With the incredible technology that is offered by musical instrument manufacturers comes the need for optimal connectivity of all these devices.
Our ability to find great tone as guitar players is at an all time high with all the processors, pedals and amplifiers.
But having them all connected correctly has also become more complicated. This is where the 4 cable method can help!
We have some great diagrams further into the guide, but if you want to learn more about the 4 cable method, keep reading. Otherwise scroll down to the diagrams.
What Is The 4 Cable Method?
The 4 cable method (4CM) allows a player to properly connect effects pedals and processors before or after a preamp in order to obtain optimal performance.
Some effects work best after a pre-amp, while others work best before depending on how much distortion is produced.
By using 4 guitar cables to perform this particular arrangement, you will achieve the best tone possible from your equipment.
Here is a video tutorial of how the 4 cable method works. Once you understand it further, you will find some great diagrams and more information in this guide!
The Need For The 4 Cable Method
Time based effects like delay and reverb sound just fine through the front of an amp until you begin to add pre-amp distortion.
The sound from these effects begins to get chewed up by the signal being clipped by the pre-amp.
The more gain added to the distortion, the worse the effect will sound generally leading to a muddy tone.
In order to fix this issue, amplifier manufacturers began to add the effects loop to their amplifiers.
This solved the problem by inserting time based effects like reverb and delay after the pre-amp and before the power amp.
Now the clipped or distorted signal was created before reaching the effects and results in a far better sound.
The draw back however is that 2 more guitar cables are required to run your pedals to the FX loop and back.
So, if you have pedals that work better in the front of the amp, and pedals that work better in the FX loop, you will need 4 cables to make it all work.
And this is the 4 cable method in its most basic form.
Requirements For The 4 Cable Method
Before we look at the different arrangements for the 4 cable method, it’s important to understand what is required.
If some of your gear is missing some key elements, the 4 cable method might not be possible for you and your rig.
The first thing to consider is whether or not your guitar amplifier has an effects loop. This is a must have in order to make this work.
Some small wattage practice amps produce distortion but do not have an effects loop.
If this is the case, you cannot perform the 4 cable method with your amplifier.
If your amplifier does not have an effects loop but doesn’t really produce any distortion either, then you are fine and don’t require the 4 cable method anyhow.
Your clean amplifier will not chew up the sound of your effects. Just run the effects into the input of your amp and your good to go.
However, if your amplifier does in fact have an effects loop and produces distortion, then the 4 cable method is right for you!
Check out our reviews of the best guitar amps under $500 if you need an amp that will fit your style!
Multi Effects Processor
If you are using a multi effects processor or a DSP based modeler with built in effects, it must also have an effects loop.
Some floor based effects units do not have an effects loop and will not work with this method.
Other modelers with a built-in FX loop or 2 will work with the 4 cable method. Just make sure you set it up to use the effects loop in the patches and block configurations if that is required.
Maybe you already guessed it, but you will need 4 cables!
The length of these cables will be based on the type of unit you are using with your amplifier.
If you are using a rack based unit that is close to your amplifier, then some of the cables can be shorter.
If you are using a floor based effects unit, then the cables will need to reach your amplifier. Just remember to choose the correct length cable for your guitar.
This cable will be a different length than the others depending on the effects units placement.
Single Effect Pedal Jumper Cables
If you are running single effects pedals and using the 4 cable method, then you will have 2 pedal chains.
One chain of pedals for the effects loop (time based effects) and another chain that will go into the input of the amplifier.
So the first thing to consider is the small jumper cables that will connect your pedal chains together.
I suggest you try and keep these as clean as possible on your board.
Easy 4 Cable Method Arrangement Diagrams
Let’s take a look at some of the different configurations of the 4 cable method using some of today’s most common effects units and pedal arrangements.
Single Effects Pedals
If you run your effects from single pedals on your board and no multi effects processors or modelers then this will be the arrangement for your set up.
In this arrangement, you will want to break your pedals into two groups or chains.
Your first pedal chain will consist of pedals that are not time based.
The pedals in this chain are pedals that will condition your signal and can be run to the input of your amplifier. For example:
- Distortion Pedals
- Overdrive Pedals
- Fuzz Pedals
- Wah Pedals
Your second pedal chain will consist of anything time based or modulation effects. These effects will be run through the effects loop on your amplifier. For example:
Once you have your board set up with the 2 chains of pedals organized based on function, you can begin connecting them as per the diagram below.
