At Rattlesnake Cable Company, we often get asked, "what is the perfect guitar cable length?" That is a difficult question to answer without knowing some of the critical variables and applications for the musician. But before we get started, let's start with some of the common questions.
Yes and no. Typically, extremely long guitar cables can be a problem due to cable capacitance. The longer the run, the more capacitance can be encountered. Cable capacitance will darken or muddy your tone. The rate of that capacitance has multiple factors, including the length of the cable, the gauge of the conductor, and the how much internal insulation separates the signal conductor from the shield.
Long cables can be remedied with a signal buffer to get that original signal back. So if a long cable is required, we recommend using a buffer somewhere in the signal chain.
Absolutely, the guitar cable can affect the sound. As I mentioned above, capacitance can be an issue. This is highly dependent on the cables you purchase and how they are built. Shorter run cables in the 10-15 feet range are ideal and going 20 feet and longer, you may begin to experience some tone or signal loss. Our cables are engineered to be low capacitance, with the sweet spot being in that 15' range, and 20' still sounds clear and natural.
Thicker guitar cables tend to indicate durability (beefy, as they say). But thicker cables also mean a more significant gap between the signal conductor and the internal shield. This gap is critical for maintaining lower capacitance over distance. Thinner cables will have a smaller gap, and high-end frequencies will bleed to ground with shorter lengths. The only way to compensate for that is to go with a thinner signal conductor, resulting in breakage over time. Our cable uses a 20AWG center conductor and spacing for low capacitance 20-25pF/foot at 15-foot length.
Now that we have some of the basics of how length can affect your tone and overall signal, let's talk about length requirements for performing.
If you're performing on a large stage with your rig WAY behind you, you need longer cables. Gigging musicians often carry a short set and a large set for the run between the pedalboard and amp. I usually recommend having an Instrument Junction Box to tie cables together for super long runs. If you're playing in most ‘bar' stages and don't want to be standing on your cables, then I would recommend 10' cables.
The other factor, which can be a significant issue, is your beverage during a performance? If you put a drink on your amp, you need to ensure your primary instrument cable can get back to the pint glass or can. If you use a mic stand to hold your beverage or keep it by your feet, then it's not an issue.
Movement is something to consider as well. Do you stay in your zone? Do you wander around? If so, then a large cable might be required.
A typical to average stage, I would recommend a 15' to 20' Standard Cable from pedalboard to amp and a 10' or 15' Snake Head or Standard from board to instrument. If you encounter a large stage, I would recommend carrying a 20' Standard as emergency bonus cable and a Junction Box to double your length from pedalboard to amp.
When recording, you are very much in control of your tone, playing area, etc. Length is generally not an issue unless isolation booths are a long way from the playing area. If so, you can dial the proper tone while sound checking and compensating for cable capacitance with the amp or at the console. Starting with the best-desired tone is the way to go, so finding that perfect length for your ear is ideal but not necessary. Also, the opposite can be helpful; in some cases, you may think your tone is too bright, and an extremely long cable might help with that. That is one of the reasons some players like coiled cables to get that added cable capacitance with guitars with exaggerated highs.
Essentially, where it matters the most is live settings. Understand your average stage size and account for that, with backups lengths and the ability to lengthen if needed. Understand how you navigate your playing area (i.e., grabbing drinks, interacting with your band, etc.). Typically, 10-15 foot length cables are ideal for most stages and ensure excellent tone. Anything over 20 feet might require some adjustments.