductible material which can carry electricity, oxygen is used to purify the raw copper and purge it from any elements that may impede the flow of electricity. Which is brilliant; hurray for science! 

However, this does mean that there is oxygen left in the copper (booo!) which can also impede conductivity. So the copper is put through another process to remove as much oxygen as possible. A tiny, tiny amount of oxygen can still be found in OFC after this second process. 

*Science lesson over*

Taking the above-mentioned science into account, it would make sense that ‘oxygen-free copper’ gives the best conductivity, and results in the best sounding guitar cable, right?

Not really. 

The grade below oxygen-free copper is called electrolytic-tough-pitch copper (ETP). The amount of oxygen found in OFC is 0.001%, whereas oxygen levels in ETP is 0.04%. This difference is so tiny, the sound quality between cables that use either OFC or ETP is negligible. (Okay, I lied, the science lesson wasn’t over, but I was trying to prove a point!!)

So, what should I look out for when buying my cables?

Buying better quality cables because of lower oxygen levels is a moot point. Instead – I believe – buying a more expensive cable because of better quality connectors and more durable outer jackets is a better reason!

Typically, if a cable is to stop working, it is often due to the connection breaking at the weakest point: between the cable and the connector.  Therefore, a cable with a higher quality connector is more durable and should last you longer! 

Better quality connectors mean that the contacts are made out of gold. Gold is a great material to use in cables for a few reasons. Gold is a very robust material and it doesn’t really oxidise or corrode. If a connector oxidises it forms an oxidised barrier between your cable and whatever it is trying to connect to resulting in a worse connection. As a result of this, the longevity of your cable with a gold-plated contact is a lot greater than a cable without! 

Fender Deluxe Series Instrument Cable.

I’m also going to say a wee word about the outer jacket of a guitar cable… I do believe that the outer jacket also has a big part to play. A thicker PVC or a braided cable gives you a firmer and more durable cable, protecting the copper inside. Woven braided material also helps your cable from kinking.

Guitar cables get coiled, stood on, tangled up and thrown about, so the thicker the outer jacket, the longer it will last!

On a cheaper cable, you’ll find the outer jacket is a lot more flimsy and the connector is more susceptible to breaking.

Gold Series.

A cable I really like using is the Roland Gold Instrument Series Cable. It is equipped with Roland’s very own 24K gold-plated connectors. There is also some plastic strain relief under the shielding which protects the connection point underneath. Really good quality! The outer jacket is woven and is super flexible.  Roland are that confident their Gold Instruments Series Cables are that good, they give you a lifetime warranty! 

Perhaps quite a boring topic, but hopefully I’ve explained the importance and necessity for better quality cables! 

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