Loop pedals are cool. They allow you to build backing tracks for yourself to solo over, or even harmonize with yourself without the need for backing vocalists.
Artists like Riley Armstrong, Jacob Moon, Andrew Bird, and many others popularized looping in their live performance, and it has fast become a go-to tool for independent and professional musicians alike.
It may take some time for you to perfect your looping skills, but once you figure it out, it becomes a lot of fun.
So, what loop pedal should you buy? Here are seven options to consider.
1. TC Electronic Guitar Ditto Looper Effects Pedal
If you don’t need anything fancy, you’ll like the TC Electronic Guitar Ditto Looper. It’s just under $100, offers up to five minutes of loop time, unlimited overdubs and undos, and true bypass. And, as you can see, it doesn’t look complex or intimidating at all.
If there’s any downside, it’s that this pedal is made specifically for guitarists. Not to say you couldn’t use it for other applications, however. If you’re looking for additional functionality, you can also check out the Ditto X2 and X4, both of which are more powerful, but of course, a little more expensive too. But I think TC Electronic has done something great here.
2. Boss RC-30 Phrase Looper Pedal
Boss has an entire line of RC looper pedals, and they’re each worth a look. The RC-30 unit offers up to three-hours’ worth of internal memory, multitrack looping with dedicated faders, 99 onboard memory phrases, and built-in effects.
$300 is quite a bit to spend on a looper, though it’s understandable that it would be in this price range based on the functionality offered. You can get the RC-1 for much cheaper if you prefer, but of course it’s a little more limited in terms of what it can do. And if you’re looking for more, there’s always the RC-300 at roughly $550.
Boss makes looping convenient and easy. Their pedals are generally dependable, but not necessarily the highest quality or best on the market.
3. Electro-Harmonix 720 Stereo Looper Pedal
The Electro-Harmonix 720 offers 12 minutes of recording time, up to 10 different loops, stop and undo-redo, reverse and half-speed effects, stereo in/out, and more. It’s quite feature-rich for the low price of $139.
Some customers say this is a great pedal for jamming, and not great for live performance due to glitches. I can’t confirm or deny this, but if you’re a pro, you’re probably going to want a different looper anyway. This easy-to-use Electro-Harmonix pedal is perfect for beginners.
4. Digitech JamMan Stereo Looper Delay Pedal
JamMan is a name that’s become synonymous with looping. At roughly $250, this pedal gives you over 35 minutes of loops in 99 internal memories, reverse playback, with the ability to back up your audio to SDHC card, and more. You could certainly think of it as a direct competitor to the Boss RC-30, and customers rank it at about the same, too.
It mostly depends on what you’re looking for. Like the RC-30, the pedal itself is a little bigger than standard compact pedals, and if you’re expecting it to do anything other than looping well, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
DigiTech makes other JamMan pedals, including the highly-rated JamMan Solo XT. It’s not as feature-rich, but certainly more affordable at $130. You might want to explore the different models before you make up your mind about this pedal.
5. Zoom G3X – Guitar Effects And Amplifier Simulator With Expression Pedal
You might spend upwards of $200 and even $300 to obtain just a loop pedal. While this is fine, especially if it’s a quality unit with added functionality, if you’re looking to get more for less, I would recommend a multi-effects unit like the Zoom G3X.
In addition to amp modeling, various effects, and a drum machine, the G3X has a great looper built right into it. Plus, you can even overdub multiple takes.
The Zoom is worth a look for guitar players that want more out of a loop pedal. In my experience, this is a killer recording unit too. By the way, you can get the G3X for $200.
6. TC-Helicon VoiceLive 3 Extreme
This isn’t just another multi-effects pedal, though it does that well too. The TC-Helicon VoiceLive 3 Extreme dominates a niche virtually no other company does – the voice effects and looping niche.
Whether you’re a vocalist, keyboardist, guitarist, or otherwise, you can use this pedal to add effects to your instrument or voice, and loop different parts while you’re at it. The unit is built for live performance, and allows you to effortlessly change between different presets.
The downside? This TC-Helicon unit costs somewhere in the $600 range, though it is the most expensive unit among their offerings. Some customers have found this pedal to be somewhat unreliable. I know some musicians that swear by TC-Helicon, but you might want to check out some of their other offerings to find the best fit for you.
7. Pigtronix SPL Infinity Looper
The SPL Infinity Looper isn’t generally cheap, coming in at about $400. Its best feature? Sound quality. The Infinity Looper will give you a clean tone without latency. The downside? Aside from the high price, it may not be the most durable or flexible unit, and it doesn’t do much besides stereo looping.
Ultimately, you must be the once to decide if this Pigtornix pedal is right for you. If you want sound quality, sacrificing all else, then this just might be what you’re looking for. But you can probably find a comparable pedal for much less, even if it doesn’t sound quite as good. That makes it hard to justify the high price tag.
What Should I Look For In A Loop Pedal?
