Speaker vs. guitar cables

Discussion in 'Amps/Cabs Tech Corner: Amplifier, Cab & Speakers' started by Craig Walker, Jan 23, 2003.

  1. Craig Walker

    Craig Walker WHO DAT!! Gold Supporting Member

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    In terms a ordinary Joe can understand, what's the differences in speaker cables vs. guitar cables?

    For instances, I know it's bad to use guitar cables on PA speakers, mixing board, etc. Why??

    Also, use a speaker cable between a head and cabinet, right? Not a guitar cable? But you use guitar cables between pedals, but once it gets to the head, then you go to speaker cables......

    Just give me a generic explaination........thanks so much for feeding the numbskull. :)
     
  2. VaughnC

    VaughnC Supporting Member

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    Guitar cables are designed to carry very low current and thus tend to have very thin conductors. A guitar cable doesen't work well as a speaker cable because at higher speaker currents they are very lossy and the center conductor can actually melt if pushed hard enough. And, in a guitar cable, the internal resistance can be high enough that the an amp's output stage thinks it's looking into a higher impedence load, which can create other problems. Unlike speaker cables, guitar cables are shielded to prevent outside intereference from getting into your amp. Also, while guitar cables could be used in patching PA gear together, just don't use them for any speaker connections.

    Speaker cables are designed to carry the higher current needed to drive a speaker and thus have thicker conductors. Also, they are typically unshielded so they wouldn't work very well as a guitar cord....unless you like lot's of noise.

    Hope this helps.....
     
  3. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    Two fundamentally different types of system.

    Guitar cables are 'signal cables' and only have to handle very tiny currents, and must be shielded to prevent noise getting into the system. All the cables between the guitar and the amp, including any between effects and any in the amp's effects loop, need to be this type.

    Speaker cables are 'power cables' and need to handle large currents, but don't need shielding.

    You can't safely use a guitar cable for a speaker cable, because the fine conductors in this type of cable won't be able to stand the high currents and may simply melt - or damage the insulation and short out. There is also a risk to the amp even if the cable survives - because a shielded cable has quite a lot of internal capacitance, it can interfere with the correct loading of the amp.

    You can safely use a speaker cable as guitar cable, but you will get a terrible hum and buzz problem because there is no shielding.

    Actually, you can use guitar cables for signal connections to and from a mixing board, but not PA speakers.

    This is really a 'historic' problem caused by the same type of connectors being used for both purposes... if they had entirely different plugs, no-one would worry about mixing them up! This is one reason I like to use gray or orange power cable for my speaker cables - you aren't going to mistake them for signal leads or vice versa.


    (edit) Rats, Vaughn beat me too it... should have typed less... but I always was too verbose. :rolleyes:
     
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  4. Craig Walker

    Craig Walker WHO DAT!! Gold Supporting Member

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    How can you identify a guitar vs. speaker cable by looking at it?

    Are George L's acceptable b/t a head and cab?? I assume they are guitar cable, and the answer is no.
     
  5. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    It can be difficult. Often, speaker cables are actually labelled as such in fine print on the cable itself, but if you really can't tell by looking from the outside, you have two ways: open up the plugs - look for two plastic-insulated wires of the same diameter and parallel to each other for a speaker cable, or an 'inner' plastic-insulated and an 'outer' bare metal (often braided) shield for a guitar cable; or you can connect it between a guitar and an amp... if you get a lot of hum and noise, it's probably a speaker cable, but be careful, because it might simply be a faulty guitar lead.

    Don't ever use a suspect or unidentified cable for a speaker connection, because if it fails in use it can cause very major damage to the amp.


    No, George Ls are not suitable for speakers.
     
  6. VaughnC

    VaughnC Supporting Member

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    Sometimes you can visually identify each type:

    If the plug is the type where you can screw off the rear shell:
    1) if it's a guitar cable you will see a braided wire shield soldered to the ground side of the plug and one small wire soldered to the center terminal of the plug.
    2)If it's a speaker cable, there will be no braided wire shield but two equal sized wires, one soldered to each terminal.

    If the cable itself looks like lamp cord with 2 obvious equal sized conductors, then it's a speaker cable.

