Instrument Cable And Speaker Cable
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Many people who have been playing for an extended period of time may be guilty of this. Many may have learned quickly, or still do it after 30 years of playing. But what happens when you use an instrument cable instead of a speaker cable to run your amp? And, furthermore, what are the differences between them?

Cable Construction

Most cables are made of a copper core with some sort of metal connector (often nickel) and a polyester or rubber coating. Many high-end cables often use oxygen-free copper cores with gold connectors. One can also get a variety of “gauges”, or cable thicknesses.

Generally speaking, a heavier gauge is preferred, as it allows the most signal to transfer. Also remember that shorter distances are easier on your signal. Just like the water hose that can lose water pressure, if it’s a really long hose, if your cable is too long, you can lose some of your signal and tone.

The main difference between the construction of an instrument cable or a speaker cable is that an instrument cable is shielded, whereas a speaker cable is not. This is due to each cable’s purpose and function.

Cable Purposes and Functions

Instruments put out a very weak signal path as compared to an amp. For this reason, instrument cables are shielded in order to keep unwanted RF interference to a minimum.

Amps put out a lot of power. Therefore, there is less of a need to keep out RF interference, as the signal is already powerful enough to resist the phenomena on its own. This is why speaker cables are generally unshielded.

The Dangers of Mixing and Matching

So what happens when you make the mistake of using the wrong cable for the wrong function? If you use a speaker cable in place of an instrument cable, you will get a lot of noise from your amp, monitors, even (theoretically) your cell phone. You will probably hear a constant, high-pitched squealing sound and a lot of static. This is because there is no shielding to preserve your instrument’s signal, and all that RF interference will “join” your instrument signal in its path to your amp.

Using an instrument cable in place of a speaker cable, however, is much more serious. Since the amp is attempting to put out far more power than what the cable is made to handle, the amp (and speakers, for that matter) get a little confused.


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