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Any old cable won't do

by: Chris Kinman






I have always used a high quality low capacitance guitar cable and so it goes that it’s normal for me.  But I lost sight of the fact that not all my customers know the difference between cables.

I have been sending various Impersonator Strat pickup models to Professor Paul Rossiter (PhD Physics & Electronics) who is Hank Marvins Technical Assistant and creator of the fabulous TVS Echo units, and who I consider to be the best critical evaluator of pickup sound I have ever met, for confirmation that my Impersonator series live up to my claims. One particular test came back with the low E strings on the neck pickup slightly lacking attack and I was puzzled as to the cause. We considered many possible reasons but in the end it turned out to be excessive capacitance in an inferior cable.

Evaluating my pickups with a low capacitance cable was crucial to obtaining the utmost performance from them. When he used a low capacitance cable suddenly the issue vanished and he heard the glorious tone and dynamics springing from the low E string that I take for granted.  Sonic performance that you never knew was there when you use shitty cables.

Cable capacitance applies equally to any pickup. noiseless and non-noiseless.  However quite a lot of non-noiseless don't have a remarkable sound and therefore are less affected.  You don't miss what's not there in the first place in the way of dynamic range, attack and upper frequencies.  Fender noiseless is among these (inadequate design), as are dimarzio Area and VV (compact economic design) and Mojotone Quiet Coils (hopeless design).

There are a few, and Kinman Gen-2 models are among them, that have remarkable performance.  With a shitty cable you'll won't hear the performance that you get with a low capacitance cable and which you never knew was there .... that is until you change to a better cable.

Anyway, here's what Paul Rossiter wrote >>> I spent this morning comparing the Impersonator E56 with Fender's CS54's using my Fender Deluxe Reverb amp.

On all 3 pickups, with the Fender cable (380pf) the E56 sounded a bit dull compared to the CS54. However, with a lower capacitance lead on the E56 (200pf) it regained the top end attack that was identical to the Fender CS54. But then the CS54’s overall sounded a bit thin compared to the E56, the latter having a more solid upper mid-range, with a nice chime particularly noticeable on the middle pickup (but still obvious on all 3). Bloody nice actually!  By contrast, with the low cap cable the Fender CS54’s sounded quite harsh and brittle. I certainly won’t be putting the Fender's back in.

(That’s why we call it the E for enhanced 56 - CK) 

Re-visiting this explains why it is that the occasional customer complains on forums that Kinman’s fight him and holds him back. I know that’s not indicative of my pickups because I do my utmost to engineer as little parasitic coil capacitance and as much dynamic range and aliveness as possible into all my pickups ,,, and I can tell you it is no easy thing. Furthermore, unless a pickup rewards me with a feel-good experience it doesn’t get released for sale. But today I realized that a lousy cable will undo all my efforts, similar to turning the tone control down. And not only the guitar cable but short patch cords between pedals on a board can also ruin your sound so upgrade them too.

A side effect is that a by-pass filter (treble bleed) is not necessary when you have a low capacitance guitar cable because their function is to compensate for excessive capacitance.  The bypass filter balances capacitance of bad cables however it does not make a bad cable good, it's still a bad cable and the pickups will achieve more performance with a good one.

Ask yourself “why do cable makers go to so much trouble manufacturing low capacitance cables?” It’s so you can get pristine sound, so please, please PLEASE buy a high quality cable, the shorter the better and unleash the awesome performance of your Kinman pickups. Total capacitance should be no more than 270pf regardless of length and that length includes the patch cords connecting your (unbuffered) pedals that have true bypass.

Here is a list of some popular cables and their capacitance in pico-farads, the lower the capacitance the better and note the dastardly impact of length. The ones highlighted in Grey have too much capacitance.

3m (10 feet)
Sommer Spirit LLX 165pf (another winner)
Klotz vintage 59 345pf
Black Powder 240pf
2.5m (8 feet) long:
Sommer Spirit LLX 130pf (the winner)
Proline: 220 pf(runner up and probably acceptable)
Fender 2: 320 pf
UXL: 345 pf
Horizon: 360 pf
Fender 1: 380 pf
5m (16 feet) long:
Cloth covered: 560 pf
Ernie Ball: 506 pf (clearly longer is worse)

My recommendations below 200pf over total length:

    Maximum recommended length
• Sommer Spirit LLX 165pf 3m or 10 feet
• Hosa CGK series    
• Klotz La Grange 65pf/m 3m or 10 feet
• Klotz Bonamassa 70pf/m 3m or 10 feet
• Klotz Titanium    
• Van damme Silver Series Session Grade instrument cable 55 p/F per metre (not as    
flexible as for stage work)   3.6m