Guitar Cables: Coiled Vs. Straight


So, you’re about to connect your guitar to amp. How’d you connect it? You have three choices: straight cable, coiled cable and no cable at all.

The last option is realistic only if you own some Wi-Fi transmitting system. Or if you’re really bad at playing. Anyway, we’re not going to deal with this no-cable option here.

Let’s talk about straight and coiled cables. Let’s go through this topic to conclude whether you should use straight cables or coiled cables in your setup.

Talk about cables with any guitarist. It’s like opening a can of worms. Guitar players all over forums are strongly defending their own opinions. You can read some PhD level technical discussions about effects on tone that someone can hear while someone else just don’t get.

So, for the sake of simplicity, we will discuss coiled vs straight in three different sections in what I consider an increasing scale of importance:

  • look/appearance
  • practicality
  • effects on tone

Let’s examine thoroughly each one, starting with the looks.

1. Look/Appearance

I wouldn’t say that look is not important. Unless you just play alone in your room, it’s definitely an aspect of the show that you should take into consideration.

However, I’ve yet to find someone who’s so picky to criticize the look of the cables on stage. Personally, I have always used bright red cables to recognize them better, for increased visibility. Of course, nobody ever complained.

Coiled cables were quite popular during the 60’s. Jimi Hendrix famously used them at the mythical Woodstock concert. Then they went out of fashion, after they got replaced almost completely by the now much more common straight cables.

As a threat here’s Jimi at Woodstock with his glorious coiled cable:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezI1uya213I

There’s now a resurgence of the coiled cable and, it should be admitted, it carries some of the vintage vibe of an era where music was really something great.

As for me, I find coiled cables very cool looking, adding something different in a musical world where most of the cables are plain and straight.

It is uncommon, vintage-looking and it adds visual importance to something that’s generally better hidden, which are all fashion pluses, for me.

I can only find a few circumstances where the coiled cable may look out of place and old fashioned. But there’s no way a coiled cable will not look cool on any guitar with a classic design, like a Stratocaster, a Telecaster or a Les Paul.

Your tastes may be miles away from mine, but I would say that, as far as appearance goes, for me, the coiled version is far cooler.

Anyway, I guess the winner of this Look/Appearance category is: a coiled cable. For me, of course. It all breaks down to personal taste, anyway.

Check out this one on Amazon. You can also pick a color you want.

2. Practicality Of Use

Whichever cable you should choose, it has to be functional. In other words, it has to transmit your guitar signal to the amplifier without creating any hindrance to your performance.

Let’s judge coiled and straight cables by some criteria.

  • space taking

Is there a difference in how much space they are taking? Do coiled cables take up less space?

  • unplugging

Which cables unplug more frequently? By this, I’m thinking about accidental unplugging on stage, for example.

  • stepping on cables

Are you more likely to step on a straight cable?

  • tangling

Do straight cables get tangled up more frequently?

  • weight

Are coiled cables heavier?

Space Taking: Coiled Cables Take Up Way Less Space

The number one reason to choose coiled cables is that they take up way less space on stage. Their length will vary depending on how much you pull them.

You can then move freer around the stage, with a reduced risk of getting tangled into your cable, while the stage itself will look less messy.

Even if you’re playing only in your room, coiled cables are slightly more practical when we talk about space taking.

Straight cables often wound themselves around chair legs. That can be frustrating at times.

Unplugging: Straight Cables Get Unplugged More Often

Another nice advantage of using curly cables is that their spring-like feeling may prevent you to unplug your guitar or amp by mistake.

With a straight cable, you can get your foot or leg tangled with it and then you may accidentally pull the cable a little too much and unplug it. And that neither sounds good nor it’s completely safe for the cone of your amplifier.

And if you do it while playing live will almost certainly ruin the atmosphere.

With a coiled cable, on the other hand, you will probably be able to feel the increasing resistance of the cable being pulled more and more. Assumed that you have good reflexes, you can stop and prevent an accident to happen.

Stepping On Cables: Coiled Cables Are Less Prone To Get Stepped On

You will also be less prone to step on a coiled cable that on a straight cable, hence reducing one of the major reasons of cable breakage.

The reason is evolutionary: millennia of existence before the modern food bonanza taught the Homo sapiens sapiens how to walk with minimal effort. Part of this energy reduction strategy means that we always try to rise our feet the least amount possible.

That’s why you continue tripping on that misplaced tile in your bathroom that’s only 1 to 2 mm higher than the rest of the floor!

