Cable Considerations: A Guide (and Discussion) for Bass Players


Q: Are expensive boutique cables really worth the expense?

A: There are two ways we can look at this question. One is tech, the other is a combination of perception and experience.

The technical explanation involves more of a scientific look at how cables work: signal purity, conductivity and so on. I’m not a technical guy, so I’ll share with you my 16+ years of post-college gigging experience.

Lets start by talking about price. I have purchased $100 cables that sounded like junk and I’ve bought $10 cables that sounded great. The opposite has been true too.

I’ve had $80 cables break within the first year. I still have the cable I bought when I first got to Berklee College of Music in 93′ and it still works beautifully. It cost me about $15. (Again, the reverse has been true too.)

So price is definitely not a reliable measure when making a choice, at least in my experience.

While I’m sure most every cable I have sounds a bit different, I honestly can’t tell with regard to 9 out of 10 of them when I’m at home, playing at a low volume. There is one cable I bought (very expensive) that has ceramic coatings on every wire strand, gold connectors… the works. I found that this cable actually reduced my transients and made my sound far too boomy. I let a guitarist friend try it and he loved it. It changed the sound dramatically, and what worked ruined my bass tone worked great for his guitar tone. I now use it exclusively when working on the computer, because it helps to smooth out a direct bass sound through 4″ speakers (at low volume). In other words, it’s the world’s most expensive practice (through bad sounding rigs) cable.

That cable I bought in 1993 is very cheap, but it is a braided cable. That makes it much, much more durable. This made me a big fan of the braided cables. They are also easier to wrap and unwrap because of the rigidity. So it is less likely to become a tangled mess and if it does get tangled, it is less likely to get crimped and knotty, which damages the fine wires inside.

Any bad experience I’ve had with a high-end cable when it comes to longevity is usually attributed to a connector design that just wasn’t ready for prime time. Some companies have tried to get pretty fancy with connector tech (switches, disconnects, etc.). As with anything, the more stuff in there means there’s more stuff that can go wrong.

All cables fail eventually. One very important consideration then is the lifetime warranty and return policy of the company. Mogami and Monster both have lifetime warranties and are carried at Guitar Center. So it is no surprise a lot of players use those brands. If it fails, you can simply take to any Guitar Center and exchange it for a new one on the spot. (My preference between the two is Mogami because I’ve yet to return one while I’ve had quite a few Monster Cables fail).

My stash of cables right now includes the ones I have that haven’t broken yet, and the ones I discover and decide might be worth trying out. I’ve ask engineers and front of house guys their take when I’m thinking about trying something out, and if they say good things, I’m anxious to give something a try. I’m about to try out Tsunami Cables, and they come highly recommended from some friends in the industry. But I haven’t actually gotten mine yet, so I can’t accurately say. The thing I do like about them is that the connectors look solidly made, keep pressure off of the solder points if yanked from the cable (and not the connector itself) and they are braided, so no pinching or knotting.

It is important to remember that while some cables are lemons, the best thing for your cables and their longevity is to handle them with care. Don’t ball them up and stuff them in your bag. Don’t stomp all over them on stage or roll your cart over them (or allow someone else to do it either!) Be careful not to drop them on the floor – especially the connectors.

Learn how to properly wrap cables (every engineer or sound person knows how to do this). This will protect the fine wires inside the cable.

A decent cable should last for years if you take care of it.

As far as the sound of your cables? Your best bet is to go to a music store with a wide variety of cables and ask to play through a few different kinds. Sit down with an amp and just plug back and forth. Be sure to play the same bass and same amp with the same settings so you know you’re only comparing the cables. If you can hear a difference, let that guide you. If you can’t, look at build quality. Obviously, you’ll want both.

There’s no substitution for the live setting when evaluating something like this, because you won’t really hear enough difference until you are at a decent volume, in a room with a band. Often what you experience at lower volumes won’t translate. So keep that in mind. When you’re on stage, be sure to do the same A/B test between the cables you’ve selected, and let that be your guide.

Cost is a consideration, of course. But if we’re doing this for a living, then this matters even more. Try not to let price influence your decision more than it needs to. Personally, I’m happy to put every extra penny towards my music because… well, that’s what I’m here for.

