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...
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
Planet Waves Classic (ECONOMY CABLE)
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.