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How to Make Your Own Audio Cables

September 13, 2019
Learn about the tools, supplies, and skills you need to make instrument and microphone cables.

Making your own audio cables provides you with complete customization when it comes to cable length and connector types. The best part about making your own audio cables is that it’s cheaper than buying them pre-assembled, and if your cables ever break, you have the tools to fix them.

This guide has been broken down into four sections that I recommend you read in order if you're new to making audio cables:

  • Required Tools and Supplies
  • How to Solder
  • How to Make Guitar and Instrument Cables
  • How to Make Microphone Cables

If you’re unfamiliar with how audio cables work, start by reading “The Beginner’s Guide to Audio Cables” for an in-depth look at analog vs. digital cables, types of analog cables, levels of analog audio signals, and more.

Required Tools and Supplies

Check out our DIY Instrument and Microphone Cable Kit to instantly add every item you need to make audio cables to your Amazon cart. If you already have some of the items you need, you can separately purchase the tools and supplies you’re missing from the following list:

As a disclaimer, you're only going to save money if you buy supplies in bulk. The more cable you buy, the more you save. For this reason, if you only need one or two audio cables, you're better off buying them pre-assembled from Amazon. However, if you need lots of audio cables, or customized audio cables that you can't find online, it's worth making the cables yourself.

How to Solder

Knowing how to solder is an incredibly useful skill that extends beyond making your own audio cables. You can often repair small broken electronic devices with solder, which comes in handy much more often than you might think.

For example, I recently dropped my MacBook charger, which caused the charger’s metallic prongs to detach from its casing. I was able to open the charger and solder the prongs back into place, which saved me having to buy a new one.

The following video by oneTesla does an excellent job of explaining how to solder in 5 steps.

Let's recap the 5 steps mentioned in the video:

  1. Heat up your iron
  2. Make your connection stable with Helping Hands
  3. Clean your iron
  4. Apply heat and solder
  5. Inspect the joint

It’s evident from oneTesla's video that you’re going to need some specialty tools to be able to solder. The good news is that you can get a soldering iron kit, rosin core solder, and a Helping Hand for just under $30. I also highly recommend getting an anti-static soldering mat to keep yourself organized and protect the surface you’re working on.

How to Make Guitar and Instrument Cables

An image of a guitar/instrument cable with a 1/4" TS phone plug connector.

Guitar and instrument cables are unbalanced, meaning they contain a ground wire, and a positive polarity (“hot”) wire. You’ll be soldering the ends of these wires to a 1/4” TS phone plug connector on one end of the instrument cable, and another 1/4” TS phone plug connector on the other end of the cable.

To make a guitar/instrument cable, you’re going to need a piece of instrument cable cut to length, and two 1/4” TS phone plugs. I recommend buying cables and connectors in bulk; you save substantially more money this way. The guitar/instrument cable I use is the Mogami 2524 Guitar & Instrument Cable (50 ft) and the connectors I use are the GLS Audio 1/4” TS Phone Plugs (20 Pack).

Cut a piece of instrument cable to the length you require with your utility knife.

An image of a cut instrument cable.

Unscrew the base of a 1/4” TS phone plug and slide it onto the cable, along with the inner protective cover. Your connector may or may not have come with a protective cover, so don’t worry if you don’t have one.

It’s important that you slide the base of the connector and the inner protective cover onto the cable before continuing because once you solder the head of the connector to the cable’s inner wires, you won’t be able to slide the base or protective cover onto the cable.

Make an incision about 1/4” back from the end of the cable, and slowly roll the cable beneath your utility knife using light pressure. You’ll be able to feel when you make contact with the wires inside the cable; leave them intact. Remove the rubber exterior.

An image of an instrument cable with the rubber insulation removed.

Fan apart the ground wire to reveal the inner “hot” wire.

An image of an instrument cable with the inner ground wire pulled back.

Use your fingers to twist together the ground wire.

An image of an instrument cable with the inner ground wire braided together.

Cut away the casing around the “hot” wire using your wire strippers. If you don’t have wire strippers, you can use your utility knife to carefully remove the wire casing.

An image of an instrument cable with the inner "hot" wire stripped.

Clamp a 1/4” TS phone plug to the black rubber sleeve using a pair of slip joint pliers. Align the ground wire with the lower part of the 1/4” TS phone plug, and the “hot” wire with the raised segment.

An image of an instrument cable with a 1/4" TS phone plug clamped to the base.

Solder each wire into place, and ensure that there’s a strong connection between each wire and the contact point of the 1/4” TS phone plug. The phone plug’s clamping mechanism will prevent strain on the points of contact, but there must still be a strong connection for the cable to pass signal effectively.

An image of an instrument cable soldered to a 1/4" TS phone plug.

All that’s left to do now is put together the phone plug.

