Optical guitar cables? Not the innovation I was expecting, but I’m all for companies attempting to push some kind of envelope besides the couple usual spots like new amp modelers or ways to stay in tune. In some respects guitar gear lags behind what bassists get. Why aren’t rackmount heads and speakon connectors standard on most guitar amps, for example?
This innovation though, who knows? It might be amazing, or it might be snake oil. Iconic Sound’s Light Lead analog optical guitar cables, in theory, could make a noticeable difference in fidelity. If you’re the type to spend $60 on a Mogami instrument cable then this should certainly pique your interest. But I’m not going to claim to have enough of a grasp on the science to make any definitive claims, based on the limited amount of information I have to go on.
For example, there’s zero capacitance, which is great if you’re running 50 feet of cable straight to your amp and don’t want to lose any treble on the way, but there are a couple catches here. This only makes a noticeable difference if your guitar is passive, and every single one of your pedals is true bypass. If you have active electronics, or a buffer pedal, or your pedal has a buffer in it (like, for example, every Boss stompbox, which I hear are quite popular) then the whole equation essentially becomes irrelevant.
It should also be noted that a lot of the “impurities” of guitar tone are often essential to, if not objectively good tone, then at least the classic sound we’re accustomed to hearing. A certain amount of high-end loss can avoid harshness and enhance the midrange. It’s no coincidence that a lot of the bands with full-range systems based around amp modelers, without the “limitations” of speaker cabinets and mics, have made their bassists irrelevant. I’m not saying that these are objectively bad things, or even undesirable sonic traits for those looking to forge new sonic ground. But metalheads are often cautious traditionalists (to put it mildly), and should at least be forewarned that a more perfect signal might not be what they’re looking for.
I wish I had to do less speculating about the Light Lead, but this apparently phone-filmed YouTube video doesn’t give me much to work with. The FAQ at Iconic Sound’s website specific states that they avoided pro-recorded comparison clips because they’re not selling this product to the public–they simply want to license the design to existing companies, who I’m assuming are getting a more detailed sales pitch.
But Iconic Sound will be at NAMM. I certainly want to make the time to track them down for a demo amidst my drug-induced Hunter S. Thompson-esque shamblings that week. Assuming they let me in without pants, because fuck pants.
Some final observations: I couldn’t disagree with the nice folks in the video more about the visual appeal of those connectors, which to me look more like a gun I’d be firing in a radical game of Lazer Tag. Also, how much will this tech cost? And will guitarists put up with the hassle and cost of batteries in yet another part of their signal chain? They’re a lazy and frugal bunch, those guitarists. Besides, we never even adopted balanced cable as a standard, even though it exists everywhere else in the audio world (even in the proper TRS 1/4″ format), so I’m not optimistic.