Choosing the right loop pedal for you
Loop pedals have really exploded onto the music scene over the past few years. Fuelled by a host of big names employing them into their live setups, these creatively exciting tools have given a new dimension to practice and performance for guitarists. Artists like Ed Sheeran and KT Tunstall showed, and continue to show, exactly what can be done with these little boxes, giving singer-songwriters an entirely new avenue to explore with their music. As anyone who saw, heard or read about Ed’s Wembley shows will attest, playing in front of 80,000 people with little more than an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal is pretty incredible.
The capabilities of modern loop pedals varies wildly. At one end of the scale, there are ultra simple, easy to use one button loopers which will simply record what you play and then repeat it. You then layer extra playing over the top to build up your sounds. At the other end, there are loopers with multiple engines, each operating independently or in sync, allowing you to incorporate different instruments in the same performance. And then there are more esoteric loopers with unique features, designed more for the creative tone-mangler than the solo artist sat in their bedroom.
If you’ve ever thought of dipping your toe into the looping world but wondered where to start, help is at hand. There are plenty of models and variations on the market today, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, so we’ve brought five of the best together to help you decide.
Best all-rounder – Boss RC-3
Perhaps one of the most famous and most widely used loopers in existence, the Boss RC-3 packs in a stack of features which will keep all but the most hardcore loopers happy. The RC-3 is a single track loop pedal, meaning it has one guitar input which serves as the main source of the sound. Operation is straightforward enough and the standard Boss pedal housing is built to last. It has a few interesting tricks up its sleeve, including quantisation, which makes the loop lengths standardised, and auto-start, which starts the loop recording when it picks up an audio signal. This is particularly useful for learners, as one of the basic techniques you’ll need to learn is timing. With auto-start, you don’t have to worry about pressing the pedal a nano-second too late (and therefore knocking your loop out of sync), meaning you can concentrate more on the playing side.
Also present in the RC-3 are a selection of drum backing tracks, making it a great tool for practice, along with the ability to transfer loops in and out of the unit via a USB connection. As a final sweetener, the RC-3 also includes a 3.5m jack input so you can plug an iPad or other music device into the pedal; this opens up a whole new world of possibility. Imagine, for example, having an iPad with drum, synth or keyboard apps supplementing your guitar. Full band looping is well within your grasp with this pedal.
Best for beginners – Rowin LEF-332 Looper
The Rowin LEF-332 Looper pedal has only just arrived on the scene in 2016, but since then it has been able to offer musicians something slightly different. Shorn of the extra frippery and widgets, the Rowin Looper is as basic as they come. It has one footswitch to control all of its functionality, and a single knob for controlling the volume of the recorded loops. It is also physically tiny, meaning it could find its way onto any pedalboard without getting in the way. The Rowin Looper has been a success with guitarists and musicians wanting something easy to use, and is inexpensive enough to tempt many people into giving looping a go for the first time. You could call it a gateway pedal to stronger forms of looping; once people had seen how easy it was thanks to the Looper, they often required extra functions. In response to this, Rowin introduced a two-track loop pedal, the Rowin LTL-02 Twin Looper, which also added a couple of unique effects into the package. But it is the original LEF-332 Looper which we’d recommend here if you’re looking for a way into this strange, exciting world.
Best for intermediate players – Boss RC-30
While the Boss RC-3 comfortably covers most of the bases a looping tyro could need, there comes a time when you might want to progress. Perhaps you want to work with two different loops at the same time, add some effects into the mix, or introduce a microphone into the fold. For this, there is the Boss RC-30. A step up from the RC-3, the RC-30 takes the same formula as the smaller pedal but adds in another track, loop effects like filters and delays, and a phantom powered XLR input for vocals. You may, for example, want to keep the guitar loop and vocal loop separate, and the RC-30 can handle that without a problem. There’s also the added bonus of separate pedals for loop start and stop, making it easier to navigate your way around in a live situation.
Best for full bands – Boss RC-300
You may have noticed there is a Boss theme to this article. It’s not because it’s a sponsored article or some kind of PR land grab, it’s just that the famous Japanese company are at the top of the tree when it comes to producing loopers for each and every situation. If you’ve outgrown playing solo, or perhaps your drummer wants in on the action, or maybe you’ve collared a beatboxer to join the fun, then the Boss RC-300 is the perfect loop pedal for you. It has three synchronised stereo tracks, with individual level control for each, along with all the different connectivity options you will need. Three hours of included loop recording time makes full set lists feasible, while 16 onboard effects mean there is plenty of potential for some interesting soundscapes.
Best for experts/solo artists – Electro Harmonix 720 Stereo Looper
Finally, for those with a good deal of experience and who want an array of options to choose from, there is the Electro Harmonix 720 Stereo Looper. This tank-like box offers next-level looping functionality, and in the hands of an expert it will do some truly amazing things. One of the most useful features solo artists will benefit from is the Undo-Redo, reverse and half speed effects that you are able to add to the mix. At the touch of a button you can turn a guitar line into an ambient reversed line, change vocals to half speed chants and change it up at will via the popless switch. You can even add an optional 3-button foot controller to change a bank up or down, or instantly undo-redo anything you’ve played on the 10 independent channels. The 24-bit, 44.1kHz recording quality ensures all audio is uncompressed and sounding awesome at all times. For the solo artist or professional musician who wants something extra to add to their looping sound, we’d definitely recommend this pedal. Don’t feel daunted by the fancy lights and switches though, it’s totally easy to use, a typical feature of Electro Harmonix pedals.
Hopefully we’ve been able to shed a little light onto the different loop pedals out there today. Like the old saying goes, it’s easy to learn but difficult to master. Thankfully, there is a clear progression between the different models on offer, so you can work your way up and have plenty of fun doing it. If you need any further assistance, ask our in-store product specialists or call us on 01925 582420.
View a complete range of Looper pedals over at the Dawsons website.