Do high quality patch cables really make a difference? Is there an actual incentive for you to spend more than you might think on a high quality patch cable or is this the kind of purchase where frugality is prudent? These, like many other questions in the online guitar community can be surprisingly divisive. Today I will stick my neck out and provide you with my subjective take on this topic in the hopes that this might reach the eyes of somebody looking for pragmatic advise on cables.
In my conversations with other guitarists I have encountered those who believe that spending top dollar on a patch cable really does make a significant positive impact on your tone. Often times these guitarists have been people that I regard as being much more proficient on the instrument than myself. However when I'm looking for a patch cable the only four criteria that I honestly look for are reliability, length, lifetime warranty, and simplicity. Let me explain each of these in further detail.
Unreliable cables are liable to fail without any warning and it doesn't feel cool when it happens. Perhaps if you just play at home this is less of a concern, but there is nothing worse than having a cable fail on you in the middle of a gig. I first learned this with 6" cables used for connecting pedals together. If you've got a pedal board, standing over it in the middle of a rehearsal or a set break trying to trouble shoot which of the cables you used to string it together has failed is a quick way to look like a goof. This one particular point may not have much to do with tone, but a patch cable must first be functional and reliability is pretty much the name of the game in that respect.
These style of cables are called "pancake" cables for their flattened appearance at the tip, and they are my all time favourite kind of cable to run in between pedals. I have found that pancake cables have been the most reliable, with the added benefit of a reduced amount of space required to accommodate them on your board. This brand called Audioblast sells their pancake cables at a very affordable price, but they are super reliable despite the price point.
While these are not pancake cables, Fender's Professional Series 6" cables are another super reliable choice for running between pedals. These cables are built from high quality components and in my experience they hold up when you need to twist one into an "S" shape to connect between pedals.
LengthThis could be the criteria most closely associated to tone on my list. As you may already know, most guitars are passive circuits meaning they don't require batteries and don't have a preamp inside of them. Due to this, it is important to consider that cables have resistance and the longer the cable is, the more resistance it has. This means that longer cables will result in a loss of high end. This is often known as tone loss in guitar lingo, and it is as undesirable as it is inevitable.
This is why it is important to only use as long of a cable as you need to for the gig. If you use a pedal board and you play in small clubs or venues, it is often the case that a ten foot cable from your amp to your pedals and another ten foot cable from your pedals to your guitar is more than enough. If you don't use a pedal board, you may find that you need one twenty foot cable from your guitar to your amplifier. Check out this video where Pete Thorn and Thomas Nordegg talk about the impact of cable length on your tone and demonstrate the difference between six feet of cable and fifty feet.
For this reason, it is important to have a couple of different lengths in your guitar case if you're headed to a gig.
These D'Addario American Stage Instrument Cables are available in either 10', 15' or 20'. While they may not be the cheapest cable on the market, they are in my experience the highest quality cable without spending more money than you need to, and they are the best cable to run from your amplifier as well as from your guitar.
When it comes to cable length, a widely known product that many guitarists love is George L's Cable Kits. These kits come with connectors, jackets for the connectors, and cable length that you can cut yourself. These kits allow you to custom make cables using nothing more than a wire cutter and zero soldering that are exactly the length that you need for your pedal board or to connect your guitar or amplifier.
I have met some guitarists who are a little concerned about the fact that George L Cables are solderless, however I have used dozens of these cables that I have cut myself with very little know how and I have never had an issue with one. Conversely I have had plenty of issues with poorly constructed cables that do have soldered connections.
Lifetime WarrantyOne big consideration for me when I am looking for guitar cables is the inclusion of a lifetime warranty. Years ago the D'Addario American Stage cables were the only company that I was aware of that provided such an offer, and it made purchasing cables a no brainer. Not only are those cables high quality, but if something should happen they are covered by a warranty which does a lot to pacify any concerns about reliability. Nowadays there are other high quality cables that provide similar lifetime warranties.
Both Mogami Gold Cables and Monster Cables come with a lifetime warranty. I would make sure before buying these that this warranty applies to where you live, but for me this is a major selling point.
SimplicityFinally, one last consideration that I find significant when looking for a cable is simplicity. What I mean by this is I am absolutely not interested in any cable that includes a kill switch or anything fancy like that. It has been quite awhile since I have bought a cable with a kill switch on it and I concede that technology has almost certainly improved, however my experience with these types of features have always been negative.
Perhaps this is a feature that you find appealing and far be it for me to rain on your parade, but I have often found that these types of features can have a negative impact on the reliability of the cable. If you have had positive experiences with these cables, please let me know by commenting or reaching out, because I am of course only able to relay to you my own subjective experience. However, if you're looking for advice on what cables to buy I would like to suggest that simplicity is an asset.
Thank you as always for checking out my thoughts on this subject, and please don't hesitate to reach out to me with any thoughts or concerns. I really appreciate the opportunity to be a super small part of your journey with the guitar, and its something that I do not take for granted.