Solderless vs Soldered Patch Cables

As if playing guitar wasn't complicated enough on its own, building your own pedalboard comes as another great challenge in your musical journey. Seeking for great tone, some guitarists still prefer going down this road instead of buying multi-effects units or digital modeling amps. Whatever your thoughts may be, it is definitely exciting to build your own custom pedalboard and to go picking from countless combinations of various guitar pedals and effects.

However, what you need to do first is to inform yourself about all the different effects, practices, and all the other details and potential problems that you might encounter along the way. Now, while we're at details, there seems to be one thing that players tend to overlook or just not pay enough attention to. What we're talking about is the use of soldered and solderless patch cables in your signal chain. Each of these two options has its advantages and disadvantages and we'll try to clear things up and shed some light on this topic in this article.

First of all, a patch cable is basically a short version of your standard guitar cable that connects two pedals on your board. There are many different shapes and sizes and most of the patch cables have plugs at a right angle.

The difference between the soldered and the solderless cables is essentially in the types of plugs. The soldered cables are often cheaper, they tend to be more reliable, and can be repaired in case something goes wrong in the connector. However, despite all these advantages, connectors on soldered cables are quite bulkier and make things a bit more complicated for some very complex and tight pedalboards out there. Nonetheless, the soldered option is recommended in most of the cases as these cables are more reliable and lose connection way less often.

In case you have a pedalboard with pedals close together and really want to use soldered cables, there is still an alternative which will help you sort things out. The so-called "pancake" plugs give you more space as they allow you to keep the pedals closer together. As nothing in life is perfect, these too have a downside as they are wider compared to the regular soldered jacks and they'll make it impossible to use pedals with stereo outputs.

And then we have the solderless patch cables. These serve the same purpose as soldered cables, but the difference here is that there are no soldered parts inside the plug and you're essentially unable to make any corrections in case of damage. The manufacturers come up with various different solutions on how to hold the cable inside the jacks so that they don't lose the connection and ultimately break your signal chain (which results in horrible noises accompanied by a complete signal loss).

While solderless cables are not as nearly as reliable as soldered cables, they have some advantages. First off, not many guitar players really want to bother with soldering and putting things back together and you can just buy a bunch of spare ones. Another advantage here is that solderless patch cables can have significantly smaller jacks and you'll be able to avoid the issues of those bulky standard soldered cables or the wide "pancake" patch cables.

Which ones should I choose?

In case you have a small pedalboard where you don't swap the pedals too much, you can easily go with solderless cables. If there are also stereo outputs on this board where you'll need to squeeze in two patch cables next to each other on the same pedal, going with small and compact solderless cables is a great solution. Just make sure that there won't be that much movement and constant plugging and unplugging involved.

On the other hand, if you're planning to go pro and become the kind of player that's constantly on the road, soldered cables are a way to go. There will definitely be a lot of moving involved and you'll constantly be plugging and swapping pedals in the signal chain, so soldered cables is something that you should give priority to. Reliability and durability of patch cables is something that you'll want to have on your main gigging pedalboard.

Of course, there are also some combinations that you might want to consider. In case there's a part of your pedalboard where you need stereo outputs and inputs, and you're quite sure you won't be swapping any pedals there every few days or so, then you can easily put in some solderless patch cables there. But for the most part, the soldered ones should be a priority.

If you have a pedalboard that's staying at home most of the time and is used just for fun, solderless cables are a good option. Just make sure to have a few of them prepared as a backup in case something goes wrong.

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