I wanted to write this article for some time. We often get asked "what is the best way to measure custom patch cables on the pedalboard or pedal line?" It's important that we are both on the same page in regards to measurement points! This article will go into measurement techniques, but also goes into details about patch cables and plug options.
Before we start talking about measuring, let's ask the age old question "Do patch cables matter?" I've personally used the cheapest cables on the planet (before I knew better), to medium grade patch cables to finally - high grade patch cables. The answer is obviously "yes", but why?
Since I've had experience with all the grades of patch cables, what matters? It's durability. The worst feeling while on stage, is having a patch cable fail on your board – and that panicky feeling of quickly diagnosing the bad connection. When we vary in quality and price, it is almost due two points – copper and plugs.
The cheapest patch cables out there have very small gauge conductors and limited shielding. By going less on the copper, you save costs on manufacturing and material costs. That thin copper conductor can break and you have yourself a dead patch cable. The plugs are the next issue. The cheap cables don't use traditional plugs, but molded housing that holds a 1/4" plug tip. This is a very weak point of the cable is a potential failure point.
When you start paying for higher quality cables, you are paying for thicker gauge conductor (20AWG for example) and for quality plugs and soldered connections. So patch cables matter. You get what you pay for. Rule #1.
That's a hot topic. Though, you can get them with good wire and the plugs themselves are strong the weak point is "you". The solderless patch cable usually come as "kits" and requires the consumer to make sure the shield and tip contacts are maintaining a solid connection.
There is another issue with solderless patches – gasless connection. You might have come across this term in the past. With a solderless connection you are strictly dealing with friction/tension to maintain that connection. Since this is not a gasless connection, that joint could develop corrosion, impurities (dirt, dried beer, etc) and that connection can lose the best contact and degrade over time. With a soldered connection, you are literally fusing the wire to the plug forming a gasless / airtight connection.
Finally, vibration is something to deal with. I've personally seen screw plugs, set screws, etc. that connect the wire to the plug begin to loosen over time – especially for those road warriors out there on tour months out of the year. Some of you may say I've travelled for years without vibration as an issue – then you tightened those plugs perfectly or your shocks on the band van are in pristine shape. Granted, not everyone knows how to solder, and I completely understand the appeal of a solderless cable kit.
Here at Rattlesnake Cable Company we have some common lengths for patch cables available. Our Flex Patches come in 6", 8" and 10" which will cover most of your basic needs in connecting pedals. But musicians with more complex boards and routing requirements, additional lengths are needed. These specific requests can be handled through our Custom Cable Request Form, but how do you measure for those cable?
For all of us to be on the same page in regards to measurement points, we have to define the rules. We measure from post-base to post-base. Not the distance of exposed cable or from tip to tip. This is critical since different plugs have bushings, barrels, etc. that can affect those gaps. Also by measuring from post-base to post-base, it's incredibly easy and accurate using a piece of string.
Below is a breakdown of how I measured a group of four pedals - some with side jacks and some with top mounted jacks.
Step 1 – First you lay out the pedals on the board in the basic position. Take the time and stand up and test the placement with your feet, make adjustments if needed. Velcro'd pedals are good at this point. You will need a ruler or tape measure and a length of string or twine.
Step 2 – Use a piece of string and with your thumb and forefinger, press the string on the jack and string it as if it was a cable to the other jack. The string should be touching both jacks and have some slack in to account for some wiggle room. Do not make a straight line, it should curve and bend like a cable.
Step 3 – Now that you have both points pinched on the string, take it the tape measure and note the length. That is the post-base to post-base.
Step 4 – Now that the cable is made, please note that we went from side jack of the Spaceman Gemini III Fuzz to the top mount jack of the Miner Glitch Electronics Rez Dog. Since we're going from side jack to top mount, we want an S-Config plug configuration. I discuss that further below in the article.
Step 5 – Next we want to repeat this process going from the top mount jack of the Rez Dog to the side mount jack of the Spaceman Aphelion.
Step 6 – Repeat the process of marking the pinch points of the string on the tape measure. Again, this will be another S-Config.
