Making Your Own Cables

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Want to know where you can save some real money? Making your own cables! It's easy to do, and your will spend about a quarter of what you would buying them and they will probably be better cables too.

These are few do-it-yourself projects that will save you as great of a percentage as making your own cables. Many people under-estimate the number of cables needed to wire a studio or to set-up a usable sound system for gigging I know I have on more than one occasion.

Cables that sell in your local music store for $20-$30 you can generally make for under $5. Once you get an initial investment of a soldering iron and line tester taken care of. A good soldering iron and line tester is not expensive, nor do you need any engineering degree to use it, however, a steady hand is good:-)

When setting out to get your cable manufacturing facility equipped, consider this: Spend the couple extra bucks and get a soldering iron with a hi and lo setting, and don't get the cheapest solder available, get the cleanest most conductive solder you can. This will provide the least noise introduction into your sound. A line tester is a very simple, cheap piece of equipment that allows you to touch the ends of you cable to make sure there is signal going through, and the proper contact points are connected to the proper points on the other end.

If you are making cables for your studio, it's pretty easy. Go down to your local Radio Shack store and get some high-quality connectors, they do cost a little more, but they also provide a significantly better signal transmission. When purchasing the cable itself, get heavy-gauge cable with shielding. The shielding protects your studio from interference being introduced by all the other cables dangling back behind your racks of gear. When you consider how many cables are actually hanging back there crossing each other and running parallel with each other, without shielding the likelihood of interference is pretty great. What is the point of having all this great gear and software, if we let an extra 10 cents a foot for cable make it sound like crap anyway?

If you are making cables for your road gear, or something that gets moved a lot, make sure your get connectors with some support off the back of the connector (such as a spring support or the like) and some shrink-wrap to shrink around the connector and the first couple inches of the cable. This helps keep the cables from creasing at the connector and from loosening when getting pulled out, pushed in, pulled out, pushed in, etc. Not only that, but the shrink wrap comes in many different colors as well, this also helps you mark your cables, i.e. "all the cables with green ends belong to ME!" or you can see the red end is plugged into aux 1 send...where does it go in the rack? It is priceless in that capacity...think about it...it is a time saver

OK, now let's take a look at some of the different kinds of cables you may be making. I will cover three styles here that are far and away the most common you will encounter in your pro audio needs. They are the 1/4" connector, as seen on guitars, amps, and most effects boxes and rack units. The RCA connector, as seen on home stereos, VCR's, some rack-mount EQ's and tape machines. and the XLR connector, the three-pin plug found on most microphones and as an option on most channels of a mixing board.

1/4"

1/4
1/4" mono connector
1/4
1/4" stereo connector

1/4" connectors come in two common varieties, mono and stereo. The mono is the most commonly used, it is the simple, basic connector used on all electric guitars and amplifiers, it consists of two connection points, one at the tip, and one is the "sleeve", or, the remainder of the connector. The stereo has three connection points, one at the tip, one just beneath that, or, the "ring", and the sleeve. In pro audio, these stereo connectors have two common uses, as effect inserts at the board, where the tip is "return" and the ring is "send" (or, the other way around, I forget), and as balanced input if your components have balanced input and outputs available. The balancing reduces hum and stuff by sort of mimicking the 3-pin XLR type of cable.

When making mono cables, just remember that the tip is the live signal and the sleeve is the ground, therefore, solder the center wire to the tip, and the wrapped shield to the sleeve.

When making stereo cables, the tip and ring are the two live signals, and the sleeve is the ground. Just make sure you solder the tip on one end to the tip on the other end and so on...or, if you are making an insert cable (i.e. one stereo plug that splits to two mono plugs) mark the mono plugs so you know which one goes to the tip, and which goes to the ring.

RCA

RCA connector
RCA connector

RCA connectors are most commonly seen on home stereos, ya know, the little red and white color coded connectors. In pro audio they are seldom seen on high-end gear, they are sometimes seen on mid-priced EQ's, sound cards and amplifiers, and often times as a stereo tape in and out on a mixing board. If you have a piece of gear that gives you the choice of RCA or 1/4" I recommend using the 1/4" because the component you want to hook it to will likely not have the RCA, they just aren't that common in pro audio. You can make cables with 1/4" on one end and RCA on the other, though this type of adapting is generally noisy (although less noisy than a 1/4" to 1/4" cable with a little cheesy adapter on the end of it). Bottom line is, don't use RCA unless you have no other choice. No, it's not the end of the world if you have to use it, and it doesn't make your studio lame, you'll just get better results with 1/4".

With RCA, the center of the connector is the live signal and the part that goes around the outside of the plug is the ground. Therefore, if you are making a 1/4" to RCA cable, make sure the center of the RCA is soldered to the tip of the 1/4".