We, as human beings, tend to rise higher our feet from the ground if we are walking on some heterogeneous surface, like a cable cluttered stage. But yet, it’s more likely that you’ll just move away a coiled cable than to step on it.

If you constantly jump while you’re playing it won’t help, though.

Tangling And Storing: Coiled Cables Tend To Intertwine With Other Cables

A curly cable will take much more real estate in your gig bag than a straight cable.

If not properly stored, it will love to intertwine with all your other cables making difficult for you to unravel the resulting mess.

If you’re annoyed by that, I advise you to check out this straight cable on Amazon.

As a side note, since we are talking about storage: coiled cables are easier to wrap than straight cables because the springy action will compensate for any rotational tension you may be adding by rolling the cable.

However, I believe that nobody should be leaving a guitar store with a brand new instrument if they are not able to wrap a cable in a proper way. I guess it’s not part of the training of new guitarists because replacing broken cables generate a generous cash flow for the music store.

While using a coiled cable you may also want to double check if someone else nearby is using the same kind of cable. He will possibly cross your path: straight cables slide very well one on another; not so much as curly ones.

The way you loop the cord on your guitar may also vary with coiled cables. Nothing too fancy, but as a reference you can look at this video:

Weight: Coiled Cables Are Heavier

A final minor disadvantage of coiled cables is weight.

When you look to a 10 feet coiled cable you should consider that it would be 2 to 3 times the length, when uncoiled. This add to the weight that you have to drag around both while preparing your setup and while playing.

If normally you can feel the weight of around 3 feet of cable hanging from your guitar, this weight has to be multiplied when using a coiled cable.

To most people this will not be a deal breaker. But some other people may be annoyed by the extra weight.

3. Effects On Tone

All musicians have a tone fetish. It’s a serious problem, because we tend to spend a lot of time discussing about a lot of useless things while we should be practicing.

This kind of hair splitting activity also has the magical property to make money disappear from the pockets of the musician and make it appear again in the bank account of the people who sell guitar gear.

So, if you want to save time and go back shredding your scales, the short answer to the question “does a coiled cable sound different from a straight one?” is “yes”.

Not happy? Check the link below, to hear directly.

Still not happy? Keep on reading (it won’t take long, anyway).

As a principle, you want your cable to be as short as possible, and of high quality.

The shorter the cable and the higher in quality, the more it will be transparent toward your guitar sound. if you want to preserve the sound that comes from your pickups, you want your cables to suck up the least amount of harmonics.

In an ideal case a cable used to connect a guitar to the amp will truthfully transmit every signal without any loss or gain. Alas, the reality is far from an ideal case.

First of all, the cable acts like an antenna and the longer the antenna is the better it is in catching any electromagnetic interference.

Secondly, a longer cable will have a higher capacitance and will, in practice, modify the sound in the same way the tone knob does.

Coiled Cables Are Increasing Mid Range Frequencies

Since a coiled cable is two to three times as long as a straight cable that needs to do the same exact job, you can understand that the straight cable will pick much less interference and will modify your sound less.

Without any doubt, we can conclude this. A coiled cable, when compared to a straight one, will remove much more high frequencies from your tone.

It will have the effect to make you sound like you boosted your mid range on the amp.

How much is this effect noticeable? It really depends on the quality of the cable itself. Good one, surprise surprise, will be more transparent while a cheap one will be a tone sucker (even if it’s straight).

It also depends on how much you care about it, frankly. If you surf the internet, you will be able to find extremely scientific discussion on how the peak of resonance of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar was below 2000Hz because he used a cord with 3000 picofarad capacitance.

While that is undoubtedly true, it still doesn’t tell us if Jimi did choose the cable for the tone or if he just grabbed what was available in stores back then.

Some musicians choose deliberately a coiled cable trying to be faithful to the Hendrix tone. If you want the same effect without using a special cable, you can pretty much use a 10 feet cable when a 3 feet cable would be sufficient. Or roll down your tone. Or tweak your amp settings.

In my opinion, there are a number of ways to get the sound that a coiled cable can give you without using a coiled cable. Still, there’s no practical way to add the high range that may be lost if your cable is not good enough. And that enough should make you opt for a straight cable most of times.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. If that’s the case, I’m more than happy about it.

Coiled Vs. straight cable topic is a very interesting one. As you can see, there are some differences between those two types.

Still, don’t put your hopes to much on cables. Yes, they affect the tone, but the tone itself is affected the most by your playing!

Just don’t forget to practice your playing, and you’ll be OK.

Anyway, don’t forget to check out some other interesting articles about various guitar topics and issues!

Cheers, and rock on!

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