Quarter inch cables are an essential part of just about every electric guitar rig on the planet. And over time, just about every cable will go bad eventually. Sometimes it's easier to just throw them out if they start acting up. But if you have spent a little extra on the nicer cables, you probably want to try to repair them instead (assuming they are out of warranty).
Aside from the actual cable part getting cut or otherwise compromised, 99.9% of cable issues are due to something going on with the 1/4" plug ends. This Instructable will cover the basic steps on how to repair/resolder the plug connector. In addition, we will look at another less obvious problem area with the internal plug connections (the mechanical joint). For extra credit, I have also included a section on swapping out the patch cable plugs for a pedal board.
Since part of repairing these cables is essentially the same as making new ones, the same techniques described in here can be used for making new cables.
Skills and Tools:
- Soldering - soldering iron, solder, de-soldering tool
- Wire cutters
- Wire strippers
- Soldering vise (optional)
- Heat gun and Shrink wrap tubing (optional)
- "Liquid" electrical tape (optional)
- Drill and little drill bits (optional)
- Safety glasses for soldering (molten solder can pop!)
- Ventilation for soldering operations
Let's get started!
Step 1: Disconnect the Wire From the Plug
To start, we will need to disconnect the cable from the plug and get the connections ready for re-soldering.
1. Unscrew the cover from the plug. You may need to carefully remove additional coverings as well. This set of cables had a protective covering over the plug end and we will cover how to reuse the original covering later.
2. Inspect the connections for problems. Most of the time, the break will be obvious and it will be due to the little wire in the very center of the cable breaking from the tip connection.
3. Cut the wires from the connections (cut the wires only, not the plug connections!) and remove the solder. To facilitate re-soldering, I also drill a small hole on the sleeve connector part to make soldering easier.
Step 2: Prepare the Wires
Now it's time to get the wires ready for re-soldering.
1. Cut the end of the cable to start with a clean end.
2. Hold the cable up to the connector to get an idea how much needs to be stripped.
3. Carefully cut through to the shield-wire layer (that's the outer layer of wire surrounding an insulated core wire).
4. Twist the shielding wire into a nice, snugly wound single bundle. Don't twist this too tight! This can cut through the insulation and end up shorting out against the center wire.
5. We will deal with the center wire in the next step.
Step 3: Solder the Shielding Wire to the Sleeve Connection
Now comes the down-hill side of this project.
REMINDER: Don't forget to the put the cover back on the cable BEFORE you start soldering!!!! Put it on and make sure you have it facing the right direction so it will screw back on to the plug. I can't tell you how many times I finished up my soldering only to realize I have to take everything apart again and start over... just like I did with this Instructable :-P
1. Put the shielding wire through the newly drilled hole.
2. Secure the connector clamp tabs to the cable insulation.
3. Solder the shielding wire to the sleeve connector.
4. Clean up the solder joint as needed.
5. Inspect the wires to make sure you didn't get things too hot and melt the insulation. This has happened to me several times over the years and I had to learn the hard way to stop doing that.
Step 4: Solder the Center Wire to the Tip Connection
More soldering. Follow similar steps as to what you did for the sleeve connection.
1. Strip the wire
2. Stick it in the tip connection hole
3. Solder, clean, etc.
4. Hope you remembered to put the cover on the cable before you started doing all this soldering!
Step 5: Replacing the Shrink Wrap Around the Cable End
This part is optional. But if you had some kind of shrink wrap tube on the cable originally, it's probably a good idea to try to replace it. I think this really helps protect the solder joints by keeping the cable from moving within the connector body and fatiguing the solder joints.
You could just get large enough shrink wrap tubing to cover the entire thing in one step. I like using the original material along with new shrink wrap to get a super stiff cable end. But this may not be what you want - so this entire step is optional. You could even use several different colors of tubing and color code your cables.
Step 6: Mechanical Joints
The mechanical joint can cause the signal to intermittently to cut out. That's why sometimes you re-solder everything and the cable still give you problems. You might find that some plugs let you twirl the tip end and see the little rivet inside turning as well. If it turns, it's not tight. If it's not tight... potential silence.
To add a little more durability and reliability, you might consider taking this additional step of adding a dab of solder to these areas as well. There are several different plug designs, so you will need to examine and understand how yours is set up before you start soldering.
Step 7: Pancake Plugs and a Pedal Board Redo
I really like these pancake style plugs for pedal boards. They really let you get your pedals super close and in this case help protect the cables/plugs from my big, stomping feet.
Same procedures as before. The physical design of the plug is obviously a little different. That's why I wanted to include this.
Step 8: Finishing Up and Closing Remarks.
The last few pictures finish up the pancake plugs.
Fixing and making 1/4" cables is an easy process that just about anyone can do. If you haven't soldered before, this is an easy way to get started. If you mess up the soldering, just cut the cable back some more and start over again :-)
What I tend to do is just collect bad cables over time and do several at the same time. During this session I did two sets of bad cables and the pancake plugs for the pedal board. If I wasn't taking pictures, this would have only taken about 30-45 minutes or so.