Think about what you want your tone to sound like. Pure signal isn’t always a good thing. I’ve spent years chasing after high end components with gold connectors and low noise ratios – blah blah blah – only to discover that my sound was far too clean. I didn’t like the sound and couldn’t get my sound to save my life with these things. I finally realized that what I was missing was noise and grit. I like a touch of grime on my tone, so I wound up selling a handful of boutique amps and accessories because I realized that it just wasn’t what I was going for. I’ve finally started to discover what sound I like and am tailoring my gear to that sound. And that doesn’t always mean boutique or more expensive.

My recommendation is the that you evaluate in the following order:

  1. Sound
  2. Build quality
  3. Cost

If it doesn’t sound good, there’s no need to go to step 2. If it doesn’t last, don’t buy it again.

If you find a $10 cable that sounds good and looks like it’s built like a tank? Don’t let the cheap price scare you away. Your audiophile friends might scoff at your generic brand stuff, but you can feel good knowing that you bought a cable, bought a back-up as well and still had money left over for that clip-on tuner.

And that reminds me, always carry a spare! You never know when something will die but it’s almost never at the convenient time. I’d rather have two generic cables that sound decent than one $150 boutique cable that might decide to not work right before the gig.

Boutique doesn’t automatically mean incredible sounding and/or lasts a lifetime. For some brands, it does. Let your ears and gut be the judge.

How about you? What sort of cables have you found to work best? Share with us in the comments.

Photo by Francisco Rivera

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. It boils down to this: if your instrument has active electronics (uses a battery) then just about any shielded cable will do. If your instrument has passive circuitry, then a cable designed for low loss and low capacitance is needed to minimize cable-loading effects.

  2. Switchcraft and Neutrik are the best brands of connectors. Belden and Mogami are very good cables.

  3. I’m with you on the braided cables, Damian. A pair of moderately-priced SpectraFlex 10-footers bought in 1996 are still my go-to/never-let-me-down set. I’ve tried everything above, below and in-between. Advice to all: look at the cable more than the name and price tag.

  4. Creo que el punto más débil de la mayoría de los cables está en los conectores, es ahí donde primero fallan.
    En mi experiencia, en lo que a durabilidad se refiere, siempre me han dado buenos resultados los cables con conectores sellados, dado que la movilidad de las piezas es un elemento esencial en el desgaste de la conexión entre el cable y el conector, lo cual queda completamente inmovilizado con un conector sellado. En este sentido, he tenido muy buena experiencia con la serie Road Pro de Proel, a un costo de USD$12 el cable de 5 metros (16.4ft), el cual tengo hace aproximadamente 6 años y está en perfectas condiciones.
    Junto con lo anterior, la durabilidad de un cable se ve notoriamente incrementada cuando el conector que va en el instrumento tiene diseño en L, pues sigue la linea natural hacia la correa, evitando forcejeos accidentales, por ejemplo al tocar en la cama, lo cual mejora también la durabilidad del jack.

    • I have a VOX ‘curly’ cable (a la Wilco from the Dr Feelgood) which I have used for years, and it still gives me good service – can’t do better!!! (and it only cost £15.99….)

  5. I bought a Planet Waves cable abut 3 years ago and it still works perfectly. Just have to look after it.

  6. I have a Planet Waves 10 footer that I use for just about everything off the stage. For gigs, I’ve been using 18 foot DiMarzio’s. It’s a good, solid cable, sounds pretty neutral to my ear, and costs about $35.

  7. CordialCGK 175 + Neutrik connectors – imo this cable cuts some high but not too much (I’ve got MM StingRay so my high end is realy high :) ). All in all great sound, good middle and low end.

  8. I found this cable comparison chart a little while ago and found it to be informative.

  9. I still frequently use a cable I bought way back in 1989 (yes, 24 years old). I paid about $20 (USD) back then-a ton of money at that time for me. My 2 Cents; if you go into a shop, and the first thing the guy asks is, “Cables huh…ow much are you looking to spend?”…walk out.. The article is spot on!

