The four-cable method refers to the use of four cables in your guitar rig when using pedals both in front of your amp as well as in the effects loop.
This method should be considered if you are using your amp to provide some of - or all of - the gain, as time and modulation effects will sound much cleaner and faithful to the intended result when setup in the effects loop of the amplifier, while overdrive, wah and other similar effects will work best when setup between the guitar and the input of the amplifier.
If you are running the amplifier clean, you might get away with your time and modulation pedals connected up to your drive pedals in front of the amp, but if you are getting some dirt from the amp then utilising the effects loop is definitely preferable.
How do I setup the four-cable method?
Typically wah, fuzz, overdrive and distortion pedals feed into the amp's input and therefore come before the amp's preamp section.
Time and modulation pedals, however, sound the most pristine and accurate when connected to the amp's effects loop, which bypasses the preamp section and avoids any colouration by that particular gain stage.
To achieve this setup, the four-cable method is put together as follows:
The first cable is the guitar cable connecting the guitar to the first pedal in the wah / fuzz / overdrive / distortion chain.
The second cable connects the final pedal in this chain to the amplifier's input.
The third cable connects the amplifier's effects send to the first pedal in the reverb / delay / modulation chain.
The fourth cable connects the final pedal in this chain to the amplifier's effects return.
The result is one chain of pedals located pre-amplifier for your dirt and wah effects, then a second chain of pedals for time and modulation effects that sits in the amplifier's effects loop.
One benefit of using four cables is that you can use a preamp pedal in the effects loop to provide an alternative voicing to your amp. Say you have a Vox AC30C2 Custom Combo but for some songs in your set you require a Marshall tone. Stick a preamp pedal voiced on a Marshall in the effects loop and you can then switch between Vox and Marshall sounds with the simple click of the preamp's footswitch.
Multi-fx pedals are pretty complicated these days, providing the ability to reorder multiple patches and use an internal effects loop. One perk of the four-cable method when used with multi-fx pedals is that - as with the preamp pedal example above - you can switch between the multi-fx pedal's amplifier patches and your real amplifier tone.
Additionally, you can set up your effects patches to appear before the amp or in the amplifier's effects loop.. It's clear that if you want to use a multi-fx pedal to its fullest potential, the four-cable method will allow you to do so. Here's how to set it up:
The first cable connects the guitar to the multi-fx pedal's input.
The second cable connects the multi-fx pedal's effects send to the input of the amplifier.
The third cable connects the amplifier's effects send to the multi-fx pedal's effects return.
The fourth cable connects the multi-fx pedal's output to the amplifier's effects return.
So there you have it. If you're looking for a solution to enable you to run both drive- and time-type pedals together in a rig, give the four-cable method a go. Chances are you won't go back!
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