Top Guitar Cables
By the Equipboard Staff. Published on Jan 04, 2016.
For such a seemingly simple component, the guitar cable - also generically known as an instrument cable, or a 1/4” cable - is one of the most discussed, dissected, and often criticized components of a guitar rig. Want to start an argument amongst guitarists? Go to any music gear forum and start a discussion about guitar cables.
We’re excited to publish this article simply because we’re eager to help you (and ourselves) find the best guitar cable for your budget and needs. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to cables in general and understanding what to look for, what to spend, and what models to consider can be rather overwhelming, especially to the beginner or intermediate guitarists. Even those of us that have been playing guitar for a long time can’t help but be a bit “guitar-cable-curious” about what else is out there.
We don’t have all the answers, and we can’t know exactly how much of a difference a great cable will or will not make for your tone. Having said that, we’re really good at researching this stuff, trying out the gear ourselves, and distilling down a ton of information and countless users’ opinions to make a buying guide that’ll help you choose a good - if not great - instrument cable. We suggest you read our full rundowns and reviews, but if you want to cut to the chase, here are our findings:
- Bottom Line:Definitely the premium choice, Mogami cables elicit more "I can actually hear the difference" comments than any other guitar cable brand. We think there's definitely something to that. The lifetime warranty is the icing on the cake. If you demand the best, these are it. Best of the Best
- Do Expensive Cables Sound Better?
- What To Look For in a Guitar Cable
- How Did We Choose the Winners?
- 5 Best Guitar Cables
Do Expensive Cables Sound Better?
Ah, the age-old question. In the grand scheme of things, does having a top quality guitar cable really matter? You’re going to hate this answer, but yes and no. Ask ten guitarists and you’re going to get ten different opinions.
Luckily, there is one thing nine out of ten guitarists can agree upon: avoid bargain-bin guitar cables. Even if you’re on a shoestring budget and swear it doesn’t make a difference, we would advise staying away from the FOR SALE bin full of $5 guitar cables. More often than not, these are built with inferior components and are not made to last. What good is a $5 cable if you have to replace it over and over?
So, do expensive, high-end cables sound better? In our findings, there is probably something to this, but the extent to which it’s true completely depends on who you’re talking to. There are some guitarists that talk about the nuances of how a cable affects their tone the same way an art critic would dissect a Picasso painting. On the other end of the spectrum there are those who swear that expensive instrument cables are a bunch of overpriced marketing junk, and that there’s absolutely zero difference in tone. These actual quotes we found are good representations of the types of things you’ll read all day long:
“There is absolutely NO difference in sound quality from a 10 dollar cable and a 200 dollar cable. Period!!!! The difference comes in the form of “esthetic” durability (how long the cable looks new), flexibility and the “feel” of the jack, also the packaging and branding of the cable. You pay mostly for the cables advertisement costs. Essentially you’re paying them to sell their cables to you! Very sad.”
“you guys are stupid if you think the sound quality is the same for all cables, why don’t you actually test them out and you will see that there clearly is…especially when you have so many cables through your pedal boards”
As you can see, we’re all not going to come to a consensus anytime soon!
The argument about high-end guitar cables being “overpriced” is subjective. All we can say is that if you can afford a very high-end guitar cable and it’s worth it to you, then go for it. The guitar cable is worth what you’re willing to pay for it. Even if you can’t “hear the difference,” buying a more expensive cables with a better build quality might be a good investment in the long run. Mastering guitar and getting your setup just right is challenging enough without your guitar cable giving you problems. So, to recap, if you insist you can hear the difference in more expensive cables, or you can afford to buy expensive instrument cables with a superior build quality that’ll last longer, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!
What To Look For in a Guitar Cable
Based on the conversations we read all over the web, the majority of guitarists are seeking out cheap but reliable cables. If you’re in this camp, you’re in luck, since we have some great recommendations for you. In fact, if you simply want to skip to them now, click here. We feel strongly that whenever you spend money on gear, you should know the basic ins and outs of what you’re buying. Here are factors to consider when choosing which instrument cable to buy:
Shielding: Shielding is intended to block interference from the outside world (such as radio station signals, fluorescent lights, etc) from reaching the center copper conductor where your signal is passing through. If a cable is not shielded adequately, a hum, buzz, or radio signal can interfere with your sound.
