Low Noise, Tone, and Reliability . PedalSnake Excels
The Sound of PedalSnake
PedalSnake provides crystal clear tone. If it didn't, I couldn't use it, and we certainly would never have won "Best Accessory" at Guitar Player Magazine. Actually, most users tell us their rigs get quieter. I know mine did. ...
Jody "KingSnake" Page (guitarist, PedalSnake inventor, NASA Space Foundation Hall of Fame)
Jody Page Talks: The Two Biggest Myths About PedalSnake
Talk to any PedalSnake user, and you will get the real story. They love it, and will probably tell you it's the best rig decision they ever made. Yet PedalSnake still struggles for acceptance among those who have never used it. Most of that comes from the fact that PedalSnake is such a radical new way of approaching things, and the "it's too good to be true" syndrome. Well, the magic is true (hence the "Best Accessory" award from Guitar Player Magazine).
There are a couple of sources of misinformation that we have run across more than once, so we thought we would let you know. These two prime sources of misinformation are:
- Sales personnel in stores. PedalSnake is not sold in retail stores in the USA. We are strictly "buy direct online". In order to sell their standard cables, salespeople in stores will often badmouth PedalSnake. They have to...they have something else to sell...usually the expensive "this sounds better because of blah blah blah" boutique cables. Definitely beware of those...see below Preserving Tone.
- PedalSnake users who did not take the time to do things properly. They did not follow our guidelines, or hooked things up wrong, yet never asked us for help. These folks are few and far between, but the internet empowers them greatly. They go out to forums and talk as if their errors were our fault, and pretend to be some kind of expert. They are not. It has been extremely rare that we could not solve a problem someone was having...when they asked.
You can easily search and find that the vast majority of PedalSnake users, and we mean "actual users who hooked things up right", are thrilled with PedalSnake. As far as the myths, these are the two that seem to get repeated most often:
Myth #1. PedalSnake uses substandard cable.
All PedalSnake cables are high quality, but they don't look like the guitar cords folks are used to seeing. Typical guitar cords usually have fat cable, and heavy armored plugs. This is done mostly to project a "robust" image, like bigger is better, or more reliable. There is some truth to this, but the thickness of the cable has little bearing on anything. In fact, some of the better cables out there are thin. But there is a reason for having a robust plug. A guitar cord gets unplugged often, and often lays around on the stage where the plug can get stomped on. But how tough a plug is rarely relates to size. Big plugs are mostly done to project that "beefy" image. But still, truth be known, solder joints and strain relief are the biggest key to reliability, not the size and weight of the plug. A robust "look" is not always as robust as it seems.
PedalSnake has a different look from guitar cords. It is a different beast, designed for a greater purpose, using multi-pair "snake" cable. The outer jacket is tough, and the main part of the cable is very rugged, and can lay on the stage safely, and get stomped on with no problems. But at the ends, the outer jacket is peeled back to expose small inner cables. These inner cables must be thin and flexible. Otherwise, the snake would be too thick and stiff to easily use, handle, coil, etc. This the the way all snakes are made, but one does need to realize that a snake system is a different beast, and the exposed ends should be treated with more care.
PedalSnake typically ties off and stays plugged in at the Pedal End (at the pedalboard). At the Amp End, one usually disconnects things and immediately coils PedalSnake up onto the pedalboard. So PedalSnake connectors, and cable, do not lie around on the stage getting stomped on. Or, at least they shouldn't. But this is true of snakes in general. Ask any soundman, who use snakes at every gig.
The Bottom Line: PedalSnake comes with a One Year Warranty, and has an excellent record for reliability. Don't take our word for it. Ask our customers.
Myth #2. PedalSnake does not sound as good as "expensive" boutique guitar cords.
Baloney. This one is easy. As long as the customer follows our rule of "one standard buffered pedal in every pedal-chain", the sound of PedalSnake is as good, or better, than traditional cabling. (Buffered pedals are any that are NOT "true bypass". Read more below in Preserving Tone.) We say "or better" because PedalSnake often reduces noise in your rig (see Keeping It Quiet below). Your tone should be unaffected when moving from traditional cabling to PedalSnake, which, if you were doing things properly before, is a good thing...
It is a myth that you need expensive boutique cabling, or fancy loop-switchers, to prevent "tone-suck". All you really need to do is follow one simple guideline: Don't try to drive too much cable with a passive guitar pickup. This will cause a loss of frequency response (aka "tone suck").
