Why Do Guitar Cables Go Bad?

You plug in your guitar to start jamming, only to find that there is silence or static. The age-old trick of twisting around the cable in your amp just does not seem to work. Of course, nothing lasts forever, but when you buy equipment for your electric guitar, you hope it will last you a good few years before you have to replace it – including something as simple as a guitar cable. But why do guitar cables go bad?

In this article, I will answer this question and provide my handy guide on properly rolling and storing your guitar cable.

How long do guitar cables last?

Before I dive into why guitar cables go bad, it’s essential to understand how long guitar cables should last. A good quality guitar cable should last you anywhere between 5-15 years on average. And if you take care of it, guitar cables can last even longer. Of course, there is a shorter life expectancy with cheaper, lesser-quality guitar cables, but they can still last a good 3-5 years before replacing them.

If you have to replace your guitar cable after just a year or two of use, it might be worth understanding why it is going bad so that you can avoid having to shell out money year after year on replacing a cable that should last up to 15 years or more.

Why do guitar cables go bad?

Guitar cables can last a long time, but let’s be honest, most gigging musicians are not taking care of their accessories as well as they could be. The main reason guitar cables go bad is general wear and tear. This can occur due to improper rolling, stepping on cable often, and simply because you have a bad-quality cable.

Improper wrapping

If you do not wrap and store your guitar correctly, your guitar cables will likely go bad well before their time. No matter how annoying it may be to take the time to roll up your cables the proper way, simply tossing them into your gig bag is going to cause you a much bigger headache later on when it prematurely goes bad. 

Another popular method of rolling and storing cables is the elbow method, where you roll the cables around their elbows. However, this method is bad for the cables as you are twisting them in an unnatural direction.

Improper rolling causes guitar cables to break due to over-twisting, which can lead to the cables fraying, splitting, or even shorting out. You can easily avoid this by rolling your guitar cable properly.

Stepping on cables

Every guitar player has accidentally stepped on their guitar cables. When moving around during practice or on stage, it’s often hard to avoid. While stepping on your cables once or twice won’t instantly damage the equipment, constantly stepping on it without care will eventually break the cables. If you can avoid it, don’t step on your cables. If you find you can’t avoid it due to a messy stage, try to organize the cables so that they’re out of your way.

Bad quality cables

Your guitar cable may also simply be bad-quality. Cheaper cables are generally not as durable, so they won’t last as long and will break easier. Buying a random guitar cable without thoroughly researching the product first is not good practice. You may end up with a guitar cable made from cheap materials that are not very well made. Low-quality cables are more likely to go faulty in just a year or two. Even if you are on a budget and can’t afford to buy a $100+ cable, I recommend doing your research and purchasing one from a reputable company.

How to wrap a guitar cable properly

Looking after your guitar cables is the best way to ensure they last you for years. A decent-quality cable that is well-maintained will last you for over a decade. And much of that care will boil down to how you wrap your guitar cable. Though this may seem like such a small and insignificant part of looking after this equipment, it can affect your cables’ lifespan. In fact, as mentioned already, improper rolling is one of the top reasons guitar cables go bad.

So how do you wrap a guitar cable properly?

First, shake out any kinks or knots in the cable, so you have an untangled cable to work with. Then take the quarter-inch jack into your hand and put your other hand on the cable about a foot down. Next, take your hand that’s on the cable and use your thumb and index fingers to twist it away from your body and create a loop connecting to your hand on the jack. 

Continue looping, but for every second loop, twist it toward your body. Keep alternating twists until you reach the end of the cable.

The guitar cable should now be neatly rolled around in a loop. If you’d like, you can add a velcro strap to ensure it stays in place.

My pick: Best heavy-duty guitar cable

Ernie Ball Braided Instrument Cable

A quality guitar cable does not necessarily have to be expensive – the Ernie Ball braided instrument cable is a testament to that! This cable is incredibly well-made with quality materials and corrosion-free copper. And the tangle-resistant braided jacket is a huge plus. The Ernie Ball braided cable will easily last you around 10 years with proper care. Although you can certainly find guitar cables that have lasted musicians much longer than that, I don’t think you can get any better at this price point!

Check out my guide on 6 of the best guitar cables on the market for more!

Wrapping up

It is always essential to invest in good-quality equipment for your guitar. A guitar cable may seem like a small thing to care about in the grand scheme of things, but a good quality cable will make you sound good and last you years. Looking after your guitar cables will only help extend their lifespan and save you money in the long run.

Have any more questions about maintaining your gear? Feel free to reach out! I am always happy to help!