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From: Shootout Guitar Cables UKBest Guitar Cables Explained

See also: The Shootout Guitar Cables Range

In typical modern coaxial design cables the main shield is wrapped around the dielectrics that seperate the inner signal conductor from the shield.

There are three ways of providing a conductive shield with potential for use in guitar cable manufacture of this type. These are braided shield, spiral (serve) shield and foil shield. None are perfect, however one is pretty unsuitable for use in guitar cables due to fragility and lack of effectiveness at audio frequencies so let's start with that.

Remember that all guitar cable shielding no matter the coverage has problems with very low electromagnetic frequenceis like AC hum due to the long wavelength of such interference, see Guitar Cable Shielding and AC Hum

Foil Shield Cable
This is literally a shield of thin foil with true 100% coverage which is effective going up into radio frequencies but is very poor at shielding electomagnetic interference at lower frequencies because of high resistance. Due to it's continuous construction it is able to have no gaps in it which is what makes it effective for tiny radio frequencies, and why it is used for some other cable uses where such considerations are especially important. However it is very weak in tensile stretching capability and also not brilliant in bendability especially on fatter cables where inner and outer bend lengths are of a greater difference and so is considered not a good idea for the main shield on guitar cables.

Spiral Shield Cable
This is a spiralling shield of strands of copper running parallel that is cheap to make and since the ends do not need to be untangled is also the fastest to assemble to terminal jack plugs and it is very flexible.

Since the copper strands are in a spiral and free to extend this type can 'stretch' and this is in one way a good thing as it is less likely to break when pulled. However this is almost entirely irrelevant, since the copper signal core will not resist stretching to anywhere near the amount of the shielding. With this construction being so extendable it offers very little structural integrity as regards resisting cable stretching generally and so allows the other parts of the cable to take the strain including the signal core itself. What actually happens under tension is that the spiral just straightens out.

To make matters worse, when the cable is bent or twisted the spiral strands can gap apart allowing exposed areas wide enough for audio frequency range interference to get through, whereas braided shielding does not have such a big problem with this. Patch cables are bent and twisted most, and so this type of shielding is more problematic for such use.

Note that patch cables need not be twisted if designed properly i.e. plugs soldered facing the same way or in opposite directions suitable for the particular use.

Despite the potential for cable signal core breakage and general shielding problems as it is cheapest to manufacture and fastest to assemble it is a shield type used in some guitar cables.

You will also find it used with supposedly superior solid single strand copper signal wire cables found in a handful of very expensive boutique cables to improve the stiff handling properties of such designs.

Spiral shielding is not effective at radio frequencies and is considered for audio use only.

Braided Shield Cable
This is a criss cross lattice of shielding conductor strands which is more difficult to make, and takes longer to assemble when preparing for termination to jacks as the strands must be seperated manually first.

Braided shielding is a little stiffer than spiral shield and usually has a little more diameter, however it has more structural tensile integrity to help prevent the stretching and breaking of the other parts of the cable especially the signal conductor, and when bent does not lose its audio frequency shielding capability as easily as spiral shielding can (which also happens if the cable is twisted contrary to the spiral helix direction). Braided shield is more effective at lower frequencies than spiral and it also has some effectiveness at radio frequencies like foil.

It is possible to 'shred' braided shielding with many cycles of repeat bending especially if tight curving is forced upon unsuitably thick cable types, and if twisted between inappropriately directioned right angle plugs, however if not mistreated in such a way there is no doubt that braided shielding is superior to spiral.

Long guitar cables are subject to yanking (tensile issues) more than being bent into tight curves so long as they are stored and coiled correctly, and guitar pedal patch cables should be thinner if used with pancake jacks for tight curves, and regardless once set up in tight situations are usually not repeatedly bent around severely enough or in sufficient cycle numbers to cause a problem.

You will find therefore that the best guitar cables typically have braided shielding and we use such cables for all our ranges.

We use a smaller diameter cable type for our pancake jack plug terminated guitar patch cables, the 'Boot Hill' Guitar Pedal Patch Cables range which are designed to experience more cable curvature between tightly grouped pedals, and for all our right angle patch designs which includes the ultra-low capactiance 'Black Powder' Guitar Pedal Patch Cables with right-angle barrel jack plugs, we offer alternate and same way facing soldering to avoid cable twisting.

Also in this guide:

Guitar Cable Capacitance and Resonant Frequency

Guitar Cable Capacitance Chart

Guitar Cable Length and Signal Loss

Guitar Cable Myths and The Cable Fairy

Braided vs Spiral vs Foil Guitar Cable Shielding

Guitar Cable Microphonics and the Triboelectric Effect

True Bypass Pedals vs Buffered Pedals

DIY vs Premade Guitar Cables

Silver Plated Copper Cables and 'Red Plague' Galvanic Corrosion

Gold Plated Guitar Cable Jacks and Galvanic Corrosion

Guitar Cables vs Guitar Pedal Board Patch Cables

Analogue Guitar Cables vs WIFI

Low Capacitance vs High Capacitance Guitar Cables

Buffer Pedal Placement

Oxygen Free Copper Guitar Cables

Cheap vs Midrange vs Expensive Guitar Cables

Glued Heat Shrink vs Unglued Heat Shrink Guitar Cables


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