AF’s Weblog

November 11, 2011

The Truth About Guitar Cords

Filed under: Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:55 am

If a guitar player hears something that an engineer says is impossible, lay your bets on the guitarist. For example, some guitarists can hear differences between different cords. Although some would ridicule that idea—wire is wire, right?—different cords can affect your sound, and in some cases, the difference can be drastic. What’s more, there’s a solid, repeatable, technically valid reason why this is so.

However, cords that sound very different with one amp may sound identical with a different amp, or when using different pickups. No wonder guitarists verge on the superstitious about using a particular pickup, cord, and amp. But you needn’t be subjected to this kind of uncertainty if you learn why these differences occur, and how to compensate for them.

The Cordal Trinity

Even before your axe hits its first effect or amp input, much of its sound is already locked in due to three factors:

  • Pickup output impedance (we assume you’re using standard pickups, not active types)
  • Cable capacitance
  • Amplifier input impedance

We’ll start with cable capacitance, as that’s a fairly easy concept to understand. In fact, cable capacitance is really nothing more than a second tone control applied across your pickup.

A standard tone control places a capacitor from your “hot” signal line to ground. A capacitor is a frequency-sensitive component that passes high frequencies more readily than low frequencies. Placing the capacitor across the signal line shunts high frequencies to ground, which reduces the treble. However the capacitor blocks lower frequencies , so they are not shunted to ground and instead shuffle along to the output. (For the technically-minded, a capacitor consists of two conductors separated by an insulator—a definition which just happens to describe shielded cable as well.)

Any cable exhibits some capacitance—not nearly as much as a tone control, but enough to be significant in some situations. However, whether this has a major effect or not depends on the two other factors (guitar output impedance and amp input impedance) mentioned earlier.

Now let’s take a closer look…

If a guitar player hears something that an engineer says is impossible, lay your bets on the guitarist. For example, some guitarists can hear differences between different cords. Although some would ridicule that idea—wire is wire, right?—different cords can affect your sound, and in some cases, the difference can be drastic. What’s more, there’s a solid, repeatable, technically valid reason why this is so.

However, cords that sound very different with one amp may sound identical with a different amp, or when using different pickups. No wonder guitarists verge on the superstitious about using a particular pickup, cord, and amp. But you needn’t be subjected to this kind of uncertainty if you learn why these differences occur, and how to compensate for them.

The Cordal Trinity

Even before your axe hits its first effect or amp input, much of its sound is already locked in due to three factors:

  • Pickup output impedance (we assume you’re using standard pickups, not active types)
  • Cable capacitance
  • Amplifier input impedance

We’ll start with cable capacitance, as that’s a fairly easy concept to understand. In fact, cable capacitance is really nothing more than a second tone control applied across your pickup.

A standard tone control places a capacitor from your “hot” signal line to ground. A capacitor is a frequency-sensitive component that passes high frequencies more readily than low frequencies. Placing the capacitor across the signal line shunts high frequencies to ground, which reduces the treble. However the capacitor blocks lower frequencies , so they are not shunted to ground and instead shuffle along to the output. (For the technically-minded, a capacitor consists of two conductors separated by an insulator—a definition which just happens to describe shielded cable as well.)

Any cable exhibits some capacitance—not nearly as much as a tone control, but enough to be significant in some situations. However, whether this has a major effect or not depends on the two other factors (guitar output impedance and amp input impedance) mentioned earlier.

To read the full detailed article see:  The truth about guitar cords

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