XLR

XLR jack
XLR jack
XLR plug
XLR plug

XLR cables are found on microphones, and that is about the only place you will find (if memory serves me correctly anyway). There are three pins on an XLR cable that are numbered 1,2 and 3 (convenient, huh) and they have to be connected to the corresponding pin on the other end...its as simple as that.

It is also reasonably common to make wires that adapt from 1/4" input to XLR and vice-versa. In order to do this, the number 2 pin on the XLR cable is the signal that get connected to the tip of the 1/4" jack. The 1 and 3 pins of the XLR both get soldered to the ground of the 1/4" connector. This type of cable is very useful if you are trying to record from a microphone into a mixer that does not have the XLR jacks available on it. Most mixers have at least one or two channels with XLR's available, but not all...

Construction Tips

When preparing you wire for soldering, make sure it is twisted up nice and tight with no loose ends hanging around, press it down to the contact you want to solder it to and hold it down with the tip of the soldering iron. When the iron heats the wire and connector, touch it with solder to melt the solder through wire and onto connector. This will provide a good solid connection. The most common mistake people make is to put on WAY to much solder. Use just enough to provide a good solid connection, and make sure no loose wires are dangling around. If there are loose wires, they may, in time, touch the other connection point and that creates problems...

The shrink wrap I mentioned earlier is also a good idea for strength, convenience in labeling and over all durability. it is easy to put on, when you are done soldering, just slide up the case, screw it on and slide the shrink wrap over it and heat it up with a lighter, hairdryer, or whatever else you have handy.

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User-submitted comments

EstebanNina
Mar 10, 2003 03:07 pm
I'm sorry but this article is very false.
You can buy at Musician's friend a decent 20' foot Mic cable for $3.00.
If you go to Radio Shack it will cost you $3.00-$5.00 for one connector end, times two, plus the cable itself another $2.00-$4.00.
Add it all up... MAD EXPENSIVE.
Usually it would be a good idea to Do-It-Yourself,
just not in this case.
Sorry man. You still the man!


dbmasters
Mar 10, 2003 03:11 pm
Kind of an unfair comparison
If you wish to write a better article, we would be happy to publish it.

At many electronics stores (not radio shack) connectors are a dollar, and cable is cheap....DIY pays off in higher quality cables if you know what you are doing as well. Don't compare the cheapest cable source to the most expensive parts source, that isn't a fair comparison...

BoysMum
Jan 08, 2005 04:38 am
Great for the beginner as well!
Thanks for this article dB. We've been with HRC officially, for 9 months now..unofficially for about 12 months.

It took a number of reads more due to confidence than anything...and now...nae worries...y'need any done for your studio? Nah...y'can do your own.

No looking back now!

Cheers,

BoysMum (8/1/05)

BigBoyeee
Oct 14, 2005 08:00 pm
Yes it's cheeper , no it's not!
In all fairness may I say that a $3.00 mic cable is worth about $3.00. The gentleman mention several times ďpurchased quality parts. Quality is where you resolve the $3.00 discrepancy. I have purchased a lot of cheep stuff over the years, ie. HOSA, and other dime a dozen cables. In the long run they have always been worth what they cost. In better times; HOSA life time warranty! But today I have a pretty solid home studio with some nice quality stuff (Mostly balanced I/O). With such a substantial investment in the equipment I have decided to used nothing but quality wiring now that everything is in place. I have been completely blow away by the price of some of the better quality wiring! 24 ch insert snake, 15í $651.00 (I need 2). Not to mention several pieces of out board gear + amps and racks etc. Iím looking at no less than $3500 in cabling. Using bulk cable and the same switch connectors I can make the same $651.00 insert cable for $232.52. Some brands were as high as $825. So if you can use cheep stuff with molded ends you canít beat the price, but when it comes to quality you can make certain types of cables at a fraction of the cost.


kennethwsmithjr
Oct 18, 2005 10:05 pm
connector brands?
dB, you got any recommendations as to connector brands to look for (online)?

CustomCabler
Dec 03, 2005 02:42 pm
Cheaper place for materials.
If you go to cablesforless.com they have all the stuff you need to make your own cables. I have purchased many things from them before and they are excellent. The quality isn't cheap either, only the price.


neoific
Jan 12, 2007 10:08 am
Its actually a good deal if you know electronic components
Try buying from http://www.jameco.com

500 feet of the cable that you need in a studio for $100. ALl the connectors you need for a LOT less.


I saved HUNDREDS of dollars on my studio by making the cables myself, cost me $200 total to make everything I needed. Did some calculations, would have cost me about $1,300 for all of the cables if I were to buy them.


Quincysan
Apr 15, 2009 08:12 pm
I'm at work now but...
YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!! I'm making a ton of cables this weekend...thank you!

viroxD
Feb 12, 2012 05:18 pm
@kennethwsmithjr
www.neutrik.com/

Neutrik is the company you want to look for. Although there are others, I think Neutrik is definitely the most common.

Also check out this guide on making an XLR cable
http://hmnrbt.com/?page_id=256


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