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Make Your Own Patch Leads And Where To Buy Cable Parts!
Goodwood Audio's first product ever was an instrument lead. At that time, I had no idea how to solder (don't tell our first customer) or how a patch lead even worked. My main goal was to sell enough leads to be able to set up my board for free - an altruistic goal as you can tell.
Since that day years ago, I have made thousands and thousands of patch leads often in my sleep, or so it felt. I have heard time and time again about the positive differences our patch leads have made on musicians’ pedalboards.
Does Goodwood have some secret sauce that makes these rather boring products come to life in a string of pedals? Maybe some secret conductor used in all of our cables and plugs that just sounds better? Could it be fairy dust?
Not even close.
Just like a chef will pride themselves on using good quality ingredients to add extra depth and flavour to their meals, we simply use quality parts, consistent soldering techniques, and lots of practice to get our leads working and sounding great.
As of today (and beyond), we are now offering these same parts for you to buy and use at home in our Raw Parts Store!
Who Should Make Their Own Leads?
I know I will not convince everyone to make their own patch cables and leads and that's fine. However, I do believe that with a little myth busting, more people will take up the challenge of learning to make their own patch cables and realise the benefits of having this skill alongside your SRV riffs and comedic wit.
Why bother? How will it make me a better musician? Will it help me get a date?
All great questions.
Aside from the fact that it will save you money (if you stick with it for a year on average), it helps you understand your pedalboard and troubleshoot your rig. When you make your own leads you will quickly start to understand the nuance that leads bring to a rig. You will understand the characteristics of a lead that isn't quite connecting the way it should, what a well tuned pedalboard sounds like and the confidence it can bring.
There is an initial investment - I'll admit this. You need a soldering iron, a few tools and some raw parts, but after this initial investment you are on track to save money and better understand the nuts and bolts (or cable and plugs) of your pedalboard. Gone are the days of needing someone else to help you fix your pedalboard issues and faults.
You're still waiting on me to answer that last question about getting a date. The answer is obviously a resounding, YES. Next time you walk into that venue and see the person you want to ask out, instead of asking, "Can I buy you a drink?" ask them, "Do you want free cable?" after they answer, "Yes" (expecting you to work for a tv company), hand them a patch cable you made with your number on it. Works every time.*** (see end of blog for caveat)
Tools You'll Need
If you don't have them already, there is a short list of tools you'll need to get started. Everyone has a slightly different approach to making cables and the tools they like to use but in general most people will agree on the following:
A soldering iron: You don't need anything fancy. Most irons at your local electronics store will do the trick. However, I do recommend getting an iron with variable temperature control which can really help when working with different gauges of cable. If you want one of the 'industry standards' check out the Hakko FX-888D. This is definitely not the cheapest iron you'll find, but it will last you for years to come if budget allows for it. Another trusted brand to look into is Weller.
I prefer using a 1.6mm chisel tip for cables. It allows you to get some extra surface area for heating up larger solder tabs and cables but it is still small enough for more intricate work.
Jig/Plug Holder/Desk Vice: You are going to need something to hold your plugs in place. You can make this yourself by drilling holes in a box (or even a piece of wood can work) and putting the opposite gender plug in the box/piece of wood (eg. if you're soldering 1/4" plugs you will put a 1/4" jack in the jig to hold that plug in place while you work on it). Alternatively you can use an old (not vintage) guitar pedal you aren't too attached to anymore OR a small desktop vice.
Fume extraction: Look after your lungs, eyes and skin! Don't solder without fume extraction. Although the fumes are generally ok in small amounts I personally think it's just not worth the risk. At the bare minimum, get a fan blowing across your desk and out a window to get the fumes out of the way. You can also get small extractors with a filter (better than a fan - and cheap!). What we use at Goodwood (which is not a proven method and therefore I can't vouch for it's safety) is 6" duct fans. 4" duct fans don't do a good job in case you were thinking that could work too. Make sure to get a couple of clamps (to attach the ducting to the duct fan on each side) and enough ducting (the flexible pipe) to make it to your soldering station (attached to the IN side of the duct fan) and out a nearby window (attached to the OUT side of the duct fan).
Wire strippers: Wire strippers are safe, easy to use and fast. Hakko, Klein, Irwin and others are good brands to look for. Just make sure they can handle the gauge wire you need to work with. Wire strippers with gauges between 26AWG (thin) to 10AWG (thick) will handle most general cable types. You may need two different wire strippers for the job (one for thicker cables, one for thinner). Try THIS for thinner cables and THIS for thicker.
I also recommend having an exacto / stanley knife around. They come in handy in case your wire cutters aren't handling a particular cable all that well. But be careful with these, they're sharp!
Side Cutters: Probably my favourite and most frequently used tool. There's something that just feels right about using these. You'll use these to trim excess cable, ground wire etc. Check them out HERE.
Needle Nose Pliers: These are just a great all around tool to have but will also come in handy for bending the strain relief (clamp) on certain plug types. I recommend getting some with small teeth to help grab metal surfaces better, but feel free to get what you're comfortable with. Something like THIS.
Third Hand/Helping Hand: These aren't necessary, but can really help depending on your workflow. They come in handy if you want something to hold your cable in place while you tin it and you will no doubt come up with other uses for it as it can just be a handy tool to have available. Something like THIS should get you started although there are more complex versions available.
Cable Tester/Multimeter: This is one of those tools that you might be asking yourself, "Do I really need to spend money on this?" The short answer - yes. You will be very thankful you have this when you're in a bind and can't figure out why a cable / signal chain isn't working. Also - I prefer multi meters (if you can only get one of the above) - check out THIS VIDEO on why I think this is the case. HERE is a good cable tester, HERE is a decent multimeter.
Liquid Flux: Again, this is optional. I personally love using flux (the same material found in your rosin core solder). There is rosin flux paste and liquid rosin. You want to get the liquid version and make sure it's non-corrosive! You will need the flux and a bottle to dispense it. A word of warning, flux can get messy if you aren't careful. Only put small amounts of flux in the dispenser at a time (a 1/4 full is plenty). Clean your bottle if buildup occurs and only use a small drop per connection (see videos at the end of the blog for examples).
Screwdrivers: You will also want to make sure you have the appropriate screwdriver (generally a smaller philips) for pancake and midi plugs. Something like THIS will do you well. Just make sure it's a #1 phillips bit if you can only get one and get a #2 as well if you have the option.
WHAT CAN YOU BUILD WITH THE RAW PARTS STORE
One of the big perks of being able to make your own leads is not being limited to pre-set configurations of patch leads. Depending on the gear you have you may need some specialised, harder to find leads.
For example, In recent years there has been a surge of guitar pedals that require specialised midi cables. These are easy enough to make, if you know what you're doing, but it can be hard to find the exact leads that have been pre-made for that pedal.
Some other examples:
1/8" to 1/4" cables without those awkward adapters
1/8" to 5 Pin Midi
DC Custom Daisy Chains
and many more configurations.
All of these take practice and have slightly different approaches and techniques, but if you know how to make a good solder connection, you can make your own custom leads. Who knows, maybe you'll even work for Goodwood Audio in future!
Just in case you want to get a bit of a head start, here is a 'how to' on how to make your own patch lead:
I hope this has been helpful! I know this blog doesn't cover every aspect of making a lead, but check out the different raw parts store pages to see more content related to specific cable types and techniques!
***results may vary. This line has never actually been field tested or proven to have 'worked', let alone 'every time'. Use at your own risk.