Connecting Ends: The connecting ends (aka jack connectors) of a cable are very important components. The jack connector, and the joint where it attaches to the actual cable, is a point of weakness in a cable since strain will be put on this part each time you plug it in or out or yank the cable. You’ll want to pay attention to how your guitar cable’s connecting end is connected to the cable. The interesting thing is that several brands are known for making the best connecting ends, and other brands use those on their own cables. This quote we found nails it: “Look for quality components on the ends. Name brands like Neutrik, Amphenol, Switchcraft, G&L are all very good stuff. If the cable company used those ends, odds are the rest of the cable is probably good stuff.” Also, be aware of marketing hype when it comes to jack connectors, such as “gold-plated” ones. Sure, gold is good against corrosion, but there’s no benefit to the signal.
Reliability: Your cable is going to get thrown around, stepped on, rolled over by your chair, and yanked in and out of guitars amps and pedals repeatedly. It’s super important you get one that’s reliable! The reliability of a cable is the sum of a lot of different factors. Some manufacturers like Mogami and Monster are known for making high quality cables that last longer. Aside from your own personal experience with a cable, the best way to gauge reliability is to read as many user reviews of a cable as you can, and get a sense for which brands make the most reliable cables… lucky for you we’ve done that hard work for you, and we’re reporting the results in this guide! Another gauge of reliability is to see what cables pro guitarists are using, since between studio sessions and touring the world they tend to put cables through a good bit of strain.
Cable Length: Whichever guitar cable you choose will be available in different lengths. From 3 feet, to 6, 10, 15, 20, 30, and beyond. It’s important that you select a length that’s appropriate for where you’re going to be playing guitar - in your bedroom 10 feet might suffice, but on stage you might need double that. The longer cable you get, the more the price goes up. Think about it and choose carefully! If you pick one that’s too short, you’ll get annoyed at always stretching it to the limit, and tugging at it can put undue strain on your guitar and amp jacks, as well as the cable itself. Pick one that’s too long, and your signal can suffer (several tests have proven that signal can degrade when running cable that’s very long). If you can help it, we recommend keeping your cable under 20 feet to preserve signal quality.
Style of Music: If you mostly play jazz, you definitely want to get a cable that’s advertised as being better suited to jazz… right? Wrong! Some cable manufacturers have cables marketed to certain styles of music. Well, that’s all it is - simply marketing. The style of music you play does not matter when selecting a guitar cable.
Warranty: It’s worth checking if the cable you’re buying has a decent warranty. The more premium cables tend to have lifetime warranties, where the manufacturer will provide a replacement anytime you want. You simply need to send them your damaged cable, and they’ll send you back a new one. A good warranty is a good reason to spend a little more money on a guitar cable.
How Did We Choose the Winners?
In order to put together a list of the best guitar cables, we searched the web far and wide. We found dozens of forum threads where guitarists are recommending their favorite guitar cables. The problem with a single person’s recommendation is they might be naturally biased towards the one cable they have experience with. Because of this, we tally up everyone’s recommendations, and come up with a master list. We then sort it by number of votes, which gives us the top 5. Next, we set out to review the five winners, and gather as much info as we can from videos and other people’s reviews. Finally, we get our hands on the cables ourselves, so we’re able to give you our first-hand impressions. This is a process that takes many hours, but it’s worth it to come up with the best possible buyer’s guide!
In a few cases we’re going to mention a couple of models made by a single brand. We did this because it’s how people in forums tend to make recommendations, e.g. “I’ve used Planet Waves cables for years and they’re extremely durable and sound great…” But don’t worry, we’ll mention specific models we prefer and give you their pros and cons. The only thing we don’t make a recommendation on is length, since there’s no such thing as the best length!
5 Best Guitar Cables
Without further ado, here is our list of the best guitar cables for most guitarists.
Planet Waves American Stage
If you’ve read our other gear buying guides, you know we like to start out with our Best of the Best pick first. Well, we’re doing something a little different here, and are starting our with our Best Bang for your Buck award, which goes to Planet Waves Guitar Cables. In all the guitarist forums and communities we explored, cables from Planet Waves received the most recommendations. This can be explained from the fact that the majority of hobbyist guitarists are looking for cables that are inexpensive and reliable, and Planet Waves fits this criteria perfectly. They are the most affordably priced of the five cable brands we recommend, and receive glowing reviews from users.
