Whether you call them a connector or jack plug, every good instrument cable assembly needs a quality connector to so your signal is delivered from input to output unhindered. With unbalanced instrument cables, TS jack plug is used in the assembly. TS stands for TIP/SLEEVE, which describes the electrical contacts of the plug. There are many brands and different materials used in the construction of jack plugs which I will explain more about below.
A TS connector is a monotype connector, meaning it only carries one signal/channel as the input/output. The tip contact is where the signal transfer occurs and the sleeve is what grounds the shield. The TS jack plug is the standard connector used for instrument cables. An example of an alternate style connector is the TRS used for balanced signals, which stands for Tip, Ring, and sleeve, in which two signals are input/output as left channel and right channel with the sleeve acting as the ground for the shield, which although is technically a stereo connection is typically used for mono in studios. Below is a diagram of a TS jack plug.
Shell and Plating
High-quality jack plugs shells are typically manufactured in brass (alloy consisting of 70% copper and 30% zinc) and plated in either nickel or gold. The reason for plating jack plugs is that brass is prone to oxidation over time. This oxidation, though easily removed with a little solvent and cloth causes signal degradation as the contact between the jack and plug is hindered by the layer of oxidation between the contact points. Since it required much less maintenance and no effect to the signal, plating became a standard in the manufacturing process. There is no difference in tone between nickel and gold plating but gold is very resistant to oxidation but it comes with the negative of being a much softer metal thus more prone to the gold plating wearing off over time. For this reason, I typically prefer nickel plating as it’s durability is unquestionable and quite frankly I have never had any oxidation issues and if I did these could easily be cleaned.
In the center of the shell lies the core of the jack plug which connects the tip to the solder tag/center conductor housed within the barrel. The total resistance to signal flow is the resistance of the core in parallel with the surface plating. Typically, the core is made of brass but there a number of manufacturers that use steel which is a very poor conductor especially compared to copper and brass. This core material is typically not advertised but G&H Industries jack plugs use a solid copper core through the point of contact at the connector tip in their construction which is why it is a preferred choice by many musicians and arguably the superior core method of construction. Two other superior manufactures; Neutrik, which is a very high quality connector, utilizes a brass core and Switchcraft, which is long established reputable company, who claim a copper alloy as their core which is likely brass.
Jack plugs come in two different configurations, a typical straight configuration and an alternate right-angled configuration which is sometimes better suited to some guitar jacks and pedals closely configured on a pedal board. Typically straight plugs are used for input into the amp, guitars where the jack is located on the edge of a guitar. Some find a good use for the right-angled configuration in jacks mounted to the front of a guitar like the Gibson SG and Fender Tele’s as sometimes the jack socket is too deep, and the right-angled plug can not seat properly.
A silent style plug automatically mutes (shorts) an instrument (guitar) cable to avoid pops and squeals when changing the instrument (guitar) under load, otherwise known as hot swapping. This is achieved by using a spring-loaded switch within the connector shell which by default is shorted therefore no signal can flow through. This short is disengaged when the jack plug is fully seated in the guitars jack. Some guitars and bass instruments are not compatible with this type of jack plug, so it is always best to research whether a particular instrument is compatible. Note – Silent style connectors should always be plugged directly into the guitar and not the amp as it can damage the connector.
If you are looking for cables with jack plugs the leading manufacturers, Neutrik can be found on cables like the ever popular Mogami cable and the ultra premium Evidence Audio cable. G&H Industries can usually be found on Lava Cable and the very durable Spectraflex cables.