  10. I’ve used everything from Monster(Pro 1000) to Mogami (Gold) cables…Mogami cables were my cable of choice for the last 8 years until I came across this company, EVIDENCE AUDIO! I GAVE AWAY all my Mogami stuff and replaced my entire studio cables(mic, XLR to TRS, TRS to TRS, and XLR to XLR) to Evidence and it sounds as if someone lifted the covers off my amp, my studio monitors, etc…Make my mixing that much more accurate and faster and also gives my basses(Lakland 55-94 and ’74 Fender Jazz) an even better sound.Doesn’t add any extra tone, just decreases the artifacts! I’m hearing exactly what I want to hear now.If anyone would like to hear sound samples an email address and I’ll send video and audio samples!


  11. a few things come to mind, the life time warranty they seem to last, if the sales person @ guitar center says these never come back that’s a good sign, on stage don’t let other band members step on your cord.

  12. I like braided cables for the same reasons given in the article, they are really more durable and don’t tangle.

  13. I have a Proco Excalibur cable that I can’t recall when I bought it. A long, long time ago. The cable is a good thick gauge, the ends are solid and I’ve never had a problem with it. I have more cables that I can shake a stick at, yet I use this one almost exclusively.

  14. I make my own cables. Since I am also a Broadcast Transmitter Engineer, I am familiar with various types of wire and cables, not to mention European methods of millivolt transmission. I have 2 kinds of cables. My Basses use a third wire for phantom power so I use a carbon cloth shielded type of Belden mic cable. For my 2 circuit basses, I can either use my phantom cable or I make all my other inter-connectors out of RG-58-AU coaxial cable with hard to find old telephone company rated brass 1/4″ plugs.

  15. Really expensive cables are a rip of IMHO. There is no magic bass specific cable or anything like that. The best way to test them is through a home recording setup where you can sent the signal in hot and see how much noise they produce and A/B also becomes a breeze. Monster cables are noisier then the cheap ones at guitar center and they break all the time. Making your own is definitely the way to go if you want to save money and have a quality product.

  16. Neutrik plugs and Van Damme cable. Made them about 10 years ago, not had a single problem to date.

  17. I’m using Monster Cable Bass and Vovox Protect Cables, awesome sound and great durability!

  18. I have used Whirlwind cables for 30 yrs or more. I have some that are easily 20yrs old that still function flawlessly. They too have a lifetime warranty, and to this day I’ve never needed to return even one. They sound great, they’re as durable as you can find, and they are very affordable. There is a reason that every major tour on the planet uses Whirlwind snakes, and has so for decades.

  19. yorkville for me. works great so far.

  20. Whirlwind Leader user here. Great quality and value!

  21. planet waves leads for the last 12 years and thank the Lord haven’t had one fail yet, but still carry spares.

  22. Thing is, any decent gauge wire with good insulation/shielding, a quality connector, and good soldering technique will give you a pro quality cable. My issue is with all the other snake oil some manufacturers peddle on top of this. As for myself, I buy the GC bulk cables. I usually pick one up when I’m in the store, they last a long time, they’re cheap, and if one breaks I’ve got 3 others in the case. Even if I could actually find Mogami by the foot in any guitar store again (a whole other rant), the GC cables save a lot of time for about the same cost.

  23. all you need is neutrik connectors and mogami or similar cable, who does the soldering is of little consequence, I like their prices are competitive with doing it yourself.

  24. Here’s a link for a cable shootout video I had the opportunity to be part of. No bias, no commentary and no alterations of any kind.
    In that same channel there are 2 other videos that talk about the brand (Kirlin Cable) and the cable series.
    Check us out, thanks!

    Bass is the place!

  25. Neil Ramsden

    I prefer to use Shielded Twisted Pair cables rather than Coax designs as they are much more reliable, preserve my tone more effectively, save me money (I’m not replacing broken cables regularly), stay noiseless and help save the planet as they are repairable. I have one that is 12 years old and performs as new despite heavy use and abuse. These excellent leads are Chord Company Cream Cable which are made in England and designed by a Bass player. Cream is a reliable, top tone tool! I hope this is useful to players everywhere.