New technology from manufacturers brings the need for good connectivity of devices. With great tone for guitar players at an all-time high from new products, it has never been more important.
But having them all connected correctly has also become more complicated. This is where the 4 cable method can help!
The 4 cable method provides guitarists with a better connection option for effects. This includes both the effects loop and the front of an amplifier. This is important when using high gain and distortion to get the best performance.
We have some great diagrams further in the guide. If you want to learn more about the 4 cable method, keep reading.
What Is The 4 Cable Method?
The 4 cable method connects guitar effects pedals in a manner that promotes optimal performance. This means using your amplifier input and effects loop at the same time on most cases.
Some effects work best after a preamp. Others before, depending on how much distortion is produced. By using 4 guitar cables to perform this arrangement, you will achieve the best tone possible.
It also allows you to connect another preamp in parallel with an existing one. This provides a guitarist with more tonal options and is a great way to enhance your sound.
Here is a video tutorial on how the 4 cable method works. You will also find some great diagrams and more information later in this guide!
Should You Use 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 preamp distortion.
The sound from these effects begins to get chewed up by the signal being clipped by the preamp. 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, manufacturers began to add an effects loop to their amplifiers.
This solved the problem by inserting time-based effects in the optimal position. These are effects like reverb and delay.
Distorted signals processed before reaching the effects result in a far better sound. The drawback however is that 2 more guitar cables are required to run your pedals to the FX loop and back again.
Some effects work better in the loop. Others are better sounding from the front of the amp. To make this all work, you will need 4 instrument cables.
Before we look at the 4 cable method, it’s important to understand what is required. If some of your gear is missing some of these key elements, the 4-cable method might not be possible for you and your rig
The Right Amplifier
The first thing to consider is whether your guitar amplifier has an effects loop. This is a must-have in order to make this work. Some small-wattage practice amps do not have a loop, in some cases.
If this is the case, you cannot perform the four cable method with your amplifier. If yours does not have an effects loop, then you are fine and don’t require the 4 cable method anyhow.
Your clean amplifier will not alter the sound of your effects. Just run them into the input of your amp, and you are good to go. But, if your amplifier does have an effects loop, then the 4 cable method is right for you! Check out the best guitar amps under $500 if you need one that will fit your style!
Multi Effects Processor
If you are using a multiprocessor or a DSP-based modeler with built-in effects, it must also have a loop. Some floor-based effects units do not have a 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.
Four Guitar Cables
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 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 for your guitar. This cable will be a different length than the others, depending on the unit’s placement.
Extra Jumper Cables
If you are running single effects and using the 4 cable method, then you will have 2 pedal chains. One chain of pedals for the effects loop (time-based) and another that will go into the input of the amplifier.
So the first thing to consider is the small jumper cables. They will connect your pedal chains together. I suggest you try and keep these as clean as possible on your board.
4 Cable Method Pedal Board Diagrams
Let’s take a look at some different configurations of the 4 cable method. This will be using some of today’s most common effects units and pedal arrangements.
Single Guitar Effects Pedals
If you run your effects from single pedals on your board, 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 chain will consist of models that are not time-based.
The pedals in this chain are units that will condition your signal and can be run to the input of your amplifier. For example:
- Distortion Pedal
- Overdrive Pedal
- Fuzz Pedal
- Wah Pedal
Your second pedal chain will consist of anything time-based or modulation effects. These will be run through the loop on your amplifier. For example:
Once you have your board set up, you can begin connecting them as per the diagram below. Effects pedals connected to your amplifier in this arrangement will provide optimal sound. In some cases, distortion 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. They need to be before any time-based effects. And always make sure to have a good power supply! This is incredibly important.
4 Cable Method and Noise Gates
Some noise gates have the ability to clamp your signal from the FX Loop, it’s 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” 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 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 closed. 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.
In order to take full advantage of the noise suppressor, you will want it to function after the preamp. 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 noisy pedals.
Your noise gate will have 4 jacks, 2 for the “sense” circuit 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 connections are your gate.
Multi Effects Processors
Effects from a multiprocessor might look impossible to use individually. But rest assured, the magic of the 4 cable method makes it possible! As 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 Line 6 Helix
If you are connecting your amplifier up to a Line 6 Helix, you will want to hook your gear up according to the list below.
There are colored lines that signify each of the 4 cables needed to make the connections.
- 1st Cable: (Red) connects your instrument to the GUITAR IN jack on the Helix.
- 2nd Cable: (Blue) connects the Amplifier Input to the #1 SEND Jack on the Helix.
- 3rd Cable: (Green) connects the effects loop SEND jack on the amplifier to the #1 RETURN on the helix.
- 4th Cable: (Yellow) connect the effects loop RETURN Jack on the amplifier to the MONO ¼ inch OUTPUT on the helix.
And that’s it! You are now physically connected using the 4 cable method!
Keep in mind that there is still more that needs to be set up to make your gear play nice together and actually 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 an effects loop send or return level control, those will need to set as well.