Planet Waves makes several models of cables, but after careful review, there are two models we recommend above all others: Planet Waves American Stage, and Planet Waves Circuit Breaker. Price-wise, these are within about $5 of each other, and are both quite budget-friendly.
Planet Waves American Stage are available in 10, 15, 20, and 30 ft lengths (Straight to Straight ends, and Right-Angle to Straight ends are both available). They use high quality Neutrik plugs, which is fantastic for a cable with a price as low as this one. Another thing we love about this cable is the patented Geo-Tip, which basically gives you a satisfying “click” as you insert the cable, letting you know you’ve got a secure lock into a jack.
Planet Waves Circuit Breaker cables (also available in 10, 15, 20, and 30 ft lengths) are a few dollars more expensive than the American Stage, but these are the ones to go with if you find yourself playing live, or frequently changing what guitar you use. The connector has a Mute Switch which mutes the signal when you take a cable out or plug it back in, which eliminates the noisy crackle. The Circuit Breakers also feature 24k gold-plated plugs, for corrosion resistance. Be aware that while the connectors feel very well-built, they are rather large which might be an issue if you’ve got a recessed or angled cord jack. On the plus side, this cable is quite stiff and feels very high quality. The cable tie is also a nice feature. This user’s review sums it up nicely:
“I love the Planet Waves Circuit Breaker cables. Being able to plug and unplug my guitar whenever I want is amazing. I had one I bought probably 10 years ago - worked great until last year it finally went bad and Planet Waves replaced it for free, no questions asked. Good stuff!”
Of the two, we favor the Planet Waves American Stage, since you just can’t beat having Neutrik plugs at this price-point, not to mention the Geo-Tip design is very functional. In terms of reliability, users mention using these for 5, even 10 years before the cables have any issues. People speak well of Planet Waves’ customer service, and given the warranty these cables come with, getting a free replacement should be as easy as giving them a quick call.
Bottom Line: For most guitarists seeking out reliable, clean sounding, and inexpensive instrument cables, Planet Waves American Stage are the best bet and the ones we highly recommend. If the mute switch on the Planet Waves Circuit Breaker cables sounds like it would be useful to you, you can’t really go wrong with those either. Simply put, Planet Waves offers an excellent combination of value, durability, and tone quality. Best Bang for your Buck. And if you’re not yet convinced, check out the staggering number of positive reviews these get on Amazon:
Monster Standard S-100 Instrument
After Planet Waves, the second-most recommended cables in our list are Monster Instrument Cables. This is perhaps surprising, because more so than other brands, Monster cables have a bit of a reputation for clever marketing and high prices. We urge you to read on, because you’ll be surprised at how affordable Monster instrument cables actually are.
The thing with these Monster guitar cables is that they just about get everything right. Good clean sound, quality components, reasonable price, and an excellent lifetime warranty. Three things make these cables stand out:
- Durable injection molded connectors: The molded connector design feels both strong and flexible.
- Color coded bands: These come with interchangeable bands in multiple colors, so you can color-code your cables to stay better organized.
- Lifetime warranty: Monster cables have one of the best warranties around. Need a replacement cable? No problem, call them up and they’ll hook you up with a replacement. We’ve had personal experience with this and Monster came through for us with no issues.
There’s honestly not that much more to say, and we think that’s a good thing! Here are some sound bites from people in forums and Amazon reviewers:
“good to know that it'll be replaced for free forever under normal use and wear and tear”
“The molded end is very strong and mine came with a set of colored bands so you could mark them for various reasons. (Equipment, owner, in/out, etc.) They also included a free Velcro strap to keep it neat when wound up for storage or moving.”
“I had to buy all new cables a couple years ago. Went with all Monster. They're super durable, so I haven't had to replace one yet, but I do know that if I ever do, they'll most likely fix it or replace it for free. A buddy of mine bought a Monster cable like a decade ago, and has had to replace it couple times. They've always given him a new one.”
The bad rap Monster cables have garnered for being excessively priced turns out to be more from their home theater cables, but we’ll save that discussion for another day! Just know that when it comes to guitar cables, Monster Standard S-100 Instrument cables deliver in a big way when it comes to quality and reliability.
Mogami makes some of the most premium cables money can buy. We’re going to touch on three specific models: Mogami Platinum, Gold, and Silver - and no, we’re not talking about Tequila here!
