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Guitar Cable Specially Tuned for Stratocasters

by Phil Taylor

I must admit to being somewhat ignorant to developments the guitar cable market for some time. This is partly because I’m more often than not completely immersed in my own effects pedal design projects but also because I settled for making my own cables utilising Klotz instrument cable terminated with diecast Neutrik jack plugs. I’ve been using them for studio and gigs for almost 30 years with no problems other than the brass of the jack plugs is now beginning to show through the nickel plating which has worn over the years. No bad or broken connections for three decades – the patented Neutrik chuck style strain relief is a superb piece of engineering!

I didn’t remain a cable heathen forever though, as I was recently made aware of custom handmade guitar cables made by VDC Trading in London, UK. Their cables utlilise Van Damme Silver Series Session Grade Hi-Cap 125 and are terminated in those ‘bomb-proof’ Neutrik jack plugs. The cable is manufactured with foamed polyethylene insulation, silver-plated oxygen-free wire for both the conductor and screen. The jacket is transparent PVC revealing the beautiful silver-plated braided screen beneath – this is a very attractive and classy cable. My only minor criticism is an aesthetic one regarding the gold-plated jack plugs. I prefer nickel plating to gold plating for the reason that gold is a soft metal it wears off quickly to reveal the nickel plate beneath. It was a quick and easy fix though (see photo).

The Science

Guitar pickup circuit

The guitar pickup and the cable formed a tuned circuit

The Hi-Cap 125 is specially designed to exhibit a capacitance of 125pF per meter of cable length. The reasoning behind this is that when the cable is connected to the guitar its capacitance is placed across the output of the pickup literally tuning it. The pickup has its own internal resistance, inductance and capacitance as shown in the diagram – what electronic engineers describe as an RLC circuit. An RLC circuit has a certain defined resonant frequency, that is a particular frequency at which the circuit oscillates or ‘rings’ most efficiently. At the resonant frequency the pickup generates greatest voltage output when energy is fed into it when plucking the guitar string – just like a bell vibrates at a specific frequency when struck. In an RLC circuit energy is being stored and exchanged between the capacitance (as an electric field) and the inductance as a magnetic field via the flow of currents – it’s mathematically complex (sorry about the geeky pun) and in a guitar there’s also the damping of the volume control and interaction with the tone capacitor to consider as well.

Effect of 600pF cable

Comparison of the effect of connecting cables with 600pF and 100pF capacitance to a Fender Strat.

A typical cable of length 5 meters made from Hi-Cap 125 will have a total capacitance of approximately 600pF. The graph compares the transfer function of a typical single coil pickup – with the tone and volume controls on the guitar set at full – when driving an “ideal” low capacitance cable (100pF) and 5m of Hi-Cap 125. Note how the energy distributed in 5KHz region is shifted down by a couple of KHz or so and now focused at 3KHz – the higher capacitance cable is actually changing the way the energy is moving around in the electronics of the guitar. What this means in real money is that the frequencies associated with “brittlness” or “harshness” of tone are being attenuated and stronger hi-mids are being introduced which subjectively will make the guitar tone fuller, more defined and balanced. However, you’ll only notice this effect with passive pickups as the solid-state buffers inside active pickups are of much lower impedance effectively negating any effect of cable capacitance.

In Use

Testing the Hi-Cap 125 against my Klotz cable revealed a more defined and coherent sound, subjectively, more of the tone I want – a pleasant improvement. The rig used was a Strat fitted with single coil Kent Armstrong pickups and a vintage Fender Tweed fitted with Jensen C12N speaker. I do a fair amount of recording of guitars to make sound clips to demonstrate my effects pedals. Many of the clips are recorded direct and the cable really helps to improve the tone of my Strat which does tend to sound thin especially on the bridge pickup position. I always find recording good overdriven guitar sounds direct a challenge as the smooth compressed, magical tone of a real tube amp isn’t there and also the ‘feel’ and response of the amp interaction with my guitar playing is lost – I need every little bit of help I can get when recording direct and this cable does help.

Conclusion

When using a good tube amp and guitar the last thing you want to do is compromise your tone quality by using poor cables and cheap electronics your signal path. I’ve spent years ‘designing out’ shortcomings of effects such as replacing electrolytic coupling capacitors with polyester types, using low noise instrumentation grade resistors and high voltage thermionic tubes instead of opmps or transistors. For me this cable is the icing on the cake for my setup – the build quality is superlative and I’m looking forward to it helping me record execptional guitar tones for at least the next 30 years.

For more information about Hi-Cap 125 and Lo-Cap 55 (Gibson players, Van Damme hasn’t forgotten about you!) cables contact Niall Holden VDC Trading Ltd. (make sure you request Neutrik nickel plated connectors though) at:

VDC Trading Ltd.
VDC House
4 Brandon Road
Kings Cross, London
N7 9AA

Phone: +44 (0)20 7700 2777