Late Night DIY: Build Your Own Cable Snake

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DIY Cable Snake Diagram

Quite a while back I did a series about building your own pedal board. Along with those articles, were some others dealing with upgrades to the basic pedal board, wood trim, power, signal lines. In this issue, we’re going to detail making a cable snake for your board, even if you have a commercial board.

What is a cable snake?

A cable snake is simply a way to keep your cables protected as they “snake” across the stage to your amp/rack/power, wherever. In addition, the snake keeps the cables organized so there are no jumbles of tangled cable to trip over or worry with during setup and tear-down.
Cable snakes come in a variety of flavors from really simple to really complicated with the corresponding cost factor. Our snake is pretty simple. It’s really just a cloth cover that keeps your cables organized but, in its basic form, doesn’t really offer a lot in the way of protection from the cables getting stepped on. However, a basic upgrade involves wrapping the cables in a protective plastic sleeve before sliding them into the cover. This will up the cost but it makes the snake pretty robust and keeps the cables safe from crushing by people or gear, while still being flexible enough to negotiate the wildest obstacle course on stage.

The Design:

I’ll be the first to admit that I have been wracking my brain about making this thing for months. In concept, making a cable snake should be simple. Coming up with just how to go about making one that is cheap, easy and actually works turned out to be harder than I thought.

The breakthrough came when my mother-in-law brought home one of those as-seen-on-tv hoses that expand to fifty feet long when the water is on and shrinks back to a small pile in the palm of your hand when you turn the water off. The cover is a simple fabric “duck”-like cloth tube that limits the size of the silicon tube inside. The silicon expands with the water pressure and shrinks back when the pressure is off. After using this thing for a couple of months, I had an epiphany!

The cloth sleeve on the hose is the perfect thing to run cables through. With some slight design changes, of course. My first priority was to make the design adaptable so you could make it as complicated or as simple as you want to, depending largely on your skill level with a sewing machine. If you are fortunate enough to have a spouse who is an expert seamstress (or seam-mister, as the case may be), this will be a simple couple of hours to make. If you are sewing-challenged, maybe you can convince your Mom, Grandma, Sister – what have you – to do the honors for you.

Buying Your Material(s):

Don’t run down to Walmart and buy the cheapest thing on sale! You need a cloth that will take some abuse, be strong, look good and last more than two weeks. Cotton Duck and Rip-Stop Nylon are two that come to mind. Both of these are strong, come in a variety of colors and are not too hard to work with. Both of them will also unravel if not seamed and hemmed correctly. They also come in 60″ wide bolts so you will have fewer seams to make the length you need.

There are also outdoor upholstery fabrics that might work as well but they are usually pretty costly in comparison to the Nylon and Duck. I chose Cotton Duck for my snake because it is a little heavier and will give the cables more protection than the nylon.

Step one is to determine how large in circumference your snake has to be. You do that by deciding how many cables you need to run through it and gathering them together in a bundle so you can measure. Also, do you want to run A/C power to your board? You’ll need an extension cord in the bundle as well if you do.

One last thing – are you going to slide the cables through the snake intact or are you going to remove the ends and remake them once they’re through? I ran mine intact – well, the guitar cables are no real problem but the extension cord has a end on it that is 3 times bigger than the cord itself. This will add some size to your snake but it really isn’t a problem as you will have room for additions later. (Also, you will be surprised at how small the inside of the finished tube seems once you get it turned inside out.)

Once you’ve made that decision, measure your cable bundle, leaving a little extra room for changes or good measure, and add 1 inch for the seam. Mine turned out to be 6″ in circumference so I needed a cloth strip 7″ wide (add 1″ for your seam allowance). Your length is determined by the length of your cables or, the normal distance between your pedal board and your amp.

I bought 1 yard of Cotton Duck which, cut into strips 7″ X 60″, makes a snake 25′ long. If your snake is smaller in diameter, you will get more strips which translates to more length. If you need more than 25′, buy 2 yards (50′) or whatever length is right for your needs.

DIY Cable Snake Diagram
Click to Enlarge

Pic 1a shows how to fold your fabric for cutting. Remember to wash and dry it first. When you fold, make the fabric into the cleanest rectangle you can and, using a square or the measurement method (3,4,5), trim off the frayed ends so there is a nice clean, square edge. Cotton Duck fabric has a tendency to unravel (it is not tightly woven like some other fabrics) so be careful with it (or Ripstop Nylon) so you maintain that nice clean edge.

The edge where the fabric store cut it will fray in the washer. Just trim it off but keep that in mind when you buy the fabric. The edges along the 60″ length (called salvage) are sealed at the mill and will not unravel. Buy a little more than you need to be sure the colors will match later.

Ripstop Nylon requires a special needle for the machine (super thin). Don’t forget your matching thread!

Next time, we’ll cut and sew the snake together.

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Doug Knight

Our “Man on the Street” reporter, with his “What’s New in Music Stores?” series, resides in Coos Bay, OR. You can find him on Friday nights at The Small Events Center at OrCoast Music in Coos Bay.

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