At the highest end of the range, you’ve got Mogami Platinum cables, available in 3, 6, 12, 20, and 30 ft lengths. By no means budget-priced, these cables are made from the highest quality components. A quick glance at some reviews reveals that these are much more than just well-built cables. Owners praise the way these bring out the tone of their rig like no other cable is able to. From one of the reviews:
“…more highs, cleaner lows, tighter mids. The whole tone spectrum was more defined in a subtle yet noticeable way. Words like “fuller”, “cleaner”, “smoother” come to mind.”
Slightly more affordable are Mogami Gold cables (3, 6, 10, 18, and 25 ft lengths available). If you’re ready to invest in a premium guitar cable, we actually highly recommend these. A 10 ft Mogami Gold cable, while not exactly cheap, is relatively attainable (here is Straight to Straight, and here is Straight to Right-Angle). Here are some useful sound bites:
“...after going through many Monster cables and Planet Wave cables I gave in and went high end with Mogami and can say first hand you can hear a difference.”
“i use these on my main rig because of their reputation for stability and reliability.”
And finally, for a price more comparable to non-premium cables, you’ve got the Mogami Silver series. We love the very high quality Amphenol plugs on these. You’ve got 3 ft, 12 ft, 18 ft, and 25 ft lengths.
Mogami have paved their way to the top of the guitar cable pile. Sonically, users of these cables say they are on another level. To make the steep price tag easier to swallow, because of the fantastic warranty, buying a Mogami cable is a lifetime investment. If you’re ready to make the jump to the world of premium cables, we very highly recommend you go with Mogami. Mogami Platinum are a little expensive for our taste, but we feel that Mogami Gold is a very good compromise. These get the award for Best of the Best.
George L 155 Guage Cable
George L makes guitar cables that have amassed quite the cult following from guitarists. Most of the recommendations we read for George L cables tend to be quite passionate, from people that have been using them for 10+ years. Coming in around $40 for a 10 foot cable, these are not for the most budget-minded amongst us. That said, with George L you are definitely getting a reliable cable that provides a very clean and transparent sound. We were able to find them in black, blue, and red colors in both 10 and 15 ft lengths.
George L is known for making DIY cable kits such as this one. The great thing about George L guitar cables is that the ends are easy to fix without need for soldering. Also, the way this cable feels differs slightly from the other cables on our list. The .155 gauge cable size is thin, and one minor negative point is that several users described it as a little stiff.
Aside from the stiffness, everything about these cables screams quality. Each review we read not only praised the jack connectors, but also how clean, quiet, durable, and transparent these cables are:
“These cables are much quieter and more transparent than ordinary guitar cables, even most “premium” cables, but they are also stiff and likely to trip you if you move around a lot when playing.”
Bottom Line: While maybe not as ubiquitous as Monster and Planet Waves, George L cables have their fair share of enthusiasts. If you’re looking for a premium quality cable with the ability to easily swap out the plugs, give these excellent instrument cables a try.
Spectraflex Original Series
Rounding out our list of the best guitar cables are the Spectraflex Original Series instrument cables. What makes these cables stand out is rather than the typical rubber coating, these have a woven fabric covering. They’re available in a variety of colors, from red to black to tweed (we love the way tweed looks). They not only look great, they are also practical, as the coating makes it very easy to unwind and untangle them. Spectraflex Original Series are available in 6, 10, 14, 18, and 21 feet.
We got our hands on a 10 ft tweed-color Spectraflex, and really enjoyed using it. There’s just something about the woven fabric coating that feels superior. The jack connectors feel solid enough, although we slightly prefer the way the connectors feel on the Monster and Mogami cables. It’s a minor gripe, but the heads of the Spectraflex cable tend to get loose over time, which causes us to have to tighten them up occasionally.
The lifetime warranty Spectraflex offers is also a plus. In terms of sound, people love what they hear - or more accurately, what they don’t hear!
“This cable is less noisy, with no annoying clicks and scratchy sounds when you move. It seems to reduce the hum as well and is flexible but not overly limp.”
If you’re looking for a quality cable and are prepared to spend $30-45, Spectraflex Original Series is a great choice, especially if you’re drawn to the woven fabric covering and color selection. If the fabric covering is not for you, then we would suggest Monster or George L over this one, since the connectors on those feel slightly more hassle-free.