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Guitar Cable Comparison

I'm a tone junkie when it comes to acoustic guitars, and even more so when it comes to acoustic pickup systems.  I've given lots of advice over the years about which pickups & preamps sound best, which PA systems/ acoustic amps will give you the best end result, and I really do care about plugged-in tone.  After all, 90% of the acoustic music I make is amplified or recorded.  But there's one subject I never paid much attention to.  Cables.

For some reason or another, I always thought cables are cables.  You know - more expensive ones are probably more durable and they might have lifetime warranties - but how much abuse do I put cables through?  I've been playing in bands since 1987 and I honestly can't remember where I got my current guitar cables... I just always had 'em.  Well, I've been doing some research and its time I satisfy my curiosity.  We need to see how much difference a cable can really make.

 

For this non-scientific test, wel used the following components:

  • My Martin OMC-16RE Aura direct into my Bose L1 PAS pa system
  • My Fender Strat direct into my Mesa/Boogie LoneStar Classic 1x12 combo.

The test were between these 10' guitar cables:

  • Planet Waves Classic ($11.95 street)
  • Sommer "the Spirit" ($34.99 street)
  • Van de Hull "Integration Hybrid" ($149.95 street)

The votes are in, and here's what we came up with.  I tested all 3 cables more than 10 times each, over the course of 6 hours - with plenty of breaks in-between.  When playing the strat I had the amp set to "clean" most of the time.  With the Martin I used a blend of 80% UST and 20% Aura.  As much as I wanted to "bust the myth", the cables did consistantly perform per their price point.  The most expensive cable is the best-sounding one, the least-expensive cable sounds inexpensive (in relation to the other two), and the middle-cable is definitely "a step above".

I must admit - before this test I did not know what my trusty Planet Waves cable lacked, if anything.  It was only after hearing the Sommer and the VDH that I found the tone deficiencies in the PW.  I would describe the three cables in this manner...

Planet Waves Classic (ECONOMY CABLE)

  • bass strings are muddy
  • midrange is fair
  • highs are thin and borderline scratchy when played hard
  • compared to the other cables, this sounds slightly dull with no overtones
  • I give this cable a C, now that I've heard the others

Sommer Spirit (MID-GRADE CABLE)

  • bass strings are clear and defined
  • midrange is better with improved sustain
  • highs are rounder, and stay smooth when played harder
  • sounds full, balanced, and smooth 
  • easy to hear each string clearly
  • strong overtones & harmonics
  • I give this cable a B+

Van de Hull Integration Hybrid (HIGH-END CABLE)

  • bass strings are crystal clear and deep at the same time
  • midrange is very open with great sustain
  • highs are fat and lush
  • this cable has an open tone with great dynamics & overtones
  • fundamental notes decay into rich harmonics
  • this cable is the very best way to connect your prized instrument to the amp or PA
  • I give this cable an A+

This comparison really opened my eyes to the truth that cables do matter.  Sustain, harmonics & overtones have always mattered to me... I just never thought cables could have anything to do with it.  They do. Do I want a clean, well-defined tone from my guitars?  Sure... but again, I never thought of asking my cable to help.  What I learned from this experience is that preserving my guitar's inherint tone (and overtones) with a good cable sounds far better than cheaply connecting to the amp and trying to twist knobs to make up for it.  You don't need great cables ... I'd be a hypocrite if I said otherwise.  But if your old cable is robbing your guitar of sustain, harmonics, clarity and depth - all the EQ in the world won't put them back once they're gone.  You cared enough to buy the right guitar.  Take the last step now ... get a good cable.  You'll hear it.    

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