Cables and Tonists who Pay $100 for Them

If I could point to one thing that I’ve learned in my 5+ years of the tone journey (yes, I’ve been playing for more than that, but sadly, the idea of actually ‘sounding good’ and not just ‘playing fast’ only entered my head about 5 years ago), it is that the small, seemingly insignificant parts of the rig are often times suprisingly pertinent. (That statement is loosely borrowed from a movie I enjoy, so I have to give it props, although I doubt anyone recognizes it.) Picks, strings, switches, speakers, pots, wiring, and of course, cables.

(The Lava ELC)

Now, I had always been one of those guys who couldn’t stand the jerks who would spend hundreds of dollars on cables. I saw it as more of a status symbol than a tone thing. But if you think about it, you’re tone is only as good as you’re weakest link…. and the extra $500 you spent for WCR PAF handwired clone pickups with ’50’s wiring is totally negated if that extra tonal push those pickups and wiring give can’t be heard because the cables and pedals in your board suck out too much treble and high mid frequencies.

So I went through a few different cables, and ended up with Lava ELC cables. I really like them. Your tone gets through…. they don’t add or take away, in my hopefully humble opinion. But I’m also running a grip (sweet ’90’s word) of pedals. So, for my acoustic, which I like nice and dry and clean (meaning acoustic –> cable –> direct box) I didn’t really think there would be much tone sucked through just one cable. So I would grab whatever extra one I had lying around at the time.

But the other day, I’m at church, and my acoustic cable (the one I happened to have lying around at the time, totally went out, and I didn’t have a replacement. So, since it was our acoustic service, I grabbed my guitar-to-board Lava ELC off of my electric rig, and used that. The difference, in just one cable, was astounding. And I’ve been thinking about selling my acoustic… it’s got an LR Baggs system in it, but it’s just never sounded the same plugged in as it does acoustic. With the Lava, brilliance. It’s amazing how much difference a cable makes, and how often I underestimate it. I mean, it’s just one cable, and I pay a lot for cables. But I was still completely dumbfounded when I used it with my acoustic. 


(This is another cable I found….the Pro Oval Studio….and this one will run you $600 for a 20 footer…… ya, I haven’t gone that far yet, and hope I never will. Unless I’m 60 years old and it costs $200 just to see a movie. But for $600, I’d kinda like a better CGI rendering of my cable.)

And for those of you who are totally tracking with me right now……. I heard a guy say the other day that he’s amazed by people who buy $100 cables and then plug them into their $2000 ’60’s Marshall Bluesbreaker that has an input jack that hasn’t been cleaned in thirty years. Definitely made me think.


And lastly, I was trying to inject more anecdotes into this thing, to make it a little more humourous (mmm…. the British way to spell that word) and amusing, but the excitement over the cable tone is just taking over today and the post is a little more nuts and bolts. I am, however, worried at the level of excitement a cable can bring to me. But nonetheless…………. mmmmmmm……. tone.



20 thoughts on “Cables and Tonists who Pay $100 for Them

  1. I started playing guitar 4 years ago and had used the same Monster cables for guitar to board and board to amp since I started playing. I went out and spent $150 on 2 Klotz La Grange cables and the difference in my tone blew me away. I now have different opinions of some of the pedals on my board. I had to tweak my amp EQ and adjust tone knobs on my pedals. It’s insane, but I’m loving what I’m hearing now. It’s definitely been some of the best money I’ve spent on gear.

  2. I have a friend who is an electronics wiz and works in that profession by trade. He says that the only thing to look for in a cable, other than ruggedness is shielding. He says that these hi-end cables shouldn’t be technically able to improve the tone.

    I can’t say that I’ve heard a difference and I’ very discriminating. However, I see you guys saying otherwise so maybe my ears aren’t discriminating enough.

  3. I guess my ears just aren’t there yet, but I only noticed a slight difference from my higher end Monster and a cheapo cable. That was a little while ago, though, and my ears have improved since then, so maybe I ought to give it another A/B.

  4. Chris–exact same thing here. :) First, when I switched to George L’s, and then to Lava’s. I fought so hard for a long time to not admit that stupid cables could make such a tonal difference, but they really can!

    Greg–I’m sure your ears are better than mine, actually. hehe I think what’s being looked for in these high end cables is a lower capacitance, so as to not bog down the signal. So, the cables aren’t technically adding anything cool or good to your sound, they’re just letting your sound through more purely. At least, that’s how I understand it, and how I hear it. And I think it becomes more important with these long chains of pedals and effects we all have nowadays. For just guitar to amp? Well, BB King doesn’t need a Lavacable! haha

    And then again, maybe it’s all hogwash, and in five years I’ll have a bunch of fodder for this blog about how stupid I was spending tons of money on cables! 😉

    Colty–I don’t hear much of a difference in Monster cables either. I hear it on Cardas, Lava, EA, and some of those, but not on Monster. I don’t think Monster is doing anything differently, honestly. You’re paying for their lifetime warranty. Which, to be honest, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Every time we need new cables at my church, I buy Monster or Mogami (you can hear a bit of a difference with Mogami, I think), not because of their superior tonal quality, but because I know at any time I can take them back to Guitar Center and get brand new ones. And as we all know, churches are harder on cables than bands on world tours. hehe

  5. Yeah, even if it’s not that much better tonally, they’re made very solid and have that insane warranty, so I’m not sad I paid that much for one.

    Oh man, that’s why I’m sure to take all of my gear home every week and why I’m very wary to let anyone use my stuff. We’ve gone through so many crappy cables at my youth group.