An image of an unscrewed 1/4" TS phone plug soldered to an instrument cable.

Push the base of the connector towards the head, along with the inner protective cover (if there is one), and screw the assembly together.

An image of an assembled 1/4" TS phone plug soldered to an instrument cable.

How to Make Microphone Cables

An image of male and female XLR connector attached to a microphone cable.

Microphone cables are balanced, meaning they contain a ground wire, a positive polarity (“hot”) wire, and a negative polarity (“cold”) wire. You’ll be soldering the ends of these wires to a male XLR connector on one end of the microphone cable, and a female XLR connector on the other end of the cable. Once you know how to create male to female XLR cables, you can also create male to male XLR cables, or female to female XLR cables.

Balanced cables use phase cancelation to remove noise, which means you can run microphone cables significant distances without introducing noise, unlike guitar and instrument cables. If you want to run a guitar cable a great length, you should first boost the instrument level signal to line level using a DI Box, and then run the distance using a balanced cable.

To make a microphone cable, you’re going to need a piece of microphone cable cut to length, as well as a male XLR connector and a female XLR connector. The cable I use is the Seismic Audio - SA-MIC500 (500 ft), the male XLR plugs I use are the GLS Audio XLR Male Plugs (20 Pack), and the female XLR connectors I use are the GLS Audio XLR Female Plugs.

Cut a piece of microphone cable to the length you require with your utility knife.

An image of a cut microphone cable.

Unscrew the base of an XLR connector and slide it onto the cable, along with the inner protective cover. Your connector may or may not have come with a protective cover, so don’t worry if you don’t have one. It’s important that you don’t miss this step because once you solder the head of the connector to the cable’s inner wires, you won’t be able to get the connector’s base onto the cable.

Make an incision about 1/4” back from the end of the cable, and slowly roll the cable beneath your utility knife using light pressure. You’ll be able to feel when you make contact with the wires inside the cable; leave them intact. Remove the rubber exterior.

An image of a microphone cable with the rubber shield removed.

Pull back the cable shield (ground wire) to reveal a bundle of string. This string is used to provide tensile strength to the cable to prevent it from stretching over time.

An image of a microphone cable with the ground wire pulled back.

Cut back the string to reveal the “hot” and “cold” wires.

An image of a microphone cable with the inner string cut back.

Use your fingers to twist together the ground wire.

An image of a microphone cable's ground wire, "hot" wire, and "cold" wire.

Cut away the casing around the “hot” wire and “cold” wire using your wire strippers.

An image of a microphone cable's stripped "hot" and "cold" wires.

There are three different wires within this cable, and three pins apart of both your male and female XLR connectors. There’s a standard called EIA Standard RS-297-A that dictates pin 1 is the chassis ground, pin 2 is the positivity polarity “hot” terminal, and pin 3 is the negative polarity “cold” terminal.

An image of a male XLR connector's pins and a female XLR connector's ports.

As you can see in the image below, male XLR connectors have their pins labeled 1, 2, and 3.

An image of a male XLR connector's numbered pins.

Female XLR connectors have their ports labeled 1, 2, and 3 as well. As you can see, these ports are arranged in a way that will allow a male XLR connector’s pin 1 to enter port 1, pin 2 to enter port 2, and pin 3 to enter port 3.

An image of a female XLR connector's numbered ports.

Align the ground wire with pin 1, the “hot” red wire with pin 2, and the “cold” white wire with pin 3. Use your Helping Hand to assist you with this process. You need your hands free to solder the wires to their respective pins.

An image of a microphone cable lined up with the pins of a male XLR connector.

I recommend configuring your Helping Hand in a way that allows you to solder the wires from above the pins. This will allow you to melt the rosin core solder midway up the wires and have it drip down onto the pins.

An image of a microphone cable soldered to the pins of a male XLR connector.

With all three cables connector to their respective pins, you’re now ready to put the assembly together.

An unassembled XLR connector soldered to a microphone cable.

Push the base of the connector towards the head, along with the inner protective cover (if there is one), and screw the assembly together.

An image of a male XLR connector that has been screwed together.

To attach a female XLR connector to the other side of your microphone cable, you’re going to follow the same steps that you did for connecting a male XLR connector, making sure to solder the ground wire to port 1, the “hot” wire to port 2, and the “cold” wire to port 3. Remember, these ports are labeled.

An image of a microphone cable soldered to the pins of a female XLR connector.

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If you're interested in learning more about music production, sign up for a free online music production lesson with a Black Ghost Audio instructor today. They're happy to answer any questions you may have about recording, production, mixing, mastering, and music business.

Charles Hoffman is a mixing and mastering engineer at Black Ghost Audio. After graduating from the University of Manitoba with a degree in English Language and Literature, Charles continued his education at Icon Collective, a music production school based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can send him a work inquiry at charles@blackghostaudio.com.

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