A Guide to Body Cord Plugs and Sockets
One common asked question is what are the different types of body cords and which is better. While many people approach this with an almost religious fervor, the simple fact is that there are several different types of body cords, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
German Style Body Cords
The German style two-prong is probably the most common system in the world. The socket is simple to manufacture and maintain, so it is relatively cheap and simple to maintain. The German style two-prong plug on the other hand tends to require more maintenance and it has lots of small parts when you take it apart. The expanded metal spring portion of the pins gets compressed over time, sometimes allowing breaks in contact between the pin and socket (resulting in intermittent white lights). The hard plastic shell may hold the pins securely but it also forms a hard point where the wire comes out the top which is where the wire usually tends to fail.
The integral retaining clip on the German plug usually works well keeping the plug from pulling out of the socket however from time to time you have to check that the screw holding it together is tight – otherwise it eventually comes out and the whole retaining mechanism flies apart.
The German design has been widely copied. The quality of these copies can vary drastically, anywhere from excellent to complete garbage. The most notable variation probably comes from Favero, where they replace the metal retaining clip and spring with a plastic one. These are a little less prone to fly apart however the plastic clip will eventually break and last time I checked Favero wasn’t selling replacement clips so you have to buy a new plastic shell just to get a replacement clip.
French Type Plug and Socket
The French type two-prong socket (Prieur) is similar to the German but the metal bracket is slightly smaller so the retaining clip on a German body cord often won’t catch on the bracket. French two-prong plugs are probably among the simplest of plugs out there – a single block of plastic and two pins held in place by the same screws that connect the wires to the pins. They tend to be very cheap and easy to maintain but they still suffer from the problem of the pins compressing over time and not always maintaining good contact. However the biggest disadvantage of the French system has to be its retaining mechanism – a plastic clip fitted onto the socket that is supposed to fit over the body cord plug. These plastic clips rarely fit as well as they should and tend to break at the worst possible moment. Most people stay away from them for just that reason.
Leon Paul Plugs
The traditional Leon Paul two-prong socket is similar to the French in that it uses a plastic clip on the socket to hold the plug in place. However their plug is much closer in design to their three-prong plug, with solid pins that are mounted in a plastic block that holds them slightly splayed to either side. This splaying of the pins helps to ensure good contact between the pins and socket at all times and because the pins are solid there is no need to worry about the expanded metal portions collapsing. The downside (in addition to relying on the plastic clip on the socket for a retaining mechanism) is that like all LP cords, resistance tends to creep up over time (maybe not enough to where you will notice it fencing, but is will show up an equipment inspection). (This is referred to as “Leon Paul Disease” by armory staff at the NACs and other large events.)
This can easily be corrected by regularly pulling back the soft plastic cover, then tightening the screws that hold the wires in the pins (or better yet, back off on the screws a turn or so, then re tightening them – you can practically watch the resistance drop as you tighten the screws).
LP has recently begun to offer the option of a German type two prong plug as well. I’ve never taken one apart so I can’t say whether or not it has retained some of the features common to traditional LP two-prong plugs, but I suspect that where the wire enters the plug may prove to be a weak point, similar to the German plug.
The Leon Paul Bayonet Socket and Plug
The Leon Paul bayonet socket and plug are both more complex to manufacture and there is little that the user can do for maintenance other then occasionally re tighten the screws that connect the wires to the pins. On the other hand the twist-and-lock mechanism of the bayonet socket is generally more secure and less likely to fail than the clip on the German system and far more reliable than any plastic clip mounted on the socket.
I would say that the latest design of LP sockets is probably even more secure since the plastic nubs that helped lock the plug in place have been replaced with an arch in the metal frame which will probably prove much more durable. The downside to LP bayonet sockets is that when they do fail it tends to be spectacular (pieces go flying everywhere). When this happens you are probably better off replacing rather than repairing (not that it can’t be done, it just usually isn’t worth the effort).
There are copies of LP bayonet sockets and plugs out there, however most of the ones that I have seen tend to be far less reliable so I would stay away from them.
Italian Style (Negrini) Bayonet Plug and Socket
There is also an Italian bayonet system, which is probably the most durable over system currently in use. The plug fits into a cylindrical metal socket, and metal pins on the outside of the plug fit into “J” shaped slots in the side of the socket to lock it into place.
The wires are generally soldered to the plug so there is little opportunity for things to come loose. However they are probably also the most complex and expensive system out there, both in terms of manufacturing and repair when they do fail. Plus, when they do fail they are generally not something you can quickly repair (most people don’t carry a soldering iron around with them, ready for instant use).
Each system has its advantages and drawbacks and which you consider better is primarily a function of your priorities. Some people like simplicity while others are willing to accept something more complex provided that it requires little or no maintenance. Some people also like to be able to easily swap cords and weapons with club mates while others like to have something that no one else will ever want to borrow. It’s all a matter of personal choice.
Craig Gault has been fencing since the late 70s and armoring since 1988. These days he stays close to home, assisting the collegiate club team St Johns College of Annapolis and occasionally armoring regional and collegiate events.