A Perspective on 1/4″ Connectors

By Mason Marangella

Purpose

The diagrams below are intended to inform how the capacitance of various brands and models of 1/4" connectors can impact the tone and performance of instrument and patch cables. Each diagram has 5 columns that indicate the following:

  1. Company – the company that manufactures the listed connector
  2. Model – the model number of the connector if available (some do not have a model name)
  3. Manufacturing Location – where the connector is made
  4. Style – the profile type of the connector
  5. Capacitance – the number of picofarads (see definition below) found in each connector (the lower the number = less the tonal impact)
  6. Price – the cost per connector in U.S. dollars

This research was done out of the necessity to discover which connectors will best preserve the natural tonality of a cable, especially in a pedalboard or rack setup. In my work with pedalboards and racks, it is critical to create the closest representation of a guitar being plugged directly an amplifier even after running through a dozen or more effects pedals. Using the lowest capacitance connectors possible helps decrease signal loss and will better represent what a guitar plugged directly into an amplifier would sound like.

Technical Terminology
pF = Picofarads (a unit to measure capacitance)

Testing Process/Materials

Test results were achieved by using a capacitance meter (set to measure pF) with alligator clips attached to the tabs on a Neutrik Mono NMJ2HC-S 1/4” jack and then zeroed out and calibrated to 0pF. Connectors were then individually inserted into the jack to only measure the capacitance from each one, and eliminate external factors. The capacitance of each connector below was based on a sample of 5 (for each model), and then averaged for an overall capacitance per connector. Any outliers were removed from the sample based and not included in the average.

The capacitance meter used outputs an 800Hz square wave and contains > 10 to 50 times the odd harmonics of 800Hz.

Context

Most high quality, low capacitance instrument cables range between 20-30pF per foot, meaning (for example) if you have two plugs (one for each end of the cable) measuring between 10-15pF each, it is equivalent to an extra 12 inches in length to your cable, just from the plugs alone:

2 connectors @ 10-15pF each (2 x 10pF) or (2 x 15pF) = 20-30pF (equal to 12 inches of cable) When considering patch cables on a pedalboard, these numbers multiply even faster from the increased amount of plugs necessary to wire an entire rig. This results in the equivalent of several extra feet of unwanted cable and capacitance effecting your signal and overall tone.

For example, if you have 10 pedals on a pedalboard, all wired in mono, you have 20 connectors (2 per pedal). Using the same numbers from above (average cables range from 20-30pF/ft., and connectors run from 10-15pF/each), it is equivalent to adding an additional 12 feet of cable:

20 connectors @ 10-15pF each (20 x 10pF) or (20 x 15pF) = 200pF–300pF (equal to 12 feet of cable)

Bottom Line

Using connectors that have the lowest capacitance (pF) possible will have the least impact on the natural sound of your instrument cables and will result in the most organic tone.
For those planning on building their own pedalboard or rack rigs, consider these specifications prior to purchasing connectors, or, if not building your own cables, request specific connector brands/models from your chosen cable retailer or assembler.

Mason Marangella, Founder/Engineer at Vertex Effects, Inc. www.vertexeffects.com (2012)