A looper is an effect that picks up an audio segment and plays it back in a continuous loop. Often a looper allows the guitar player to record and play several tracks (so-called “overdubs”).
When Do You Use A Loop Pedal?
A loop station is great for practising alone. For example, you can try out riffs, practice solos or simulate playing with a partner. In addition, a looper is very handy for composing songs and can even be used for live performances – often used as a backing track.
What does a track sound like with a looper? We can thank the loop pedal for some really cool tunes. Some examples worth mentioning:
- The awesome Cover/Jamtrack Don’t Forget Me – Marco Rodi
- The song Shape of You – Ed Sheeran
- That iconic cover of F-Stop Blues – Garett Grimm
What to Consider Before Buying A Loop Pedal
What should you be looking for when choosing the perfect loop pedal for your pedalboard? The following factors need to be considered when searching for the perfect loop station.
1. Sound Quality & Noise
One of the most important factors when it comes to choosing your looper is – obviously – the sound. Is the reproduced sound sample clean and uncolored? Is the pitch unchanged? Is the sound crisp and free of external noise? Often, the sound quality can be traced back to the A/D component in your loop station. This component is responsible for digitising your guitar input, so it’s important that it’s of highest quality.
2. Recording Capacity
Most likely, this will be a deciding factor for you when choosing a looper. You should consider in advance what capacity will be enough for you. Multi-effect devices with a built-in looper functionality are usually in the 30 seconds range, which is more of a gimmick than a useful feature. Good looper pedals typically deliver 60-120 seconds of recording capacity. Advanced models deliver storage north of 2 minutes.
Which capacity is right for you? That depends on how you want to use the loop pedal. Do you want to rehearse riffs and licks? Then 90 seconds should be enough to cover. Do you want to load entire songs as backing tracks? Then you should use a looper that can store 4-5 minutes.
The real beauty of a looper pedal comes to light when you gently combine layers on top of layers of sounds. If you play a riff and record it into a loop sample, and then play a second riff over it and record it and then play both loops, the second loop sample is called an overdub, and so is each consecutive one. With Overdubs you can play harmonised solos, build multi-layered Walls of Sounds or carefully blend dreamy background tunes. You can simulate an entire band if you have the appropriate instruments at hand.
Simple loopers don’t offer overdub-functionality i.e. a new sample will overwrite the previous one. Sophisticated loopers offer 1-2 overdubs and professional pedals can handle up to 40 overdubs. To be realistic: 6 Overdubs are sufficient in 99% of cases. (Unless you’re in a Noise band 😉 )
4. User experience
Is it easy and intuitive to operate the pedal? Can the looper controls be harnessed without wasting time on the user manual? If you are looking at a single-pedal loopers, you should investigate in advance how a sample recording is started and stopped. Some pedals, for instance, need a double-tap to stop the recording. Your samples have to be timed precisely, and double-tap recording make this process tedious. Proper single-pedal loopers run on a single-tap principle and keep things simple. The easiest way to record is with a double-pedal looper, where the recording is started with one pedal and terminated with another. Quad-pedal loopers offer the best user experience overall, allowing you to turn overdubs on and off and switch between recorded loop samples.This is especially useful for live performances with multiple backing tracks.
5. Inputs & Outputs
If you want to use the looper in a professional setting, you should pay attention to the input & output ports as well as the export & permanent storage options. Simple looper pedals only provide inputs and outputs for your instrument. More advanced pedals provide an aux input, which allows you to feed existing backing tracks into the mix (very handy!). Some even provide a USB port for exporting stored loops. It’s important to pay attention to the storage technology type. Simple pedals save the sample to internal digital circuitry (OP Amps) and the sample is overwritten each time. Great for practice, but not so great for recording, given there is no export option. Professional loopers write to an internal hard drive or SD card and give you the opportunity to export your samples.
Pro tip: Technically speaking, you can also “export” loops from a simple looper by playing back the sample and connecting the output to a mixer or sound card with recording capability or DAW. I’ve done so on multiple occasions and it works fine…most of the time. There is however a potential loss in sound quality.
