Extensive compressor reviews and FAQ

 
Will the patch cords on your pedalboard negate the tone of your premium guitar cables?
There are two different ways of considering/answering that question:
 
1) If you believe that cables "have a tone" as opposed just having different capacitance per foot, then it's up to your subjective ears alone whether the "effects" of the cable are "negated" by other cables in series.
 
2) If you look at it scientifically, the connection from the guitar to the pedalboard will have one impedance relationship; the connections between each pedal will have their own impedance relationships; a long string of true-bypass pedals, switched off, will act like one long cable; and the connection from pedalboard to amp will have yet another impedance relationship. Each length of cable has a capacitance per foot (pF/ft), so the total capacitance is its pF/ft times "how many feet". The input and output impedance (z in and z out) of each connected piece of gear determines how much effect the cable capacitance has on the sound.
 
So for a realistic example, if you have a passive guitar with the tone and volume rolled back a bit (raising the z out very high), going into a pedal with only "medium" z in (say, 500 Kohms) then the capacitance of a cable will have a dramatic effect on the tone. In a setup like that, one cable really can sound very different from another.
 
On the other hand, if you have an active instrument going into a pedal with higher z in (say, 1 Meg), then the cable will have exactly ZERO effect on the tone. The capacitance, and all other cable properties, are made totally insignificant by the connection of a very low z out into a very high z in. The output of buffer pedals, as well as many (not all) effects when switched "on", have very low z out.
 
One take-away from all this tech jibber-jabber is that two different cables (different brands, models, prices) that have the same total capacitance will have have the same "tone", when connecting the same guitar and amp. The flip side is that any one cable can "have a different tone" when you swap from one guitar to another, due to the change in the LCR filter caused by the different pickups. Again though, the "tone" is really from the filter overall, and not in the cable itself.
 
Illustration: Take a passive guitar, an Electro Harmonix Big Muff (100 Kohm z in), a buffer pedal, and an ordinary modern amp (1 Meg z in). Connect a 20-foot "Saint Jimi Clapton Platinum Pro" high-priced cable from the guitar to the Big Muff; a molded-plastic Hosa 6-inch patch cable from the Big Muff to the buffer; and another 20' Saint Jimi from the buffer to the amp. The cable from the buffer to the amp will have NO tonal effect at all because of the impedance relationship between the two devices. The Hosa patch cable will have only a tiny effect on the tone because it is so short. But the cable from the guitar to the Big Muff will have a huge capacitive effect on your sound.
 
So if you swapped in different brands, models, or lengths of cable in the position from guitar to Big Muff, you will legitimately hear significant differences from one cable to the next (given the example gear I specified).
 
But if you heard a difference when swapping cables between the buffer and the amp, those differences are probably all in your head--literally! There is almost certainly no humanly perceptible difference there, but if we think we will hear a difference, we will in fact hear one. Our brains work like that, they make stuff up.
 
I said the plastic 6" Hosa would have only a "tiny" effect on the sound, but if you use a dozen of them, then that's 12 times more audible effect. And if you are connecting many true-bypass pedals together, then that multiplies the cable length even further! So that's why guys who have a large pedalboard of boutique TBP pedals will say that George L (and other coax "solderless") patches are so much better-sounding than the molded-plastic generic ones: coax cable has much lower capacitance.
 
If the first pedal on your pedalboard has very high z in, and the last pedal on your board has very low z out, then that significantly minimizes any effect the cables on the board would have on the overall sound. If the pedals themselves are not tone-suckers, and you only have a small number of pedals, and if the patch cords have low pF/ft, then all of those things also minimize the tonal effect of the cables on your pedalboard.
 
One thing that makes a pedal a "tone sucker" is if it has a cheap, poorly-designed buffered bypass. Most DOD and Digitech come to mind. Some Boss pedals have bad buffers, but some have great buffers! And some boutique pedals are designed carefully with really great buffered bypass. Certain Barber and Fromel pedals are examples.
 
So it can go either way. Your pedalboard can ruin your tone completely without any pedals even being switched on, or it can be like an angel safely guiding your signal from the instrument to the amp. Or anywhere in between. Since the precious "tone" of your premium-brand cable is 100% dependent on a network of impedance relationships and total capacitances, the answer to the original question is yes, everything in the chain creates the tone, so everything in the chain affects the tone. But it IS NOT a question of lower-priced cords "bringing down" the tone of higher-priced ones. Even the most expensive premium cables obey the same laws, and have the same capacitance problems, as garden-variety cheap cables. If you want to prevent loss of tone, then use the lowest-capacitance patch cords you can find; and if you have a lot of pedals or use very long cables, then put a good buffer at the beginning of the chain.
 
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