Image of guitar pedals

The musical world is your oyster

If we said the phrase ‘one man band’ to you, you’d perhaps imagine one of those old boys with a harmonica wedged into his face, a huge kick drum strapped to his back and an acoustic guitar propped precariously around his neck. You see, in ye olde times, this was indeed the way a single man could create the music of an entire band. Aesthetically it wasn’t the most appealing, and we can imagine it was never the comfiest or easiest setup to play. But the allure of creating a full band sound without relying on pesky other musicians to stick their oar in has long appealed to players everywhere.

Fast forward to today and the options are there for exactly this kind of setup, but in a much more manageable form. Step forward the looper pedal. These little boxes come in various shapes and sizes, with differing levels of connectivity, added effects and control methods, but the goal remains the same; by ‘layering’ sounds on top of each other, over a repeating segment of music, you can quite easily create the effect of a full band using little more than a guitar, amp and pedal.

But what if you wanted to step further into the looping rabbit hole, and add more instruments to the fold? Despite being predominantly marketed as guitar tools, looper pedals are the perfect blank canvas for singer songwriters to get basic ideas down in a hurry. Thankfully, it’s easy to add any number of new sounds into the mix.

What’s more, looping fans are now fortunate to have a raft of choice available to them. All the major pedal brands now have some kind of offering; from the well known Boss RC series, through to newer models from Electro Harmonix and TC Electronic, there are pedals out there to meet every need.

The most important thing is to know what you’re trying to achieve before you make your choice. Do you need something with lots of inputs, so you can have all of your instruments ready to go in a live setting? Or, alternatively, can you achieve the sound in your head with just a guitar and an alternative sound source plugged into a mini-jack?

Image of back of loop pedal

Taking the Boss RC-3 as an example; this pedal features a stereo input for guitars, as well as a 3.5m auxiliary input at the rear. The addition of the mini-jack opens up the possibility of using, for example, an iPad to add further elements into the loop. You might have drum machines, synths, samplers or any kind of sound source in your tablet device, which can be fed into the looper to start building backing tracks.

Another opportunity comes when your looper is hooked up to your studio or DAW setup. We’ve had great fun here connecting the outputs of our audio interface into the inputs of the looper, and the looper’s outputs into a set of powered monitors. By doing this, you really do have any sound under the sun at your disposal.

Case in point; our studio setup consists of a fairly standard audio interface like the Komplete Audio 6, with two ins and two outs; Native Instruments’ Maschine, which provides the drums/beats; a basic MIDI keyboard like the Alesis V49 to control pianos, synths and keys; a microphone through the audio interface’s XLR input; and amp simulation software to deliver any guitar sound you could ever think of. With this kind of rig, using the computer as the brains of the operation, there really is no limit to what kind of looping mayhem we can create at a moment’s notice.

Focusing more on live or performance use, say for example you had external or acoustic sound sources, like guitars, basses and hardware synths/keys. You might opt for the flagship Boss RC-300 with multiple dedicated inputs or, if your budget won’t stretch to that, you could quite conceivably run the instruments through a small mixer like the Alto ZMX 862 and then out to the pedal, ensuring the separate instruments are ‘always on’ and ready to go. The benefit of this setup is that you have extra control over the various input levels, ensuring a balanced mix.

You see, even with a simple looper like the RC-3, there are plenty of ways to start introducing extra elements into the mix. Look at what options you have for inputs and outputs, on all your gear, and start experimenting. With a bit of creativity and some basic studio knowledge, the potential is there for some truly amazing results from your looping setup.