Silver Wiring in Guitar Amps - Is It Really Better?

I am still in the process of doing some research on this subject, but below is what I have so far.

Lately, there has been a trend in the boutique guitar amplifier market: the use of silver wiring. Those amp makers that use silver wire claim that it gives the amp a special quality, more clarity, and so on. While it is true that silver has slightly less resistivity than copper wire does, it is doubtful that anyone can really hear any difference in the sound between an amp wired with conventional stranded copper wire (or solid core copper) and silver stranded copper or plain old solid core silver wire.

Where the resisitivity of wire becomes a real concern is more in the area of the building industry rather than the guitar amp industry. Long lengths of wire, hundreds or thousands of feet long will have a definite, real voltage drop. The NEC (National Electrical Code) specifically addresses wire lengths, size and capacities. So, copper vs. aluminum can be a real consideration when constructing a building like a high rise or similar structure. But, in a guitar amp, we are talking about wire lengths that are only 18 or 20 inches long maximum. Most of the wire lengths are going to be around six inches or so. Any differences between silver and copper wire are going to be almost immeasureable - maybe 10 or 20 ohms. This really sounds like a good reason to justify building an amp that costs $25,000 but I'm just not convinced. The quality of the components used will be the biggest factor in how the amp sounds, not the type of wire used. Things like speakers, tubes, capacitors, resistor type, etc. This is not to say anything bad about the quality of the workmanship in any of the various boutique amps.

It is true that using silver wire, in theory, would wrench the maximum possible effiency out of a circuit, but I doubt that anyone could really tell the difference. This really is along the same vein as solid core copper and "oxygen free" copper - both more hype. In fact, in low current applications, stranded wire would seem to be more efficient since electrons like to travel along the outer surface of the individual wires which would in turn would let more electrons flow. I just don't see how one thick copper wire is going to be more or less efficient than stranded wire. It would seem to me that it would be less efficient on a molecular level, I don't know, I am not a physicist. But still, one could truthfully state that our "silver wire is 7% more efficient than copper wire and that's why we use it." But I seriously doubt that anyone can really hear any difference, although in theory there should be a cummulative effect in using silver wire.

Ok, so what am I basing this on besides my personal opinions? Well, look at the chart below:

Material Resistance
Silver 0.936
Copper 1.000
Gold 1.403
Aluminum 1.549
Brass 4.822
Tin 6.702
Steel 9.932
Lead 12.922

These numbers are the resistance relative to copper. Steel and aluminum are used extensively for amplifier chassis'. Both are relatively poor conductors compared to copper, but are strong and suiteable for constructing a chassis. Look at the numbers, steel is almost ten times more resistive than copper! Yet it is quite commonly used for grounding the amp's circuitry, and one could debate the point that it is bad to use, but in practice it seems to work just fine. Again, we are talking about very short distances. Steel and aluminum also good performers in terms of shielding from EMI.
Lead is an even poorer conductor, a lot of solders are a mixture of tin and lead unless it's a silver solder. All these materials are used in guitar amps to good effect. Really, the biggest problem amp designers face is 60 cycle hum and variations in the components used.

I have heard that some boutique amp manufacturers are even making chassis' out of silver and gold! While it may make for a beautiful amp, not only is it ridiculously expensive, it's unnecessary and makes for a very heavy amp. The chassis will sag over time due to the weight of heavy transformers and soft metals like silver and gold will deform from the heat produced by the transformers and tubes. There are better places to spend money on.

I'm sure this is a matter of conjecture, and is subjective, too. But, based on known facts about metals commonly used in industry, the use of silver wire, while being 7% less resistive than copper, does not convince me that there is any real benefit to using it other than a sales gimmick. Now if someone tells me that they are very careful about how they wire their amps, and only use the best components, precision resistors, etc., I can buy into that. But silver wire? C'mon, give me a break! Ok, that's the end of my rant.



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