5 Best Looper Pedals in 2020
You’ve seen KT Tunstall, Ed Sheeran and the people down at your local open mic using them. Loopers have been all the rage for several years now. But what exactly are they? How do they work? Could you benefit from one?
Well, if you’re a performer or even a learner who could use accompaniment when you’re playing, loopers can be exceptionally handy. At their most basic, they allow you to record rhythm sections to play over. Used in a more complex way, loopers can create intense, mesmerizing soundscapes that can intrigue and delight an audience.
In this article, we’ll have a look at what looper pedals are and how they work. Then, we’ll take you through some of the best looper pedals on the market. Updated February 28th 2020
- 1 Product Round-up and Mini Reviews
- 2 1) Donner Tiny Looper
- 3 2) Boss RC-300
- 4 3) Boss RC-1
- 5 4) Digitech JMSXT Jamman
- 6 5) TC Electronics Ditto
- 7 What is a Looper Pedal?
- 8 Why Use a Looper Pedal?
- 9 Features you can Expect to Find on a Looper Pedal
- 10 Stand-out Features to Look out For
- 11 Summary
Product Round-up and Mini Reviews
It’s time to explore some of the best, most popular products on the market. To help you decide on which looper is right for you, we’ve put who each model would be suited to, as well as listing pros and cons for each of the pedals.
1) Donner Tiny Looper
Donner’s ‘Tiny Looper’ is just that: tiny. However, despite it’s minute size, the pedal has a few fun and handy functions. As well as being able to record up to 10 minutes of loop time, this pedal has reverse and half-speed settings as well as its normal playback option. This opens up a lot of creative doors and can lead to some really interesting performances. It’s a budget-friendly pedal, so will suit those who are curious about trying looping and it’s extremely easy to use, with just a toggle to switch modes, a level control and a foot switch. The Donner Tiny Looper will suit musicians on a budget who are looking for something to practice and get creative with. Due to its limited memory, it won’t be appropriate for those looking to perform with pre-recorded loops.
- Very budget-friendly
- Small and simple to use
- Has three modes: normal, ½ speed and reverse
- There are no patches or multiple saving options
- There aren’t any built-in drums
2) Boss RC-300
Boss’ RC-300 is at the other end of the scale. This advanced piece of kit includes onboard effects, has built-in drum loops and 99 built-in memories. There are designated faders to each track, so you can have real control over each of the layers in your loop. The RC-300 includes an expression pedal for real-time control of your effects and it also has three separate stereo inputs, so you can loop guitar, vocals and keys all together. As can be expected, this pedal doesn’t come cheap. It’s also pretty large. The Boss RC-300 is for the serious looper. The Boss RC-300 is the perfect pedal for those who have already tried looping, and like it. It might be overwhelming for the beginner.
- Includes onboard effects, memories and drums
- Individual faders for each track
- Inputs for vocals, guitar, keyboard and more
- Pretty expensive
- Might be confusing to the beginner
3) Boss RC-1
The RC-1 is Boss’ stripped down option. This pedal offers the basics: high quality, stereo looping, 12 minutes of recording time and one memory bank. The design is akin to other Boss stomp-box pedals and, like these pedals, it can be powered off either a 9V battery or an adaptor. It’s a straightforward pedal that’s easy to use and can make a welcome addition to any pedal board. The price is reasonable and the quality is Boss standard. The RC-1 will suit those who are looking for a high quality looper to practice on, or something to create backing tracks to play along with in a live setting. It is incapable of complex, multi-instrumental loops and doesn’t have built-in effects or drums.
- Small and straightforward
- Stereo recording, for ultimate sound quality
- Can be powered off a 9V battery (or an adapter)
- Only one memory bank
- No built-in drums or effects
4) Digitech JMSXT Jamman
Digitech’s JMSXT Jamman is another stomp-box-sized pedal. However, it’s not as stripped back as the RC-1. The JMSXT has 200 internal memories(!), so you can save loops ready for triggering on stage or as you practise. There’s also a memory card option, for even more storage. You can slow down or speed up you loops without changing the pitch, and there’s also an AUX input for easy importing of WAVs or MP3s. There’s a tap tempo feature and you can also easily set separate levels for a rhythm channel and a looping channel, via two dials. The JMSXT Jamman is a stunning compact looper, with a lot of the functionality of larger devices. The price is also very reasonable. The Jamman JMSXT will suit those who are looking for a lot of functionality that takes up little space. It takes a bit of getting used to, so those looking for something simpler might prefer something with fewer features.