Line 6 Pod Go
The Line 6 POD Go can also be used for a 4CM connected rig. This is pretty much exactly the same as the Helix, and so the diagram above can be used in the same manner. We have also created a connection instruction below to allow you to hook it up correctly.
Simply connect each of the cables to your amp and the POD Go as listed below, and you will then only need to set up the software. This will allow you to configure the Line 6 POD Go and the effects you want to use.
- 1st Cable: connect your instrument to the GUITAR IN jack on the POD Go.
- 2nd Cable: connect the Amplifier Input to the FX Loop SEND Jack on the POD Go.
- 3rd Cable: connect the FX Send jack on the amplifier to the Effects RETURN/AUX on the POD Go.
- 4th Cable: connect the FX Return Jack on the amplifier to the MAIN OUT LEFT/MONO on the POD Go.
The Boss GT-100
Use the diagram below to connect to the Boss GT-100. In this diagram, the FX Loop from the amplifier has been made visible for you once again.
There are 4 colored lines that signify each of the cables needed to make the connection to the Boss GT-100.
- 1st Cable: (Red) connects your guitar to the INPUT jack on the GT-100.
- 2nd Cable: (Blue) connects the Amplifier Input to the SEND Jack found in the EXT LOOP on the GT-100.
- 3rd Cable: (Green) connects the FX Send jack on the amplifier to RETURN in the EXT LOOP on the GT-100.
- 4th Cable: (Yellow) connect the FX Return Jack on the amplifier to L/MONO 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 for 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 Fractal AX8
When connecting your amplifier up to a Fractal AX8, use the diagram below. In this diagram, the FX Loop from the amplifier has been made visible for you yet again.
There are colored lines that signify each of the cables needed to complete the connections with the Fractal AX8.
- 1st Cable: (Red) connects your guitar to the IN1 jack on the AX8.
- 2nd Cable: (Blue) connects the Amplifier Input to the OUT 2 L Jack found on the AX8.
- 3rd Cable: (Green) connects the FX Send jack on the amplifier to IN2 L on the AX8.
- 4th Cable: (Yellow) connect the FX Return Jack on the amplifier to OUT 1 L (Main) 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 Out 1 and 2 level controls are turned up close to max. This will get the right signals to the amplifier.
If your amplifier has the effects loop send or return level controls, those need to be adjusted.
Quad Cortex 4 Cable Method
Connecting your Quad Cortex in 4 cable method is just as easy as the other modelers. Make sure to have good quality cables and connect as per the list below:
- 1st Cable: connects your guitar to the INPUT 1 jack on the Quad Cortex.
- 2nd cable: connects the Amplifier Input to the SEND 1 Jack found on the Quad Cortex.
- 3rd Cable: connects the FX Send jack on the amplifier to RETURN 1 on the Quad Cortex.
- 4th cable: connect the FX Return Jack on the amplifier to OUT 3/ L on the Quad Cortex.
Once all your connections have been made, it’s now time to set up your signal path with the blocks on the quad cortex. One of the things to keep in mind is that the volume will need to be turned right up on the unit. For block set up, here is a great video to walk you through.
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 becomes very powerful.
Most of the processors work the same, but might have different connection terms. But the general idea is the same.
Other Things To Consider
Sometimes certain things can be overlooked. Here are a couple of things to consider when planning your connections.
Effects Loop Type
One thing that is important to note when using an amplifier FX loop is whether it’s 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 one sent into the amp from your processor or effects. In this case, if you have a serial loop, you are good to go.
A parallel FX Loop on an amplifier might cause issues. You might experience issues with the processor signal and original. 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’s also a good idea to make sure the signal to the loop is strong enough to be dominant over the original or dry.
Some multi-effects units come with the ability to control your amplifier. Some 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. Once you have it set up in your patches.
The control of your amplifier’s clean and dirty channels is now all built into one button push. If your effects unit has control like this, be sure to take advantage of it. The extra control will expand the functionality of your rig in big ways!
4CM Noise Issue Tips
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 this method. Some 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 cables that are made for this type of application.
These cables have conductors that are twisted together. This 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! This issue between the amps FX and the processor can be a tough thing to live with. Some products on the market have been designed to solve these issues.
Noise Eliminating Products
The Ebtech Hum X Ground Loop Exterminator 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 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 need any power, but prevent ground loops and remove any unwanted noise from your signal. One unit that is quite good is the Behringer Micro HD 2 Channel Hum Destroyer. 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 Conditioner Block.
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, pedal, and modeler distortion. This adds some great 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!
What does the 4 cable method do?
The 4 cable method is a connection method. It allows a guitarist to use effects and pedals at different points in an amplifier. By connecting them in a predetermined way, effects can be used at the input and FX loop all at the same time.
Some effects are sensitive to where they are connected to an amplifier. The four-cable method provides a means to obtain optimal performance.
What is a 4 cable method snake?
A snake is a term used for many cables all in one tube or sheathing. The benefit to using one with the 4 cable method is that it keeps all your connections bundled neatly. When using single cables, they can become tangled and hard to manage.
A cable snake can make it much easier to manage the connections without all the mess. It also means that hooking up is much easier as they are all bundled together.