Last but certainly not least: The housing situation. Housing is a decisive factor when it comes to longevity of your beloved guitar pedal. Let’s face it: The relationship with your pedal is not always going to be gentle love, and your pedal should be able to handle a few kicks around the rehearsal room or the odd stomp enthusiastic stomp on the stage without disassembling into it’s primary components 🙂
THE BEST LOOPER PEDAL
1. DITTO X2 LOOPER
The original Ditto from TC Electronic was (and still is!) perfection packed into a metal chassis. Most guitarists love the Ditto because of the high sound quality paired with simple user experience. Unprecedented move by TC. Most manufacturers do the exact opposite: They pack their loop stations with so many features and settings, that the user experience turns into an endless experiment, trying to understand the combination of knobs, buttons, switches, levers & controllers to achieve the desired function. Hand to heart: It’s not very enjoyable to sit there and study a manual that’s the size of a decent novel when you want to start jamming right away. The guys at TC Electronic understood this and with the release of the Ditto, they created the perfect loop device that spans functionality and simplicity. But not every guitarist was satisfied. If you also like the Ditto looper but still want some extra features, the Ditto X2 might be just right for your pedalboard. The biggest advantage here is the second pedal, which makes recording and editing overdubs even easier than with the original. Furthermore, the X2 allows you to export your loops as a WAV. file, whereas the original Ditto does not provide this capability. Both the original pedal and the X2 offer 5 minutes of recording capacity, which is more than enough for the average user.
- 5 mins recording capacity
- Unlimited overdubs
- Undo and Redo functions
- Double-pedal control: Great UX
- Adjustable controls
- 24-bit A/D converter
- Import & export functionality (.Wav)
- Backing track collection
- True bypass
- Stereo input & output
- You only load one backing track at a time
- No metronome
- No drum patterns
OTHER GREAT LOOP PEDALS
2. Digitech Jamman Solo XT
The Jamman Solo XT is an updated version of the first Jamman and has many additional features and improvements over its (legendary) predecessor. With this pedal you can quickly record samples and overdubs, and play them back. Holding down the keys for a long time allows you to pause and edit the loops. The XT pedal has a handy quantifier function – It shifts your loop so that it fits perfectly into your sample duration – ideal for beginners who are just starting out with loop sampling. Advanced guitarists can switch to manual mode instead. The different modes are easily identifiable by the LED indicator on the top of the pedal. You can record for 35 minutes(!) and store the loops in 200 memory banks(!). The Jamman offers a range of options to manipulate the loop samples too. It’s worth noting, that the tempo can be controlled via the tap input, which offers a high degree of flexibility – something that is not common among loop stations in general. Speaking of bells and whistles, you can reverse your sample with the Jamman and play it back backwards. I’m not sure why you would want to do that, but you can 😅. The pedal has an aux input, so you can hook it up to your music player or laptop, and jam out to your favourite track: Just the thing you need for a rock out session in the bedroom 😊
All in all, the DigiTech Jamman XT is an excellent choice – which is not surprising – the company enjoys a good reputation in the guitar world and the Jamman is one of their most popular pedals. I’m especially fond of the nifty “assisted looping mode” as it’s unique and very hand when you are just entering the looping world and have yet to perfect your timing.
- 35 mins recording capacity
- 200 memory bank slots
- SD card slot for quick-save
- USB output
- Live tempo editing (without pitch-shift)
- Built-in metronome
- Stereo input & output
- Single-pedal looper (reduced UX)
- Soft click noise during switching
- The end of a loop-sample is not indicated on the display
- Many controls in a confined space: Could lead to errors in a live-setting
3. Boss RC-30
Boss is generally known as a premium guitar effects manufacturer. High-quality sound, robust housing, versatile effects are associated with the brand. The RC-30 appeals with 3 hours of recording time, 99 internal memory slots and a generous range of processing options. The unique feature this looper brings to the table, is the dual track function. It allows for the recording of 2 synchronized loops, each of them individually adjustable with separate volume knobs. I especially appreciate the auto-recording feature, which allows you to start recording the guitar as you play your first reef, hands-off.