Say you have: 1) A 20 foot cable from the guitar to the 1st pedal, 2) 10 feet worth of short cables between pedals, and 3) A 20 foot cable from the last pedal to the amp. This is 50 feet of cable the pickup is trying to drive. That is a lot of cable capacitance, and it can cause tone suck. To fix this, you just need a simple buffer, which is found in any pedal that is not true-bypass. One buffer in each pedal chain is recommended. Here's why:
Passive guitar pickups are high impedance, and don't drive cable very well (active pickups require a battery in your guitar, and are low impedance "buffers"). The rest of the stuff you hear from sales pitches is hype, and myth. "Time correction", gold plating, "oxygen-free copper", solid wire, etc. etc., are cool-sounding terms, but have little or no impact on tone.
NOTE: If you find yourself with "all true bypss" pedals, and really don't want to invest in a buffered FX pedal, you can find quality, low-cost, "always on" buffers. With no on-off switch, they take up very little space. This seems to be a good one: CMAT Mods Buffer
But don't take our word for it. Anyone who thinks they can hear a difference in cabling should try it blindfolded. If they can hear a difference, it is most likely because things weren't done right, i.e., one cable had too much capacitance for the high impedance signal source that was driving it (like a passive guitar pickup). A guitar cord can have too much capacitance, usually from being too long. Tone suck occurs if you use this cable with a passive guitar pickup, with no lo-Z buffer betrween the pickup and amp. Lo-Z buffers are found in "non true-bypass" stompboxes, and active guitar pickups (pickups that require batteries in the guitar).
For more details on capacitance, and impedance, see Preserving Tone below. Another good article is The Great Cable Myth.
Back to top
Around 2004, an early PedalSnake model was tested in our hometown of Raleigh NC. One boutique guitar store in town, with several tone freeks in house, allowed us to do a blindfolded AB test. Nobody there could tell the difference in PedalSnake and an 8 foot guitar cable costing $200 (we won't mention the brand).
Use at Least One "Buffered" Pedal (or active pickup)
ISome cable makers lead you to believe it they use some sort of "magic dust" to make their cables sound better, etc. In fact, there is very little difference between the sound of different guitar cables. Wire is wire. You can get a decent 20-foot cable to hook to your guitar for less than $10! You can spend more, a lot more, but it is doubtful you'll be able to tell the difference in a blindfold AB test. Try it sometime with one of your friends that is bragging he spent $125 on his 12 foot "magic dust" cable, with "time correction" and "oxygen free copper". Whip out a decent $10 cable and see if they can tell the difference blindfolded! We're telling ya folks, unless something is not being done properly, they won't be able to tell. When done right, cabling should have no effect whatsoever on your tone.
And it is not hard to "do it right". Here are the basics:
Preserving tone from your guitar cabling is about one thing, and one thing only: Frequency Response. If you don't have enough, you experience a loss of high frequencies (treble), and your sound is dull. This is what "loss of tone", or "tone suck", means. It is a dull sound from the lack of high end (treble).
How do we ensure good frequency respons? Frequency response is about two things, and two things only: 1) cable capacitance, and 2), the output impedance of whatever circuit "driving" the cable (this circuit is usually either a guitar pickup, or the output buffer in a stompbox).
Here is how capacitance and impedance relate to tone (frequency response):
The higher the cable capacitance, the lower the frequency response. Double the length of a cable, you double the capacitance. This will cut the frequency response in 1/2 (bad). A cable half as long cuts the capacitance in half, and you double your frequency reponse (good).
The higher the output impedance (Z) of a signal source, the lower the frequency response. Double the impedance, and you cut the frequency response in 1/2 (bad). Cut the output impedance in 1/2, and you double your frequency response (good)
Here is where the problems arise: Guitar pickups are "high impedance" (hi-Z). If you use all true bypass pedals, and turn them all off, then your guitar pickup can be driving a lot of cable between the pickup and amp. This can be bad, because pickups can have an output Z anywhere from 6,000 (6kOhm) to 14,,000 ohms (14kOhm).
A buffer, however, has a lower impedance output (Lo-Z) ... typically 2kOhm or less. If you have a buffered pedal somewhere in your pedal chain, it will drive all the cable downstream from its output, until it gets to another buffered pedal, or to the amp input. A buffer acts sort of like a signal repeater would do for long distance lines communication lines. NOTE: An active guitar pickup that requires a battery, is also a low-Z buffer, and will drive a lot of cable, just like a buffered pedal.
What does this mean for PedalSnake? PedalSnake involves a multi-channel BaseSnake, with channels that can do many different things. So, when conifugured with G-Lines to make a "guitar cord" for audio, the line can have a higher capacitance than a typical guitar cord. So it is not good to drive the PedalSnake G-Line directly with a passive guitar pickup, which is high impedance. (Actually, this is not a good idea for any rig with pedals, because so much cable can be involved). So, we recommend at least 1 buffered pedal (non-true-bypass pedal) in the pedal chain, before the G-Line.
