Somewhere along the line somebody probably told you “Don’t ever use guitar cables for speakers and vice versa!” If not you will be glad you noticed this article because it might save you some trouble down the road. What seems confusing is that from outward appearances the two cables can look much the same, if not identical. The plugs are interchangeable in most cases as well. So let’s take a look at why they are different, what they are optimized for, and why they don’t make good substitutions for one another.
Instrument (guitar) cables are designed to transfer the very small signal your guitar pickups generate or the line level signals from a preamp or mixer to an amplifier input. They need to do this without collecting a lot of outside interference. This is important because any small electrical signals it picks up on the way to your amp input will be amplified right along with your instrument! To prevent this, guitar cables have a small central conductor to carry the low level signal to the amp and a large outer shield of twisted or braided copper to ground out interference before it gets into your signal chain.Speaker cables must carry a much more powerful signal as they come after your amplifier has boosted the signal level many times over (how loud is your amplifier compared to what your electric guitar sounds like unplugged?) Those high AC currents allow your power amp to move large, heavy speakers and a lot of air to create sound. So speaker cables must have very large conductors compared to instrument cables. On the other hand because the signal level they carry is so high, outside interference isn’t a problem (without being amplified it can’t compete with your amp’s output), so speaker cables do not have an outer ground shield like your instrument cables.
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Even if you’ve matched your bass head and cab properly impedance wise and set your amp for clean sound, sending simply too much power to your bass cab can result in blown speakers. This often happens when you are using a rig you are unfamiliar with, as we tend to know the limitations of our own equipment and have chosen that setup for a reason. Borrowing another bassist’s amp or using a backline rig only to blow it up is definitely not a great feeling.