Feature heavy pedals are not always the easiest to use, and the RC-30 is no different. Unfortunately, the RC-30 has no input signal gain control (as opposed to its predecessor) and that means that if you put a loud effect in front of your input, without a level control, you cannot adjust the gain within the looper. Furthermore, if you record two loop samples into the dual track mode and make a mistake, the undo function will delete both samples, instead of just one: You have to start over.
Despite the mentioned drawbacks, the Boss RC-30 is a very versatile pedal and is suitable for both the bedroom guitarist as well as experienced live musicians a great choice. I enjoyed jamming with this pedal and experimenting with the auto-recording mode (how nifty!) and the dual track sampling, in particular.
- 3 hours of recording capacity
- 2 synchronized stereo tracks with separate level controls
- 99 memory bank slots
- Double-pedal control: Great UX
- USB output & export (.WAV)
- Rhythm-tracks with real Drum samples
- Can be operated via battery
- Heaps of effects
- No input signal gain control
- Undo/Redo function toggles dual track
- Many controls, requires learning
4. TC Electronics Ditto Looper
If you are looking for a pedal that is minimalistic, precise and yet highly functional – Then the Ditto from TC Electronic is the perfect choice. It has a recording capacity of 5 minutes and can handle unlimited overdubs with unlimited edits. It’s kind of hard to believe that the whole thing can be operated with a single controller. But it can. That’s because the smart folks over at TC came up with the multiple actions – one controller concept, allowing you to access all settings with only one knob and one button. No time is wasted on learning. Hit it once: Record, Play, Overdub. Press & hold: Erase, Restore. Press twice: Stop. Hold: Clear memory. Simple and effective! No effects, no gimmicks.
The Ditto performs only one function – looping – and it does just that, perfectly. The fine electronics are packed in a sturdy housing with a sand-gray finish. A better price-performance ratio can not be found on the entire market.
The Ditto has earned a permanent place on my pedalboard and 5 years later, it works as good as new 🙂
- 5 Minutes recording capacity
- Unlimited overdubs
- Simple Undo/Redo experience
- Very intuitive controls
- High quality sound
- Small footprint
- True bypass
- Single memory slot
- Can’t be operated via battery
- Power supply sold separately
- LED indicator could be placed higher
5. Electro Harmonix 720 Looper
If we are to talk about double-pedal loopers, the 720 Stereo Looper by Electro Harmonix is a perfect mix of versatile settings and user experience. The 720 has a simple recording setup and a quality sound. The loops can be edited with a range of effects, but unlike typical feature-heavy models like the RC-30, all settings are just a touch away. For example, you can use an external footswitch to change the memory bank or activate the undo / redo function. All in all, you have up to 12 minutes of recording time – more than enough – and you can record several instruments simultaneously. That means jamming for two with a buddy or bank colleagues is announced!
- 12 Minutes of recording capacity
- 10 Memory slots
- Unlimited Undo/Redos
- Multi-instrument recording
- Intuitive controls
- Double-pedal overdubbing
- Battery operated
- True bypass
- Stereo input & output
- Limited memory slots
- No MIDI sync
Should I pay attention to the diversity of effects at the Looper?
To be completely honest – no. Of course, there are guitarists who use loop effects and use them regularly, but most of the effects that are built into the loop stations are more a gimmick than a useful feature. By that I mean the “Half Speed” and “Reverse” effects, which are often used by players during their first sessions and then completely forgotten about and never touched again. Don’t buy a looper because of the effects it has, buy it because it cuts crystal clear samples. You should put emphasis on how intuitive the pedal is in its core function: sampling. I recommend pedals with a 1-click “record” and “stop” operation, because double-clicking is a headache when trying to time a sample. In general, loopers with two and four pedals are the better option compared to single-pedal variants, because you can control recording, overdubbing and accessing the memory banks in a very easy way.
And now we have reached the end of this guide. The decision to buy the right looper was very hard for me, because there are so many different factors to watch out for and, moreover, this investment requires a few dollars in the piggy bank. I spent countless hours researching and testing the various pedals before finally finding the perfect model for me. The result of my research is documented in this article and I hope that it also helped you to find the right looper. Rock on!