Solder-Free Cable Shootout
Solder-free cables have been growing in popularity since their introduction. They allow even the most novice of guitarists to make custom instrument or patch cables with little to no tools or experience. What started with a single design has spawned into a plethora of choices and price ranges. Each manufacturer and model has there pros and cons and this shootout will hopefully help you find the solder-free cable that is right for your rig.
When doing a comparison, it’s good to start with the original. George L’s were the pioneer in solder-free cables and have been making them for decades. Their design is still one of the easiest to assemble and takes little to no practice to get a cable working; their lack of instructions with their kits ought to speak to how simple the assembly is. The sound quality is improved compared to the pre-packaged patch cables on the market with a noticeable bump in your signals high end. George L’s come in a kit of 10 feet of .155 patch cable and 10 plugs. Street cost on a kit is just over $90 and can make up to 5 patch cables. Although they have been on the block the longest, George L’s have not changed their designs much since their introduction. One criticism to George L’s is that over time cables can begin to short from use. The problem is easily solved by screwing back in the end cap but finding which cable is shorted on a fully loaded pedalboard is what nightmares are made of for a gigging musician. Bottom line, these cables have been the standard for years for good reason but if you’re on a budget or looking for a connection you won’t have to worry about, you may want to check some of the other contenders. Cost per cable: $18.50
Lava Mini ELC
Lava Cable has been the biggest contributor in the solder-free cable market and it all started with their mini ELC solder-free kits. The ELC stands for Extremely Low Capacitance and the tonal clarity is heard the moment you wire up your board. Unlike George L’s high end bump, the mini ELC gives a very flat signal response that is true to your guitars natural tone. Their solder-free plugs were the smallest on the market and were only surpassed by future Lava Cable offerings. A mini ELC solder-free kit sells for $89.95 and comes with 10 feet of mini ELC cable and 10 right angle or straight plugs. The one downside to the Lava mini ELC is their assembly. It takes a bit of practice to strip, wrap and assemble a plug and by the time you finish an entire board, your thumbs will wish you just bought those cheap multi-colored patches. The time you spent on assembly though is returned in the life of the cable. Once built and working, it is rare to have a Lava cable short out. Bottom line, the mini ELC is a great sounding kit if you have the money and patience that they require. Cost per cable: $18
Following the success of their solder-free mini ELC, Lava Cable released their TightRope kits. Marketed as their budget friendly solder-free solution, the TightRopes boast one of the lowest price-points around. They also have one of the smallest plugs in the industry allowing you to play a serious amount of pedal Tetris. Their TightRope kits also feature a solid core cable which is helpful in making tight turns around your pedalboard top. Their kit comes with 10 feet of tightrope cable and 10 right angle plugs for $59.95. Like their mini ELC brethren, the tightropes take a bit of practice to figure out. Once you get the hang of the assembly, they are quicker to put together than the mini ELCs and last just as long. Bottom line for the price it is hard to beat the TightRope kits. Great sound quality and low profile make them a good choice for musicians looking to upgrade their board on a budget. Cost per cable: $12
Planet Waves Solderless Cable Kit
After an initial toe-dip into the solderless market, Planet Waves’ newest cable kit surpasses its predecessor in every way. Their new kits feature a smaller plug and lower capacitance cable than their original cable stations. The plugs are easy to assemble (similar to George L’s design) and the set-screw keeps them locked in place through frequent gigs. The Planet Waves kit sells for $69.99 and gives you up to 5 patch cables. Although, they’ve shrunk their plugs, the Planet Waves are still one of the largest around; especially noticeable if you have two jacks that line up side by side. Bottom line these kits are well priced and are a great choice if you have plenty of space on your board. Cost per cable: $14
Lava just released a new plug called the Piston. It uses mini ELC cable but with a smaller and easier to assemble solder-free plug. It is similar in design to the George L’s and Planet Waves in that you just cut the cable to length, slide into the plug and tighten a set screw to hold it in place. These are still brand new to the market and we are still waiting to test them out. If they sound and perform as good as expected, we have a feeling these will quickly corner the solder-free market. G&H has also released a solderless cable kit that is being sold direct and licensed to several manufacturers; Disaster Area Designs, Gear Supply Co and Analysis Plus. The cable is similar in assembly to the new Lava Pistons but has a larger plug than the Lava’s but a lower resistence than George L’s or Planet Waves. We are still waiting to get our hands on the G&H set, or one of it’s many variants, but with prices ranging from $80 to $100 for a 5 cable set, we think they will have a bit of an uphill battle to gain ground in a quickly growing solder-free market.