Step 7 – Next we are approaching the side jack of the Aphelion to the Black Cat. These jacks will be close so this will be a U-Config.
Step 8 – Repeat the process of marking the pinch points of the string on the tape measure.
Step 9 - This cable will be a U-Config where the plugs are facing the same direction.
Finally we have all the pedals wired with a mix of side and top mounted jacks.
Depending on what plugs you use, you may need to add a little more "wiggle room" to compensate for bending around pedals and going below rails or slots of the boards.
When dealing with patch cable we offer a variety of plug options. They are all robust and the primary concern is about the shape and footprint of the plugs themselves. Some plugs are wide in profile but short in height, which is ideal for pedals that are close together. Some plugs are tall but narrow in width, these are ideal when jacks are very close together. Here is a breakdown of plugs we offer for pedalboards.
Rattlesnake Pancake – The Rattlesnake Pancake is a classic pancake style with a dual lug system for strong contact solder points for tip and shield. Width of the pancake is 0.81". Height from post base is 0.48". Pancakes are ideal with plugs are side by side.
G&H Right Angle – The G&H Right Angle is a very durable and robust right angle. If durability is the most important factor, these are ideal. Width of the G&H Right Angle head is 0.50". Height from post base is 0.65". G&H Right Angles are ideal for durability and if jacks are close together (like stereo jack pairs)
G&H Stubby Straight – The G&H Stubby Straight is a great straight plug option for tight places. Typically, straight plugs have a long barrel and bushing, this addresses that. The G&H Stubby Straight barrel is 1.05" where a Neutrik NP2X Straight barrel/bushing is 2.40". When measuring it's important to consider that the barrels do not obviously bend, so that is an inch of the measurement that is not adjustable. The G&H Stubby is ideal for switching systems / true bypass loop strips that have many jacks close together.
Neutrik Right Angle – The NP2X Series Neutrik Right Angle is very high quality and durable plug that is used on our instrument cables. Depending on the situation, could be used on a board. Neutrik Right Angle width is 0.61". Height from post base is 0.82". Neutrik Right Angles are great if you're planning on connecting boards or if you need a robust plug connecting pedals on the outside of the board like a Wah pedal, etc.
Neutrik Straight - The NP2X Series Neutrik Straight Plug (like the Neutrik Right Angle) is a high quality plug primarily used for instrument cables, but can be used for certain pedalboard applications - primarily as a "jumper" cable to connect pedalboards.
Here are some photos showing the comparison between plugs. Looking at right angle options – we have going from left to right – Neutrik Right Angle, G&H Right Angle and Rattlesnake Pancake
Top down view:
Here is a photo showing a comparison between the Neutrik Straight (on the left) and a G&H Stubby Straight (on the right)
When configuring patch cables you have the option to mix your plugs on a single cable. This is often the case with switchers like the Boss ES8 for example. In that case a G&H Stubby Straight from the ES8 to a Pancake or G&H Right Angle for a pedal would be a typical configuration.
When we talk about plug orientation, we are referencing when both plugs are right angle. We have two basic orientations: U-Config and S-Config. U-Config is where both plugs face the same direction forming a U shape with the plugs and the cable. This is particularly good for pedals that have side facing jacks. This allows the cable to bend naturally in an arch and not stressing the internal structure of the cable itself.
S-Config is where both plugs face in opposite directions forming a S shape with the plugs and cable. S-Config is perfect when you need to connect a side jack pedal to a top mount jack on the other pedal. You can make this happen with a U-Config, but would require you to twist that cable to make that connection. Twisting in this sense can add undesirable strain to the internal structure of the cable.
There are many factors to consider when planning your pedalboard. Take the time to measure your cables carefully. Pick the correct plugs for the situation. But most importantly, allow yourself some wiggle room. Often times you need to make micro adjustments on the board that aren't apparent during the build phase and become obvious while playing live. A little slack is very nice in that case. Also, when cutting, remember, if the cable is a little too long, that's much better than a little too short.
If you have a pedalboard rewire in the future, be sure to contact us for some custom patch cables using our Custom Build Form