Lifestyle

DIY Doubleheader Part 1: Solderless Cables:Fast Track to Great Tone

In the never ending pursuit of superior tone, guitar geeks like me look at every possible component in the signal chain. Things like the guitar’s construction, wood choices, pickups, pedals, tubes, speakers and amps—these can have a significant impact on one’s tone. But there can be smaller nuances on tone too, and one of the more overlooked components out there are cables. And not just the cable from your guitar to amp, but the interconnect cables between the myriad of pedals you might have on your pedalboard.

But do these short (and sometimes long) runs of cables really have any impact on tone? Are there differences between soldered cables, and solderless cable designs? And what are the benefits to building your own cables beyond tone improvements?

To find out, I rewired my pedalboard using the Evidence Audio SIS Monorail (Screw In Solderless) kit. Before this, I was using a hodge-podge of different cable designs. Some were cheap interconnects (you know, the kind you get free from a pedal purchase?) and some pricier ones that were collected over the years, as well as an older solderless design that more often than not, would cause me connection problems when used in tight conditions.

While there are a number of solderless cable kits out there, not all are created equal—trust me. I was about ready to swear off solderless designs. So, what makes the Evidence Audio SIS Monorail design different? For one, it was designed by an audiophile, Tony Farinella, President of Evidence Audio. And if you think guitarists are anal about tone, they have nothing on diehard audiophiles. I’m a former audiophile addict myself, although I never let my addiction get too bad! But cables are always a hot, contentious topic among audiophiles. The adjectives describing what a cable sounds like can be quite amusing to say the least. Personally, I don’t want a cable that impacts my tone in any way. I want it to be transparent, from component to component, with minimal fuss. I want consistent reliability, and proper shielding from noise. Evidence Audio seems to have similar goals in mind.

What first impressed me about the Evidence Audio kit was the actual Monorail cable. Perhaps not as thick as what I was expecting (20 awg with a solid IGL core), but very flexible which is a bonus in my opinion - easier to bend and mold to any pedalboard situation. But a big improvement over other bulky plugs, are the SIS plugs. I think it’s important to point out, that there are other similar designs manufactured outside of the US with a build quality that is not as consistent. The SIS design is created using sophisticated CNC machines to incredibly high tolerances to ensure that the fit of the Monorail cable fits exactly into the SIS plug.

So, how do you build a cable using this kit? It’s actually very easy. While there is a little labor involved, it goes quickly once you understand the process. Watch this barely-one-minute video of what’s involved; I found once I followed this video, every cable I made worked the first time, no exceptions. If you can’t watch the video, here is quick rundown of the steps involved:
 

Evidence Audio SIS Monorail

  1. Use wire strippers (or similar tool) to cut and remove about 10mm of the outside shielding.
  2. Take the exposed copper wires and braid them together, folding back over the cable.
  3. Cut away about 4mm, and remove the black and white inner shielding leaving only the solid copper cable core exposed.
  4. Push the exposed solid core cable into the SIS plug, and turn the plug a few times until you feel the two have connected – give a tug or two to see that they are indeed connected.
  5. Bend the cable at a 90 degree angle.
  6. Attach the plug cap by screwing it into the main plug until the two are tight and secure. Done!

Some older solderless designs like I had before have a plug with a metal spike that is designed to pierce the copper core itself. This is not guaranteed if it’s off center even a little bit. Even then, having one screw keeping it all together is insufficient. The problem is exacerbated when I need to bend the cable throughout my pedalboard, which oftentimes causes too much stress on the plug and cable connection, causing the two to pull apart. This creates a crackling noise when the signal degrades, or even worse, passes no signal at all. Having a pedalboard full of these types of cables is just asking for trouble. How do you troubleshoot when you’re live on stage or wasting valuable time in a studio? Troubleshooting is a non-issue with this design—these are rock solid.

Before pic of my pedalboard using various cables:

Before close-up – notice how the cables can’t lay flat or hide anywhere, too bulky and inflexible:

Pics after the Evidence Audio SIS system was used:

After Close-ups:

Finally, there are two aspects to report back on now: How does the Evidence Audio kit sound, and how does it work? The first question is hard to answer without proper A/B testing—if I could own two identical pedal boards then this might be possible. Ideally you want to be able to flip a switch and listen to both versions one after another. I couldn’t do this, but within minutes I was able to listen to my board that was rewired using the Evidence Audio system. If I could hear a difference, I would say that the overall sound was focused, tighter, clearer, if you will. Maybe more important is that I have no scratchiness from cables coming apart, no radio interference or other extraneous noise. I wanted it to be transparent, and that’s what I got.

For me, the bigger advantage of using this kit is that I can make cables of any size I want, and since the plugs are small, you can fit pedals closer together, and in multiple configurations with minimal use of cable. You can see in my before and after pics, how much tidier it all looks, but it is indeed more reliable now as well. In fact, in the after photos, you hardly notice the cables and plugs at all, almost as if they’re invisible, which is exactly how it should be.

I wouldn’t hesitate to use these cables in a live situation—just make sure you have everything ready before you go to a gig, and maybe include a couple of spares in case you add an extra pedal at the last moment. You aren’t obviously going to build a new cable in the middle of a set (although it doesn’t take long), and likewise, you aren’t going to whip out a soldering iron and make a cable in between songs either, so like all things plan ahead and you should be fine.

And lastly, the cost: if I calculate the cost of just these nine pedals I have on my board, plus a Voodoo Lab 4x4 power supply underneath, and a Pedaltrain Jr. with risers on the back row, I have probably over $2,200 (retail) invested in this setup. The Evidence Audio Monorail cable is only $2.95 a foot, and the plugs are $7.95 each. That can add up, but think about this: does it really make sense with all you have invested on your pedals and accessories, to cheap out on inferior cables that aren’t built as well, are not as flexible, not as transparent as a system like this? Remember, your pedalboard is only as good as its weakest link. In the end, this is a very effective and inexpensive tone improvement.

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1 Comments

  1. Bailey Laurence

    Great review!  One of the best gear purchasing decisions I ever made was buying the Evidence Audio SIS kits.  Improved everything about my pedalboard and is perfect in every way imaginable.  I’ll be buying more of these kits as presents for my guitar buddies.  For anyone considering solderless cable kits, this is it.