Guitarists have a lot of fun toys … stomp boxes, effects racks, the list is endless. However, your tone can suffer if your cables get out of control. This article will give you some quick tips to help you preserve your sound.
Let's look at a somewhat elaborate setup, and let's pretend it's a live playing situation. It will help point out some strategies. Suppose your rig looks like this:
Guitar – wah wah pedal – distortion pedal – pitch change pedal – amp – effects loop with chorus and reverb – speaker cabinet
The guitar cable should be long enough to walk around on stage with. But it should never be more than 25 feet in length, since it's an unbalanced cable * (longer lengths will degrade your sound quickly). Maybe 20 feet is a good length. However, since you have a floor pedal setup, you can use this to your advantage to shorten your cable length. Select a 10-15 foot cable for your guitar and a 10-15 foot cable for going from the floor pedals to the amp. That gives you 20-30 feet total, which is plenty for most live club conditions. (If you have larger stage needs than that, look into wireless setups and balance boxes).
The cables going between the floor effects pedals should be as short as possible. They make some as short as six inches, with nice flexible wires which makes the connection between pedals easy. You can get hung up on how fancy they are. My experience for this part of the signal chain is that new cables are better than old ones. So pick ones that connect your pedals easily, and then replace them periodically. One of your floor pedals might require a battery. That can be a good thing- it can help keep your signal strong on its way to the amp.
As mentioned earlier, the cable going from your floor pedals to your amp can be about 10 to 15 feet. A really good brand for this cable is Mogami. You can use Mogami for your guitar cable as well. Another good brand is Monster Cable.
The cables that connect your effects loop box can probably be about 3 feet each, and you can simply put the effects rack unit on top of your amp head. You may be lucky to have a floor pedal extension box. Try to see if this floor box passes signal, or if it is merely a controller to send instructions to the master box. If it's a controller, that's good news. In this case you can have a long cable run from the controller to the effects rack unit, and it won't degrade your actual guitar signal. It's only sending instructions to change program numbers, turn effects on and off, etc.
The key takeaway is this: when you are playing electric guitar, you are typically working with unbalanced cable runs. Unbalanced cables are fine. In fact, many super-expensive stereo systems use them. The key is that you do not want unbalanced cables to be too long. If the cable is too long, the signal can degrade and you can get extra noise on the line. The setup strategies I showed you above will keep your unbalanced cables at strategically short lengths, but still give you plenty of room to roam around on stage. Now go rock the house!
* some electric guitars have a balanced cable output. But this is a * very * unusual case.