You can also find good, always-on, buffers, that are nothing but buffers (not an "effect" pedal). They run off of 9V, just like your pedal, but have no on-off switch, so they can be smaller, and cost less than an FX pedal. Some claim to sound better than the buffers in FX pedals. That may or may not be true in all cases. Here is a good one at a good price: CMAT Mods Buffer
Can High Capacitance and a Low-Z Buffer Actually Be a Good Thing?
Yes, it can. This is where PedalSnake can actually improve your sound by having less noise. The amazing thing we discovered, that goes against traditional "low capacitance" thinking, is this: Driving a high capacitance audio line with a Lo-Z buffer is actually the quietest solution!
This is because too much frequency response can be a bad thing. What you really want is to limit the frequency response of your cabling to the highest frequency an electric guitar can produce. This means no more than about 8-10 kHz. This is enough to capture all the sound of an electric guitar, but rejects higher frequency "radio noise" signals. Using expensive, low capacitance cables can create a frequency response much higher than what is actually needed...as much as 40-50kHz!...which invites radio frequencies to "live" on your cable's shields. These frequencies can come from light dimmers, color TV's, neon lights, or even AM radio stations, and can modulate down into audible noise in your rig (sometimes, if things get bad enough, you can even hear an AM radio station coming through your amp).
So, low cap cables are praised from the idea that "the higher the frequency response of your cabling, the better", but this is simply not true. You want to have just enough to not lose tone (about 8kHz for electric guitars), and not too much more, which a PedalSnake sytem provides when used properly.
What buffer should you use? This is easy, because most pedals are buffered. Something as simple as a Boss TU-2 Tuner works fine. That's why buffered pedals were invented!...to keep a passive guitar pickup from getting "loaded down" with the extra cable needed by pedal rigs. A buffer allows you to use most any length cable, or a bunch of cables with pedals, or PedalSnake, etc., without worrying about it.
If you have active pickups, and your guitar requires a battery, then you may not need a buffered pedal in your primary chain, because a low-Z buffer circuit in your guitar is driving the cable, not the pickup itself.
We should add though, one should be cautious not to use too many buffers, as that could begin to degrade tone. A good practice is to limit buffers to no more than 5-6 in your total signal chain (FX loop included).
If you find yourself with all true-bypass pedals, and only need a buffer, not more FX, then try a dedicated "always on" buffer. Here is the one mentioned before: CMAT Mods Buffer
But, as always, let your ears be the judge.
Back to top
Back to top
Keeping it Quiet
Folks always said not to run power cords beside audio signal cables--that hum could result. They were right...until now.
PedalSnake's patented wiring scheme and special cable allow players to not only run power and audio together, but also with digital signals, footswitch lines, etc....and with less noise than traditional cabling.
How can this be? There are several reasons:
Back to top
Decades ago, a large well-known dealer of electronic parts (we won't mention their name) offered cheap, molded 1/4" signal cords, and poor guitarists bought them in droves (but they shouldn't have---we've seen them go bad within a few hours).
This, of course, served to give molded connectors a bad name.
Truth be told, a hi-quality molded connector can be more reliable than a soldered metal plug. And if one ever does fail, a metal plug can always be soldered on in its place.
How do you make a sturdy molded plug? Well, besides having good solder joints, its all about the design of the ABS mold for the connector. Notice in the photo above:
- The ample mold around the top of the plug
- The ample mold extending out from the top of the plug (around the soldered contacts)
- The ample strain relief section that covers the cable
- The space-saving low profile right angle for pedalboards
The Proof is in the Pudding . We have been selling molded plug n play connectors for PedalSnake Systems since 2005, and in that time:
- We have maintained a low failure rate, and supported our One Year Warranty 100%.
- Most failures were the result of PedalSnake customers not using the strain relief ties we provide.
- Interestingly, none of the DIN connectors on the BaseSnake have ever failed, reinforcing the reason we chose DIN plugs as our plug'n'play "interface".
Back to top
So, what about the DIN conectors?
We struggled for a long time over which connector to use for PedalSnake's plug n play interface. We chose the 5pin DIN connector, for 4 very good reasons:
- Rugged. They can be manufactured with extremely sturdy molds.
- High Insertion Force. They do not come unplugged easily.
- Ultimate Reliability. They have a "pin and sleeve" contact arrangement that yields better electrical conductivity, and fewer failures.
- Multi-Function Use. They allow bare BaseSnake channels to be used for DIN applications, like MIDI, certain amp footswitches, etc.
Back to top
PedalSnake® is a trademark of Stage Magic Inc. for the All-In-One Stompbox Cable. Copyright © 2012 Stage Magic, Inc.