With your effects pedals connected to your amplifier in this arrangement, you will have an optimal sound from your effects and overall rig.
In some cases, distortion pedals can also be run through the effects loop should it also function like a preamp.
If you are running any distortion pedals in your loop, always make sure to keep them first in the chain and before any time based effects.
4 Cable Method and Noise Gates
With some noise gates having the ability to clamp your signal from the FX Loop, it is important to know how this works.
What is happening when the noise gate is connected to both the input chain and the effects loop?
These noise gates have 2 sides to them. A “sense” side for your guitar input and a “clamp” side to apply the suppression. If you do not use the clamp side, it defaults to your input chain inside the pedal circuitry.
Most people assume that the noise gate is clamping the guitar input and the effects loop after the preamp at the same time. But that is not the case.
If the 4 cable method is used with your noise gate, only the effects loop side of the connection is gated.
Your input chain is only the side that is being “sensed” by your noise gate to know when to open or close. When you play your guitar the gate will open and when you stop it will clamp or close.
Connecting A Noise Gate With 4 Cable Method
In order to take full advantage of the noise suppressor, you will want it to “gate” after the preamp of your amplifier. This is done by connecting the device to your effects loop.
If you run other units into your loop, then the gate is best placed after them in order to silence noisy pedals as well.
Your noise gate will have 4 jacks, 2 for the “sense” side and two for the suppression side. By connecting it up this way, the device will work optimally and the best gating can now take place in your rig.
If you are using the Boss NS-2 noise suppressor for example, you know it has an input, output, send and return. The input and output are the sense side, and the send and return are your gate side.
Multi Effects Processors
If you are getting your effects from a multi effects processor, at first it might look like it’s impossible to separate effects from one unit.
But rest assured, the magic of the 4 cable method makes it possible! Like I stated earlier, just make sure it has an effects loop.
We will use a few different processors to give you a good idea of how to hook your unit up to an amp using the 4CM.
The 4 Cable Method With The Line 6 Helix
If you are connecting your amplifier up to a Line 6 Helix, you will want to connect your gear up according to the diagram.
In this diagram the FX Loop from the amplifier has been made visible for you.
There are 4 colored lines which signify each of the 4 cables needed to perform the 4 cable method with the Line 6 Helix.
- Cable #1: (Red) Connects your guitar to the GUITAR IN jack on the Helix.
- Cable #2: (Blue) Connects the Amplifier Input to the #1 SEND Jack on the Helix.
- Cable #3: (Green) Connects the FX Send jack on the amplifier to the #1 RETURN Jack on the helix.
- Cable #4: (Yellow) Connect the FX Return Jack on the amplifier to the MONO ¼” OUTPUT jack on the helix.
And that’s it! You are now physically connected using the 4 cable method!
Keep in mind however that there is still more that needs to be set up to make your gear play nice together and actually make this work.
You will need to set up the helix to have FX Loop blocks in the signal chain. Both Send and Return will need to be set up.
Also, if your amplifier has a send or return level control for the effects loop, those will need to be considered as well.
The 4 Cable Method With The Boss GT-100
If you are connecting your amplifier up to a Boss GT-100, you will want to connect your gear up according to the provided diagram below.
In this diagram the FX Loop from the amplifier has been made visible for you once again.
There are 4 colored lines which signify each of the 4 cables needed to perform the 4 cable method with the Boss GT-100 similar to the Helix.
- Cable #1: (Red) Connects your guitar to the INPUT jack on the GT-100.
- Cable #2: (Blue) Connects the Amplifier Input to the SEND Jack found in the EXT LOOP on the GT-100.
- Cable #3: (Green) Connects the FX Send jack on the amplifier to the RETURN Jack in the EXT LOOP on the GT-100.
- Cable #4: (Yellow) Connect the FX Return Jack on the amplifier to the L/MONO jack on the GT-100.
Now, you need to set your GT-100 up in the software to insert the FX Loop block (S/R Block) up to send to your amp.
So make sure that you have an FX Loop block in the patches to make this work.
Also, if your amplifier has a send or return level control for the loop, those might need to be adjusted as well.
The 4 Cable Method With The Fractal AX8
If you are connecting your amplifier up to a Fractal AX8, you will want to connect your gear up according to the diagram below.
In this diagram the FX Loop from the amplifier has been made visible for you yet again.
There are 4 colored lines which signify each of the 4 cables needed to perform the 4 cable method with the Fractal AX8 similar to the others.