    If the cable has a round jacket with molded end plugs, there's no way for the average guy to tell which type it is unless you cut one plug off and examine the wire, then replace the plug with a solder type. Of course, if you try it between your guitar & amp and it's noisy, chances are it's a speaker cable....BUT never take a chance with a speaker cable if you are uncertain what type of cable it is because you can cause some expensive amp damage in the process if it's the wrong type.

    Also, it's important to note here that speaker wires come in different guages and their guage should be selected based on their length & the amount of amplifier power being applied to them. However, without getting too technical, generally speaking the heavier the guage, the better. Personally, I wouldn't use ANY speaker cable less than 16 guage.

    To the best of my knowledge, George L's are designed so you can make short cables to run between effects pedals or PA patching and, being the shielded type, are not intended for speaker connections.
     
  7. Craig Walker

    Craig Walker WHO DAT!! Gold Supporting Member

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    Thank you all, very much ! :)
     
  8. bobotwt

    bobotwt Supporting Member

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    I'm interested in running my head into a hot plate set to load, running from the line out into some delay/reverb effects, then to a Ultra-g cab sim/di box, then to board. I play in churches mostly and they just will not let you run very loud. Can I do this safely? What type cables (speaker or guitar) should I use where?

    Also is there a way to run out of the hot plate and into effects, then to speakers? I'm just trying to find a way to add post effects.

    Thanks,

    Josh
     
  9. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    You MUST use a speaker cable between the amp and any attenuator. This cable is taking the full power of the amp just the same as if it was going to a speaker.

    You should use guitar-type (shielded) cables for the other connections.

    If you want to run more speakers from the 'post' effects, you'll need a power amp of some sort - or just any other amp set clean.
     
  10. bobotwt

    bobotwt Supporting Member

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    thanks for the help. I appreciate it.
     
  11. Jon Silberman

    Jon Silberman 10Q Jerry & Dickey Gold Supporting Member

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    I Googled "how to tell instrument from speaker cables" and this helpful thread was one of my hits. I saw John Phillips' post and realized how long it's been and how he's one of the ex-TGP'ers who contributed the most and whom I miss the most. My experience is nearly everyone who announces his departure (as opposed to just dropping out) eventually returns - the announcement itself testifies to residual caring even in the face of the extant disgust. John was the exception. Wishing you well always, John, wherever your travels may take you.
     
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  12. dazco

    dazco Member

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    Same here. One thing i have learned about forums tho is if someone is extremely knowledgable, there will always be certain people that will take offense to people like him and consider them "know it alls". The guy was indeed a know it all, but in the GOOD sense of the phrase. So certain people ran him off and i can't blame him. I learned a few things from him that i'd never have believed, but coming from him i was open minded and gave those things a chance. I miss his input.
     
  13. TweeDLX

    TweeDLX Member

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    There are many fine and knowledgeable people who contribute much to this forum. I cherish the info they freely provide for those of us who are less so. I joined TGP right around the time when John left, but I always enjoyed reading his posts.
     
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  14. mark norwine

    mark norwine Member

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    John is a great guy and offered a lot to this forum....I hope he's doing well, wherever he is.
     
  15. Craig Walker

    Craig Walker WHO DAT!! Gold Supporting Member

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    Didn't see this thread resurrected in March, but Lol at me asking if you can use George L's?

    :facepalm
     
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  16. pdf64

    pdf64 Member

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    George L seems to cover both types, see http://www.georgelsstore.com/custom.html
    Best to use the speaker cable for speaker level circuits, and the .155 / .255 cable for instrument level circuits, as described previously.
     
  17. AJ6stringsting

    AJ6stringsting Member

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  18. Tone_Terrific

    Tone_Terrific Member

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    ooooh 2003..my life was different then, too.
     
  19. jekylmeister

    jekylmeister Supporting Member

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    The speaker cables are the short, thicker ones. :hide

    A big believer in the K.I.S.S principle.
     
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  20. TimmyP

    TimmyP Member

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    When used as a speaker cable, the capacitance of a shielded cable can make some solid state amps very unhappy (as in break into oscillation).
     

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