Most guitar and keyboard players need to hook their instruments up to an amp to boost sound quality and volume. If you’re considering an amplifier, you’ll need the necessary cables to connect it to your instrument. So, what cords do you need, and do they come with an amp purchase?
Most amplifiers don’t come with the necessary connector cables. Musicians purchasing an amp and electric instrument have to buy the connecting wires separately. However, there are guitar beginner’s kits that include a cable, amplifier, and other guitar accessories.
In the rest of this article, I’ll tell you why amps don’t generally come with cables and talk about the kinds of wires you need for an instrument-amp connection. I’ll also show you the right way to connect your cables so that you don’t experience any blowback or equipment damage.
Should You Buy Amp Cables Separately?
While almost every amp uses a ¼ inch (0.635 cm) cable to connect to instruments, it isn’t included in the basic package.
But the good news is that the essential input and output cables are standardized. So, there’s no need to worry about compatibility issues. Even if you buy a different brand of cable than your amp, you can still connect it to your instruments and play your music.
The only way you would get a cable with your amplifier is to buy a beginner’s electric guitar kit. This kit generally includes the guitar itself, a soft case, an amp, the necessary cables, and several other accessories. There are also beginner sets for acoustic guitars, but they don’t come with amplifiers.
Although the amplifier and other accessories aren’t necessarily the best quality, a beginner’s set is a great way to save money and try out the electric guitar. If you’re interested in a basic beginner’s set, I recommend the affordable Humbucker Electric Guitar and Amp Kit on Amazon.
What Cables Do I Need?
All electric guitars and convertible acoustic guitars have the same plug for a cable—a ¼ inch (0.635 cm) opening. However, there are several standard types of cables on the market, so you need to make sure you’re buying the right type.
Most electric stringed instruments use the ¼ inch instrument cable. You can play anything from an electric guitar to a cello without buying separate cables, which is helpful if you have an array of electric instruments. Keyboards have a slightly different setup, however.
Here’s a guide on which cables you need for which instruments and where to find them!
Electric Guitar Cables
The standard instrument cable comes with two ¼ inch plugs, which can be used interchangeably at the amp or instrument end.
These cables are relatively inexpensive. So, you don’t have to splurge on a top-tier cable since they all do the same thing, and the price generally won’t affect your sound overall.
Cable prices mostly depend on the length. For a beginner, I recommend this New Bee Guitar Cable. It’s ten feet long (3.048 meters) and comes at a great price. If you only have one instrument and an amp, you won’t need to buy more than one instrument cable.
Guitar cables don’t last forever, but they’ll have longer lives if you take good care of them. Taking care of a guitar cable is relatively easy: you only need to make sure that it’s plugged and unplugged properly (when the amp is turned off and volume down). It’s also helpful to keep them coiled and packed neatly when you’re not using them, to prevent accidental damage.
Electric Keyboard Cables
Keyboards are a little more complicated than guitars. They generally need stereo sound, with two sound sources to enhance audio quality. However, they can shift into the mono sound when they’re part of a band or hooked up to an amplifier.
If you’re playing your keyboard in mono, you’ll only need an instrument cable, and it should connect to one of the two sound outputs on the back of your keyboard. (If they’re labeled right and left, choose left). You can use an instrument cable without worrying about damaging the instrument.
On the other hand, stereo sound requires either two instrument cables or a double cable. Some keyboards have a headphone jack instead, so you can buy a cable with a ¼ inch plug and a regular headphone plug. To play the keyboard in stereo, make sure you know what kind of outputs your instrument will support.
Electric Pedal Cables
Electric pedals use the same instrument cables as electric guitars and most keyboards. If you plan on using an electric pedal to distort or add effects to your music, you can buy an extra instrument cable and use it the same way.
All you need to do is connect your guitar to your pedal before plugging it into the amp, and you’re good to go!
Of course, it gets more complicated if you have more than one pedal as you’ll need an audio interface to connect all of your instruments and pedals to amplifiers.
Speaker cables aren’t the same as instrument cables, even though most speaker cables also use a ¼ inch plug. These cables connect the amp to external speakers, but you can’t use them to transfer audio signals from an instrument to the amp.
Speaker cables have more robust internal wiring and could cause damage to instruments if you try to use them for your instruments. However, you only need a set of these cables if you intend to perform for a bigger crowd or with a band. You might need multiple cables if you have several amps and speakers.
If you’re planning on just playing a single instrument for yourself or small gatherings, there’s no reason to buy extra speakers and cables. Just make sure you don’t mix up the ¼ inch jacks on the speaker and instrument cables.
Using a ¼ inch instrument jack instead of a ¼ inch speaker cable could overload the cable, because it’s meant for a smaller amount of energy. A speaker cable has more wiring to handle the extra sound. In the long run, this will destroy your cables and burn out your amp.
How Do I Connect a Cable to My Amplifier?
Once you’ve purchased the right cables, it’s time to connect them. Most importantly, make sure the amp is turned off and the volume knobs are down. Also, be sure to do it in the right order; otherwise, you could damage the cables, your amplifier, and other instruments.
Follow these steps:
- Turn the amplifier off and lower the volume.
- Make sure the volume on the guitar is down as well.
- Plug the cord into the guitar first, and then the amp.
- Turn the amp on.
- Set the guitar’s volume to the highest setting.
- Set the amp to your preferred sound.
The process is the same if you’re pushing your guitar through a distortion or effects pedal. Turn off the pedal and the amp. Then plug the guitar into the pedal before plugging the pedal into the amplifier. This order will prevent feedback, amp “popping,” or potential damage to your equipment.
Although amplifiers don’t come with cables, you only need to purchase one or two to play music successfully with your amp and instrument. Make sure you buy the right ¼ inch cable and set it up correctly. And be careful not to confuse speaker cables with instrument cables. Once you’ve done that, there’s nothing to worry about – you can start jamming!