Bass vs Guitar Cables – Is There Any Difference?


There are so many different types of cables available these days that music studios can end up a tangled mess. Although many of these cables are necessary to get equipment to work, if we can get a chance to reduce the number of cables this can only be a good thing. 

Bass and Guitar are very similar instruments, yet we are able to buy specific bass cables and guitar cables. But is there actually any difference between a bass and a guitar cable? Do you need to buy a specific cable for bass guitar? In short:

There is no real difference between bass and guitar cables. Some manufacturers will argue very subtle differences due to differences in capacitance, but these will only make the slightest difference, not noticeable to most people’s ears. If you already own a guitar cable and you want to use it with a bass then go ahead and use it. 

In this article I will go into a little more depth as to exactly why there is no real difference between the two cable types. I will also give some of the reasons the manufacturers put forward to justify making two different cable types. 

Electric Bass and Guitar create and send a signal in the same way

Electric guitars revolutionised the music world. Being able to transform a humble acoustic instrument capable of filling a small room with sound into one that can fill a stadium without the need for a traditional microphone.

Understanding how guitars and bass create a sound will hopefully help you realise why there is no need for different cable types.

They both use pickups

Both electric guitars and electric bass use ‘pickups’ to transform the vibrations made by the strings into electricity which can be sent to an amplifier which can be amplified to a much louder sound level. 

Pickups are basically a series of magnets wrapped by a very thin copper metal coil.

The magnets in the pickup produce a magnetic field that remains stable until you strum or play a note on the guitar.

The vibrations from the strings disturb the magnetic field and that produces a current within the metal coil. Different strings vibrate at different speeds and this means different amounts of disturbance. 

This electric signal produced is tiny, and so we need to amplify it in some way so we can hear it. So without the amplifier, you really don’t have an electric guitar or bass. It is best to imagine the instrument as a combination with the amp, because without it there will be no sound. 

The amplified signal then enters the speaker and that electric signal is converted back to an audio signal we understand as music!

They both need cables

The electrical current produced within the pickups must be transferred somehow to your amplifier and this is done by a cable. 

Inside the cable is a centre core made of conductive metal which is what the electric signal travels along. This is then surrounded by various insulating materials to try and minimise any unwanted noise interference entering along the length of the cable and this is all packaged within the outer casing which makes your neat looking cable. 

What components may differ between cables?

With cables being such simple technology simply used to transfer the electrical signal from guitar to amp, why are there so many different types available?

The main differences tend to be:

Screening

As I mentioned one of the key desires of any audio cable is to simply transfer the signal you want, without picking up other external sounds you don’t want. 

In guitar cables, this is done by ‘screening’ the main conductor. This could be in the form of a metallic shield, it could be plastic, or it could be a combination. Different manufacturers try different methods to try and get the best sound possible. 

Connectors

The jacks at either end of the cable are also a component that varies between cables.

Some more expensive cables have gold plating, but this is really to make them last longer as gold is very resistant to corrosion, and in reality makes little difference to the sound. 

Neurtrik silent connectors are favored by many guitarists as they can be disconnected without making a sound, which can make them very handy when playing live. 

Capacitance

The capacitance is the only factor which ‘may’ make a specially designed bass cable different. 

Without getting too complicated, capacitance is basically the ability of the cable to store a charge. For instruments like the guitar, lower capacitance translates into better performance because it translates into a better frequency response. 

However, this comes with a caveat. If your guitar or bass has ‘active’ pickups (see this article for the difference between active and passive) then because this is a low impedance source, they are far less affected by capacitance issues. 

What Might Make a Bass Cable Different?

So on a passive bass, where changes in capacitance can make a difference, some manufacturers have made tweaks. 

The Monster Bass Cable for example, is constructed using a higher than typical capacitance wire. This means a slightly less high-frequency response. By turning up the amp volume to increase the high-frequency response the low-end sounds will be unaffected and the overall effect on the sound is more ‘low end’. Which is something some bassists strive for. 

Monster argue that normal instrument cables ‘rob’ you of that low end punch. 

Which cable do we recommend for bass?

Just get an instrument/ guitar cable

Personally we believe this is really stretching the limits of marketing and any difference you may hear from a bass cable over a guitar cable will be extremely minimal. 

For this reason we recommend you invest in good quality ‘instrument’ cables which are sometimes labelled as ‘guitar’ cables for use with any electric guitar or bass. 

How much should I spend on a cable?

I wrote an article recently on whether expensive cables actually make a difference to sound. There is definitely more difference to be heard between lower priced and higher priced instrument cables than between instrument and bass cables but it is still fairly minimal to the untrained ear. 

More expensive cables often come with better quality shielding so you will get a cleaner tone with less risk of interference. 

However, my main reasoning to invest in a high quality cable is durability. If you buy cheap cables you will find they break quite easily and sometimes without warning which can be a nightmare at a gig or in the middle of a recording take!

More expensive cables often come with better quality connectors. Some plated in gold, which looks cool but most importantly makes them last pretty much forever. 

Another bonus of many expensive cables is they come with a lifetime guarantee, so if you do somehow manage to break them, you can get a new one anyway! 

My personal favorite brand are Mogami cables. Yes, they are expensive but when you buy one you buy one for life. They are super durable and the sound quality is second to none!

Concluding remarks

So whilst a bass cable can make very subtle differences to tone through capacitance differences. The reality is that will make zero difference if you are using an active bass, and if you are using a passive bass the difference will be minimal. 

We recommend you save your money on buying special cables for bass and instead invest in some high quality instrument cables that can be used for guitar or bass. 

Rob Wreglesworth

Rob has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous rock star....but that hasn't stopped him from writing and recording music in his home studio. Rob has over 15 years experience of recording music at home.

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