Your needs will vary depending on whether you’re planning to use the looper for jamming, studio work, or live performance. Here are the major considerations to think about when buying a loop pedal.
How much audio can the pedal store at once? Can you record and save audio for later? If so, how many memory blocks does it have?
Loopers have gotten great in this regard, since the measurement of looping time has changed from seconds to minutes and even hours. But depending on what your needs are, you might want more time rather than less.
Having more than you need isn’t a bad thing since you might find you need it later.
Some loopers aren’t made with quality, durable materials. You don’t want your pedals to be constantly breaking or malfunctioning on you, so durability is an important factor.
My recommendation would be to check the reviews, maybe even go to the store to try out a few for yourself, and then decide what looper seems like the right one for you.
If certain pedals appear to be made of cheap plastic components, don’t be surprised when it breaks down.
It’s no big deal if you’re jamming along with your friends in a basement and your looper suddenly stops working.
Disappointing, sure, but you can always figure out what’s wrong with it, replace the battery or AC adapter, get it repaired professionally, or replace it later.
This is far less convenient if you’re recording in the studio or performing live. In the studio, you can always stop the recording session, so it doesn’t need to turn into a major inconvenience. But live, you might be relying on your loop pedal to function properly, and if it suddenly stops working, it could bring an otherwise great performance to a grinding halt. So, think carefully about what you’re going to be using the looper for, and buy one that meets your requirements.
It’s always best to avoid tone-suckers, and many cheap or vintage pedals are exactly that. This is where multi-effects units have a bit of an advantage, because you don’t need to connect six of them to get every effect you could ever need (i.e. you generally only need one). The goal should be to find a looper with a pure tone, particularly if you’re looking to use it in conjunction with other effects.
Just because a certain looper is more expensive doesn’t always make it better. I believe the above are some of the better choices available, but it would be wise to do your research, stick to your budget, and if you’ve decided that you want to pick up a TC-Helicon unit, save up and don’t rush into the purchase. If you purchase a more affordable pedal now, you can always upgrade later. You may even discover that you don’t need anything that fancy, because looping can become a gimmick in live performance, and isn’t necessarily something you’ll use in every song.
How Can I Loop My Vocals?
The three pedals on this list that have a mic in are the RC-30, JamMan, and VoiceLive 3 Extreme. If you do some searching, you can probably find other pedals that allow you to loop your voice. The ideal unit for a mix of instruments and voice (or just voice) is likely the VoiceLive 3 Extreme, since it has both the necessary ins and outs for live and in-studio use. For better or for worse, it’s also the most expensive.
The G3X is also not bad in this regard, since it has an XLR out. But all the ins are quarter-inch, so you would have to find a workaround for that. Also, see the next section.
Can I Use Any Of The Above Pedals To Loop Vocals Or Other Instruments (Other Than Guitar)?
In theory, yes. In practice, some of the pedals only allow you to connect via a quarter-inch cable. Specifically, the RC-30, JamMan, and VoiceLive 3 Extreme are the only ones that allow you to connect via a XLR (microphone) cable.
This isn’t a problem for most electronic instruments, including acoustic guitars with pickups. It is a problem for most microphones. You can use a converter, or an XLR to quarter-inch cable, though this isn’t necessarily the ideal solution, and may affect your sound quality.
Also, using a pedal for anything other than what it was intended for may lead to unintended results. Sometimes fun results, and sometimes ear-piercing results. You probably won’t run into issues for the most part, but it’s always best to be careful.
Looping Is Harder Than I Thought – How Do I Get Better At It?
Like anything else in music, looping requires some practice. There are virtually no risks if something goes wrong while you’re looping in your practice room. It’s another matter entirely if you’re building a backing beat at one of your gigs.
I’ve seen experienced musicians struggle with looping in a live setting. They either stopped and corrected it, or poked fun at themselves and tried again. And sometimes this can be due to gear malfunctions.
Some pedals are more forgiving than others, and have tweakable knobs and functions that make it easier for you to get a perfect loop every time. Read the instruction manual or find tutorials online to familiarize yourself with these.
But the main thing to remember is to start recording at the precise moment you begin playing a riff, and then cut it off just as you begin playing the first note of the riff. It’s difficult to describe, but once you’ve messed around with looping for a while, you’ll see exactly what I mean. Once you’ve mastered this, the world is your oyster.
Should your music rely entirely on looping?
Riley Armstrong, for instance, sometimes plays with a band, and sometimes performs solo. In his solo shows, he uses looping quite a bit. But you can tell that he writes real songs, and only uses loops to enhance and thicken up his music, not to create songs.
Meanwhile, I also know other artists that build their songs entirely around loops. While it is impressive to witness, and there is a novelty to what they’re doing, it feels less like there are real songs behind their music – it’s more robotic. You might enjoy hearing their songs once or twice, but it gets old fast.
How you use looping is up to you, and I’m not saying either approach is wrong or right. When it comes right down to it, it’s all about what the audience enjoys, and why wouldn’t you keep doing what your fans like?