- Cable #1: (Red) Connects your guitar to the IN1 jack on the AX8.
- Cable #2: (Blue) Connects the Amplifier Input to the OUT 2 L Jack found on the AX8.
- Cable #3: (Green) Connects the FX Send jack on the amplifier to the IN2 L Jack on the AX8.
- Cable #4: (Yellow) Connect the FX Return Jack on the amplifier to the OUT 1 L (Main) jack on the AX8.
Once the physical connections are made, set the AX8 up the way you like. But make sure that you are including an FX Loop block in your signal chain.
You will also want to make sure your Out1 and Out 2 level controls are turned up close to max to get the right signals to the amplifier.
And don’t forget, if your amplifier has a send or return level control for the loop, those should be considered as well.
If you own a processor that is not listed above, chances are it will connect the same way as the ones listed.
If you look at the ones we did touch on, the physical connections are basically identical. Even the software tends to be the same with each unit in how the patches need to be set up.
But because you have the ability to move the loop around in your patches, this method becomes very powerful.
As you can see, most of the processors work the same but might have different controls and connection names. But the general idea is the same.
Other Things To Consider
Serial Or Parallel Effects Loop
One thing that is important to note when using an amplifier FX loop is whether its serial or parallel.
A serial effects loop with the 4 cable method will offer you the best performance right out of the box.
There is no dry signal being mixed with the signal being sent into the amp from your processor or effects. In this case, if you have a serial effects loop, your good to go.
If you have a parallel FX Loop on your amplifier, you might experience issues with the processor signal and dry signal.
In some cases, there is a lag from the processor which then causes a phase problem between the 2 signals.
If possible, you will want to adjust the amps parallel loop to be 100% wet signal. It is also a good idea to make sure the signal to the loop is strong enough to be dominant over the dry signal.
Some multi effects units come with the ability to control your amplifier. Some of the BOSS GT units have what’s called an AMP CONTROL jack.
This jack when connected to a 2 channel amplifier, will switch between the channels when you have it set up in your patches.
This now becomes very convenient as the control of your amplifiers clean and dirty channels is all built into one button push.
If your effects unit has a control like this, be sure to take advantage of it. The extra control will expand the functionality of your rig in big ways!
Troubleshooting 4 Cable Method Hum Issues
While the 4 cable method has some great advantages, it does come with its own issues. Some pieces of gear will not play nice together and in some cases, hum will be a rather big issue.
A few things to look for are cables that just don’t work with the 4 cable method. Some cables work rather well isolated, but when used in the 4 CM, they hum.
So you may want to check each cable one by one. You will also benefit from a high quality cable like the Planet Waves Custom Series Twisted Pair cables.
These cables have conductors that are twisted together to cancel out electromagnetic interference from external sources.
At the very least you will have a quieter signal path between the pieces of equipment.
Another thing that might create hum is a ground loop! A ground loop between the amps FX Loop and the processor can be a tough thing to live with.
Some products on the market have been designed to solve these issues.
Hum Eliminating Products
The Ebtech Hum X Ground Loop Hum Exterminator when used with your amplifier can make a world of difference.
There are many people who cut out ground wires from cables but this can be dangerous! The nice thing about the Ebtech Hum X Ground Loop Hum Exterminator is that it keeps the ground intact.
Another product that is a must have is an in line ground loop signal isolator.
These units don’t require any power but prevent ground loops and remove any unwanted noise from your signal.
One unit that is quite good is the Ebtech HE-2 2-channel Stereo Hum Eliminator. We have found these units don;t degrade or color the sound, but remove all sorts of unwanted noise.
Another thing to try is a good power conditioner unit.
The source of your power can inject all sorts of noise into your signal, for a few bucks you can remove any unwanted noise from your power source.
A good unit is the Furman SS-6B 6-outlet Pro Surge Suppressor Block.
Not only will it remove unwanted noise, it will also protect your gear from any power surges that could otherwise cook your equipment.
So as you can see, the 4 cable method can be a real benefit! The improved sound quality from effects can be a real game changer.
It can also allow you to switch between amp distortion and pedal or modeler distortion for some real versatility.
But it does come at the expense of a more complicated setup and potential noise issues.
Luckily enough, for those that want to make it work, there are solutions for all of it and we encourage you to try it!
I would also like to encourage you to try effects in different slots on your board or in your processor. Sometimes finding great tone lies in where your effects are placed in your chain!