Why Do Guitars Use Unbalanced Cables?

Someone just getting into audio production will have a lot of questions.

From equipment, to choosing the right daw, setting equipment and so many other things.

Instruments are another type of equipment that have their own level of sophistication independent of other things.

This post will discuss why guitars use unbalanced cables because this a question that I’m often times asked by many people.

Therefore it pays to know and understand both balanced and unbalanced cables.

With that said, why do guitars use unbalanced cables?

Guitar’s use unbalanced cables because they record in mono, use short cable runs and by design don’t really have the real-estate to use balanced cables. The additional components that would need to be added on to a guitar for it to work with balanced cables is costly for manufacturers so they pass on this and make guitars that only need unbalanced gear to run instead.

As guitar cables are unbalanced, they’re highly susceptible to noise and interference. This means the quality of your cable will impact your overall tone. The amount of impact it has on your tone depends on the quality of your guitar and amp, pedals and interference.

This is one of the reasons why it’s not wise to go for the first cheap unbalanced cable that you find.

Guitar cables should be unbalanced to serve their purpose.

Unbalanced cables are less complicated and should be shorter to reduce noise transmitted to the connected equipment.

It’s advisable to keep the cable under 25-feet long in order to prevent signal loss.

Guitar cables are unbalanced and the best practice is to use them as required by the manufacturer.

It’s also important to pick unbalanced cable types with two connectors and a shield. The shield in the cables helps prevent outside noise interferences.

Added Components

As a manufacturer looking to create a product and profit from it. The pros and cons of manufacturing have to be taken into consideration.

Balanced cables rely on gear with specialised components that can be found in balanced audio gear like microphones.

Which is why unbalanced equipment like guitars won’t gain anything from balanced cables.

They do not have the design elements that can optimally handle balanced cables.

Guitars and Unbalanced Cables

A balanced cable can still work with your guitar. However, because a guitar has an unbalanced output you won’t get any of the benefits that these cables are designed to provide such as elimination of noise interference or a louder output as a result of phasing.

Most guitars have an unbalanced output, which is presented on a jack socket, and amplifiers have an unbalanced input that is also on a jack socket.

The Truth

The differences between balanced and unbalanced cables are pretty subtle and it’s easy to miss them at first.

If you’re using a very short unbalanced cable, or using a longer unbalanced cable on a loud device like a guitar, there won’t be a difference at all.

But there are times when spending the extra money on a balanced cable and a balanced equipment is completely necessary.

When working on tasks such as connecting a distant microphone or wiring in a high-interference area, the additional audio balancing that balanced cables provide make a huge difference.

Because it can ensure that output audio signal is free of noise and audible enough.

Knowing when to use unbalanced cables and when better to use balanced cables can make all the difference in your work which is why it pays to have a working understanding of both.

There are various details to know, but the more you work with both these cable types, the better you understand them.

Pros of Balanced Cables

Can run over long distance

Balanced cables are usually the cable of choice in most professional applications where cables are being run for long distances, but over the years they’ve become popular even in high end consumer systems as well.

Handles noise better

Another pro or advantage that comes with using balanced cables is that they handle noise better.

By using reverse polarity, noise basically cancels itself out which is called common mode rejection.

This makes balanced cables applicable in situations that call for a clean output of audio.

Cons

One major con with balanced cables is that they’re expensive.

The fact that they’re used on expensive high end consumer systems makes them expensive.

Unbalanced cables

Pros

Unbalanced cables are relatively Inexpensive compared to balanced cables.

Cons

Shorter runs

One con of unbalanced cables is that you can’t run for long distances.

Which makes balanced cables the preffered cable type for work involving long cable runs.

Noise

Noise can be an issue when it comes to using unbalanced cables because unlike balanced cables, they don’t have common mode rejection.

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