Don’t discount the impact of good cable linking together your guitar pedal chain.
This is the fourth in a series of posts on selecting and configuring your pedal board layout.
To read Part 1, visit Crafting a guitar pedal board setup.
To read Part 2, visit How to assemble and hook up pedals to your pedalboard.
To read Part 3, visit How to visualize your pedal board layout.
In the last two blogs we looked at different types of pedalboards, ways to attach your pedals to your board and how to prepare your pedals to be put on the board. In this blog, we will explore the best ways to layout your pedals.
The short cables used to interconnect pedals on a pedalboard are called patch cords or patch cables.
The name goes back to the old days of the telephone network when operators made connects between callers by plugging a short cable with ¼” plugs on each end into a matrix of jacks called a patch panel. The name denotes a temporary connection, like patching the roof on your house during a rainstorm.
Believe it or not, patch cables in your guitar pedal chain can make a difference to your tone and in the overall reliability of your pedalboard. Making sonically and electrically good connections that make efficient use of space and are visually pleasing is the name of the game here. For pedalboards, patch cables come in a variety of types. The first decision for you to make is off-the-shelf or do-it-yourself (DIY) cables.
Off-the-shelf cables for guitar pedal chains come in specific sizes starting at 6 inches and go in increments of 1 foot, 3 feet, to as long as you need. These fixed lengths will do just fine for most of your guitar pedal chain cable needs. They are available from many sources. Some of the leading suppliers are HOSA Technology, Monster Cable and Mogami. They are almost always soldered together.
However, sometimes you will need an odd length cable. Using a cable that is too long will create an ugly mess and will be susceptible to snagging and becoming unplugged.
For odd lengths, you will need to make your own cable.
There are two ways to go when making cables; do-it-yourself (DIY) or an off-the-shelf cable making kit.
The off-the-shelf cable kits are the easiest. They come complete with both the cable and the matching connectors to slip on the cable ends. One of the best things about the cable kits is they use solder-less connections. You just put the connector over the end of the cable and screw down a setscrew to make a good electrical and mechanical connection.
You can’t talk about making guitar cables without entering into the debate on soldered vs. solder-less connections. Solder-less connections are made by squeezing both conductors tightly together. Even though it might sound less reliable, there is nothing wrong with a solder-less connection. Almost all of the electrical connections in the walls of your house or apartment are made by twisting two electrical wires together.
However, some people like a solder connection better. They feel it’s stronger and more reliable. But solder has its drawbacks too. If you don’t solder just right, there can be a “cold” joint, meaning no connection or a high resistance connection that can affect your tone. If you chose to go the solder route, make sure you know what you are doing with a soldering iron and how the cable is put together with the connector. It’s easy to melt the insulation and get a short.
Don’t go cheap on cable and jacks.
No matter what way you go, buy quality cable and jacks for your guitar pedal chain. That means durable cable with good shielding and low capacitance (a blog post on cable is coming in the future).
For jacks, quality means metal covers and strong cable clamps. The thin plastic stuff just isn’t going to survive in the long term. The two biggest connector names in the industry are Neutrik and Switchcraft. You can’t go wrong using them on your guitar pedal chain.
Be careful who you buy your cables for your guitar pedal chain from. There are zillions of cable sellers. Many of them are just private labels from China. Even though they might look good, it’s hard to tell their quality. Again, stick to trusted brands and try not to be unduly influenced by the over the top marketing claims like Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC). Take a look at George L., Planet Waves, Mogami Cable, Monster Cable and Vox.
In the next blog post I’ll explore the last important connection on your pedalboard – the power supply. As usual, there are many options and tradeoffs.
What cables for your guitar pedal chain do you swear by?