Ok, here's the ultimate test of your ears - maybe. I was in a local guitar shop today and they have Lava Cables hanging on the wall. I asked them if they are really different and what would you expect them to say? They said these $120, 12 foot guitar cables sound incredible. They claim that anyone can hear the difference. Now to me, this sounds like fish and fairies, but there is a whole cadre of believers out there.
Anectodally, this was my experience:
I was tired of Guitar Center cables that were microphonic and broke easily, so I ordered some Canare GS6 and Neutrik connectors so I could build my own indestructible cable. The minute I plugged it in, I thought I heard a sonic difference, especially in the highs. But now I'm not so sure it was really different. I was only trying to build a more durable cable, so I wasn't expecting a difference in sound. And yet, I think I heard a difference.
So what do you think? What about these $120 cables with silver plated conductors and so on? Different? Worth $120? My local guitar guy thinks so.
Actually, I did at the time and I was pretty sure I heard more high end. But my goal was to build cables that don't break, any difference in sound ends up being a bonus. And mind you, my cables can be built for less than $15 for a 10 foot lead. That includes the high quality connectors.
Canare GS6 is less than a $1 per foot while G&H or Neutrik plugs are $2-$4 per plug depending on what you get. What you end up with is a sturdy cable with 18 AWG center conductors and plugs that have good strain relief and will stand up to some abuse. If it sounds better, great. But at least it doesn't sound worse.
The cables you typically see at Guitar center (even Monster cables) are usually made with 22 AWG conductors (Not very sturdy and tend to snap at the solder joint) and lots of vinyl to make them feel like better cables. The bottom line is that you can build a much better quality cable for 1/2 the cost.
There is a Mogami cable series at Guitar center that is made from decent cable, (Mogami W2524) and has G&H plugs. They should be very durable but you will pay for it. Again, for what you pay for these cables, you can make three of your own for the same cost. And if you use Canare GS6, I think you're getting better cable as well.
Oh, and yes, your car runs better when it's clean.
The day you get professional musicians endorsing $120 cables is the day you've seen Romans come to pass - darkening of reason. I think cheap cables often have issues with clarity, but after you've graduated to "decent" or "good" cables, you've cured that issue. But going from "decent" to "high end" cables probably buys you very little in the way of sonic improvement.
It might possibly make a small difference in a studio setting. Live? Forget it. Durability is good but there are so many other factors in the sound that I don't believe a cable would make a significant difference (especially if you are also going into the PA). Most of the time, any improvement is likely to be counteracted by other components in the chain between the instrument and the hearer's ears.
I was told by my guitar shop wizards that this $120 cable will really make acoustic and bass guitars sound much better. He swears by it and uses it live all the time. I can see how bass might benefit, but still, it can't be much. I tend to agree with you that you will find so many other components that contribute to the quality of sound.
Due to durability issues I started using DiMarzio Instrument Cables as I play lead quitar (Les Paul) in my church worship band. They are thicker and and more expensive than the cheap cables I had been using, i.e. $32 for a 10' cable. I could instantly hear more volume and better top and bottom end sound. I don't think it is my imagination and I really think a good cable can enhance the guitar's sound.
If you like the Dimarzios, you should look at building your own. More cable for your money.
The way cables affect tone is well documented: basically it's down to capacitance (more capacitance = fewer highs) and quality of connection (i.e. decent jacks that don't easily oxidise and build up insulation, good solder connections and cable clamping).
These are both areas that should be adequately addressed in even a moderately priced cable - I've got neutrik/canare cables (well up the cable food chain) and cables I've been using for the last 14 years that cost about $10 each for 20 feet. There is a small difference in clarity, but it's nothing that a small tweak of amp EQ (reducing treble with the Canare) can't fix.
Do remember that your tone will be affected by EVERYTHING in the signal path, including any pedals (even if they're true bypass you'll still have several solder & contact joints in there). Also a lot will depend on the input stage of the amp: slightly off topic, but I own an amp which would suffer tone-suck to an astonishing degree with one particular pedal, and ended up tweaking the amp to minimise tone-suck with any kit. When I've been out trying amps I'll take along a few pedals or a processor too - it's amazing how much tone quality can deteriorate with something that doesn't match the amp in the signal path.
I would stress that reliability is the most important aspect of a cable, and most mid-range and top end cables will be equal in this respect. Do also remember that many classic tones were produced using cable that would now be considered terrible (remember those budget curly cables everyone used). I personally prefer less highs in my tone, and a super-transparent cable that passes all those upper-end noises will make me want to roll off the treble a bit more.
I agree, the main reason to get good cables is durability, then see if they sound better. I build my own out of Canare/Neutrik or Canare/G&H.
But it's fun to read and play around with stuff. These two sites have all kinds of esoteric stuff that I'll never spend my money on, but it's fund to read about it.
LOL. When you get yours, will you let me borrow it?
Well, the very same guitar shop that wants to well the $120 cables also wants to sell $18 picks. Of course they are nowhere near as excellent as the ones you just shared.
i rekon good equipment is all made up of 5% changes... i dont generally go for the "this one cable, or pedal, or speaker" will change your sound calls... coz i think if you have average gear and just put a good cable in its not going to really do anything to your sound, BUT i think if you have Good cable, good guitar, good patch cables good speaker etc. all those 5% add up and make a big difference.. i think though with a crappy guitar, crappy amp and crappy patch cables, i dont think you would hear much difference if you just swapped out your lead for a good one... although, i do remember playing with a guy that had Brass saddles on his tele on the D/G and B/E strings and nickle saddle on the E/A stings coz he thought the brass resonated better on those ones than the nickle... you can make your own mind up about that one haha...
You mean like the Jerry Donahugh Omniac sig from Peavey? Now that IS a good case of all the 5%s adding up, including different kinds of ferrules - that's a well respected feature of that particular guitar:
What's a good guitar? It's probably the one you're used to and plays the way you want it too.
It's hard to really % the effect changes make, but some will be much more apparent than others. Cables will generally, I'm sure, be in the last couple of % (unless they're really bad) although a little ahead of ferrule material.