  6. I agree. Totally worth the warranty for church playing. And I totally hear ya……I’ve left things at churches for one week, and they’re toast. I don’t know what goes in there!! lol

  7. I am deciding between mogami and lava cables. I would have to solder both cables myself. Like yourself i have a lot of pedals in my chain. Is there a difference between the two brands in your opinion?

    I also have to decide on whether i get Lave cable tips vs Neutrik, which would you get?

  8. Personally, I like Lava. A little clearer sounding to my humble ears. I also just like the solid feel of the Neutrik jacks. :) Hope that helps! Also, Mark is a great guy to deal with over at Lava. Incredible customer service. Cheers!

  9. Call me old-school, but I’d rather put in a new tubes and a speaker… I don’t know, I don’t make that much cash, I guess. We older rockers still managed to sound good. I admit though, I’m not up to date on all the technology of this decade, so it’s ok for me – as long as I never find out what I’m missing! :)

  10. I have found, however, Fender Cloth-covered cables do quite well and are very quite with all my gear (keys, multitrack, acoustics and electrics) About $20

  11. I totally agree. A new speaker and new tubes will make much more difference than cables. But once I started trying different cables, I realized that they did make a very noticeable difference…or, at least I think they do. hehe Not as much as going from a stock speaker to a Webber or a Celestion Blue or something, but definitely a difference. I do like the cloth covered ones you mention, though; they last a good while. Cheers!

  12. Ya…

    I get pretty crazy with gear, but as much as I hear about the Van Den Hul line, I think it’s going to be a good long while before I justify the ‘$300 for a $20 footer’ deal. lol

  13. I really like Planet Waves cables. I switched to their Custom Series (one step down from their top of the line) a year or two ago. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal but a friend of mine had some and I thought they were cool so I bought a couple. When they came in I plugged in all my stuff with my old Peavey cables (which are supposed to be lifetime warranty as well but I can hardly find anyone who carries them anymore). After playing for a bit I switched to the new Planet Waves and actually did notice a difference. There was a little more clarity to the overall sound. Of course maybe I wanted to hear more clarity ’cause I had just dropped some heavy coin on cables. I did get a pretty good deal. The 20 footers I got normally go for $40 each on Musician’s Friend but I found an eBay store selling brand new ones for $25. Here’s a link if anyone is interested in these:

    And totally off topic but I figure that’s allowed on this blog: Karl here’s a great song with flange on it. I’ve been meaning to see if anyone who hangs out on this site listens to Future of Forestry. They’re pretty much the best Christian band I’ve ever heard (that doesn’t fall directly into the “Worship” category, although some of their stuff definitely is). Here’s their song “All I Want” which features some pretty cool use of flange during the guitar solo.

    Let me know what you think, and definitely check out the rest of their stuff on iTunes. It’s all pretty amazing.

    I guess this is my longest comment so far. What’s the word to end one of these? Oh, I remember…

  14. Very cool! I’ll have to check out the Planet Waves. I do have one of their speaker cables, and it’s been good.

    And cool song from Future of Forestry. They used to be the house worship band for a church down here, as far as I know. I played in a band for a while that would come down and lead worship for them when they started to tour, so I never heard them. Good stuff!

    :) Splendid!

  15. Well I own the Van Den Hul and it makes a huge difference, granted the rest of my stuff is high quality as well but a system is only as good as the weakest link.
    I think you need to do other things first: get that Celestion Gold, get an Alessandro amp, get the WCRs, but then get the good cable to let it all come through.

    You DO get what you pay for, I would not wnat to have a $4,000 guitar with WCR pickups and custom wiring go through a Fender cable th that vintage Marshall even if the input needs cleaning.

  16. I disagree, you MOST OFTEN DONT ALWAYS get what you pay for. Just thought I’d share that.

    My eminence gb128 makes greenbacks sound silly, my laney vc30 with a couple of mods sounds better than any vox (its the same circuit just with a proper tone stack and a master tone to compensate for the added treble when cranking the clean channel), my planet waves cables with a well engineered wave matched buffer make my guitar sound like it is plugged into my amp with a patch cable. Oh and my patch cables are just some professional standard low capacitance wire with the smallest connectors I could find (cheaper than any george l’s etc.)

    Price isn’t an issue with guitars anyway, if it resonates well acoustically, looks good and plays well and you have some spare money for your perfect pups… well nothing can beat it.

  17. Don Yarish–I definitely agree…most of the time, you do get what you pay for, although I think that decreases exponentially the higher in price you get. For instance, the difference between a $25 and a $50 cable is probably pretty huge, but the difference between a $400 cable and a $800 cable, maybe not as much. But it’s different for each particular piece of gear.

    It’s nice to hear someone who hears the difference cables make. I used to think it was a bunch of bologna, but now I’m hooked on good cables. Have a great evening, my friend.

    James–interesting points. I think it depends. I’ve played some really good gear, both low end and high end. And some really bad gear, both low end and high end. For instance, on the Eminence thing…I think Eminence sound way better than the Chinese-made Celestion Greenbacks, but not quite as good as the British-made ones. Now, that opinion isn’t gospel or anything…just my opinion, but I mention it as an example of how I think good tone comes more from, like you said, knowing what makes up quality gear. Such as making your own low capacitance cabling. Stoked that you know how to do that!! I really need to get into it. :)

  18. i think i’ve purchased enough stuff to say the term “you get what you pay for” is a hit-and-miss. but with electronics, I find that cheaper stuff is a lot inferior to higher-end stuff. at least in my experience. I agree that the higher you go, the difference becomes negligible that it becomes a matter of feature sets that you like/dislike … of course, like everything else, YMMV 😉

  19. Totally. For me, the ‘you get what you pay for’ moniker has been true more often than not, but still untrue enough of the time that I don’t use it consistently. :)

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