Are Guitar Cables Balanced Or Unbalanced ?

A common question we get is, "Are guitar cables balanced or unbalanced?" The short answer is guitar cables are unbalanced but dig in a little deeper to understand some basic principles in order to grasp what this truly means.

Unbalanced / TS / Mono Cables

Quarter inch guitar cables are unbalanced cables that are mono. Inside, the cables have one wire plus a shield. The wire is connected to the tip while the shield is connected to the sleeve of the plug. This is where we get the shorthand "TS" or tip and sleeve. The signal is sent through the wire while the shield is used for a ground and to help minimize the noise. 

Balanced / TRS / Stereo Cables

Balanced quarter inch cables have a different tip. Rather than the TS tip, they have what is called a "TRS" (Tip Ring Sleeve) tip. Inside these cables there are two wires and a shield. One wire connects to the tip, the other to the ring and the shield to the sleeve. 

TRS cords are great for carrying stereo signals with a right and left. They are also good for connecting pieces of audio, like the mixer, to the recorder for example. Another benefit is they can be longer in length than unbalanced cords without creating noise. The maximum length of a TS unbalanced cable should be around 25 ft but TRS cables can be longer. 

You can use a speaker cord (TRS) for your electric guitar but you may end up with some unwanted noise coming out of your amp, which nobody really wants. 

As you can see there is a big difference between unbalanced and balanced quarter inch cables. Below is a diagram showing the difference in tips. The TS plugs are our guitar cables and the TRS plugs are our 3.5mm aux cables. The concept of the 3.5 mm tip is the same as a quarter inch. 

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Franz, yep. The longer the cable to more likely you are to have degraded sound. Short cables introduce less capacitance which gives you a higher quality sound… Similar thing happens with extension cords. Longer cords can cause a drop in voltage… Cheers! – Phil


so basically the longer the cable the less effective it is ?

Franz Rezfield

I can’t give you exact specifics, Larry, but if you think about the Jack in the guitar having two connection points, the to and the sleeve, and now you’re introducing a third connection point that I believe is connected to the ground, but it’s actually supposed to be a sound carrier. So I think it comes from the sound of the ground signal.


Years ago I read that dropping ground from the sleeve on one side will produce less noise. But I never figured out which side to drop. I’m rewiring my pedal board and could use any information you may contribute. Thank You,

Terrance Kuper

Hi Shmuel, thanks so much for the additional insight on TRS and TS cables. You rock!


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