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A Crash Course in Fixing Your Cables

November 30, 2012

So, it’s been a while since I wrote a post on my blog. I’ve been busy with work recently, and I’ve been trying to find something worth-while to discuss. I thought that sharing some basic knowledge on how to fix your cables would be a good asset to have for you home studio enthusiasts! So, let’s get started!

The main cables that you work with in a studio are going to be XLR cables (microphone cables) and 1/4″ cables (instrument cables). Being able to fix these two cables will save you a lot of money when your cables suddenly stop working, and will give you the ability to build your own at a fraction of the cost of what you’d pay for them normally.

Tools You’ll Need

– Soldering Iron (30 watts or higher)
– Solder
– Wire Strippers
– Wire Cutters
– Pliers
– Stanley Knife/Craft Knife
– Vice

1/4″ Cables

1/4″ cabling will only usually have two strands of wire inside (unless it’s a balanced cable). The wires inside are the tip and the shield wires (hence the name TS as opposed to TRS which is tip, ring and sleeve (shield)). The tip, or “hot wire”, is connected to the prong which is shorter than the ground prong. This wire will be insulated with a PVC coating. The shield wire will just be bare copper wire, this is usually soldered to the bit of metal where the remainder of the cable rests.

1 4 Cable

XLR Cables

XLR cables contain three connectors on them, each pin serves a different purpose and are usually labelled for ease of reference. Pin 1 of the cable is ground, think of this as the “waste pipe” of the signal. When you strip the cable of an XLR, you’ll see two of the cables have PVC insulation around them (usually red and blue) and there’s a strand of bare copper wire; this copper wire is what you connect to pin 1 of the connector. Pin 2 of the connector is where the “hot wire” is soldered, this is usually marked red, this is what will carry your positive audio signal to whatever it is you’re plugging your XLR cable into. Pin 3 is where the “cold wire” is soldered, usually blue, this connector is the negative polarity of the audio signal and also carries the audio signal.

XLR

Hints and Tips

– Before you do anything, always put the boot (plastic with the threading) on the cable first. Once you solder the connector to the wires, you won’t be able to screw the boot onto the connector, and you’ll have to start again.

– Push the unstripped cable against the connector, this will give you a rough idea of how much of the rubber insulation you need to strip back to expose the inner wires with a craft knife.

– Always twist exposed wires so they provide good conduction to the various connectors.

– When soldering, heat up the exposed wire and put some solder on it. This is called tinning.

– Heat up the area you want to solder thoroughly so that you don’t get “cold” or “dry” solder joints, your solder should look shiney.

– Be sparing with the amount of solder you use, more does not mean better.

– Try to make sure the wires don’t move much as the solder is setting, as this will also create a weak connection.

– Use pliers on 1/4″ cables to clamp down the strain relief onto the outer cable so that your cables don’t break as easily.

– A sponge is usually provided with a soldering iron, dampen the sponge and regularly brush the soldering iron onto it to clean its tip.

– When clamping 1/4″ cables in a vice, make sure the strain relief which is surrounding the rubber cable is making contact with the vice itself. You can use the vice as a heat sink to stop the rubber cable melting as you’re soldering.

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