- 200 internal memories, so you can save your loops for triggering on stage or during practice sessions
- Slow down / speed up loops without changing pitch
- Aux and USB inputs to connect with your other devices
- There are no built-in drums, but it is easy to add your own
- The amount of features might seem overwhelming to the beginner, and can take some getting used to controlling with such a small pedal
5) TC Electronics Ditto
TC Electronics’ Ditto pedal is perhaps the simplest pedal on the list. There are just two knobs: the foot-switch and the level control, so you can get started using it straight away, probably without opening the instructions. Like the Donner Tiny Looper, this pedal takes up very little space in your pedal-board. As such, it cannot be powered off a 9V battery, but it does come with an adaptor. There’s up to 5 minutes of looping time and a memory bank to store your most recent loop. The TC Electronics Ditto will suit those who are looking for a very basic looper. There are no additional functions, making it easy for you to focus on creating and playing along to loops, without getting distracted. It is more suited to practicing than a live situation, though it’s strong and sturdy enough to survive gigging.
- Small, sturdy and simple
- True bypass, so there’s no loss of tone
- Up to 5 minutes of looping time
- Only one memory bank
- Can’t be powered off a 9V battery
What is a Looper Pedal?
A looper is a pedal that instantly records what you play, then plays it back to you as a loop. Depending on the looper you use, there will be a certain command (with your foot) that means record and another that plays it back. Most loopers allow you to pile multiple layers on top of each other, so you can get really creative and experimental with sounds.
Higher-end loopers also allow you to plug in more than one instrument. Many top performers (including aforementioned KT Tunstall and Ed Sheeran!) have built up rhythmic, melodic and harmonic layers using a combination of their voice, percussion and acoustic guitar. The limits are endless.
Why Use a Looper Pedal?
There are a couple of main reasons you might want to use a looper.
For Solo Performances
The main thing that attracts people to loopers is the way they open up solo performance options. Instead of sitting, strumming your acoustic guitar, you can wow crowds with multi-layered pieces, or create rhythmic backgrounds that allow you to play impressive lead guitar parts.
If you’re on the open mic or live acoustic scene, a looper is really a must if you want to keep people’s attention. The limits of acoustic, solo performances are removed completely with one of these handy tools.
Another reason musicians decide to buy loopers is for practicing with. As we’ve described, you can create rhythmic backing tracks to play lead guitar along with. This can work as an excellent way to get used to improvising and to memorize scales.
Loopers also encourage good time-keeping. Even creating the loops requires rhythmic accuracy, which develops good musicianship.
Features you can Expect to Find on a Looper Pedal
The main features you can expect to find on even the most basic loopers are record and overdub functions.
Usually, you press a button to record, then press the same button to play back what you’ve just recorded. Depending on the looper, there might be another button to press to stop it or you might need to double-press the same button again.
On top of this, you can expect to see a level control. This enables you to set the volume of your looped signal. It’s important not to set this too loudly, otherwise your live playing will be inaudible.
Stand-out Features to Look out For
There are a few other features to look out for, that can make a loop pedal a cut above the rest.
True Bypass is an excellent feature on any pedal. It’s when there’s no circuitry between the pedal’s input and output. This means that, when the pedal’s not in use, it will not affect your signal at all. When the pedal is in use, true bypass prevents the loss of high end frequencies that can occur with standard bypass.
Some loop pedals have additional built-in effects (like reverb, delay and overdrive). This can be a superb tool if you’re planning on using the pedal for live performance, as it removes the need to use too many additional pedals. It can also be a great creative tool, as you experiment with using different effects on different layers of your loop.
Reverse/Slow down/Speed up
Quite a few loopers have reverse, slow-down and/or speed-up functions. The reverse function can produce psychedelic out-of-this-world sounds, whilst the slow-down and speed-up features give you rhythmic freedom. These effects can take a bit of getting used to, but they can change what would be a predictable performances into something wild and interesting. You can also use these functions to structure your songs.
Smaller loopers tend to just have one memory bank, whilst larger/more advanced loopers can have as many as 200.
These banks are essential if you’re looking to trigger pre-recorded loops for performances. If you are only interested in perhaps triggering your last recorded loop, just one memory bank will suffice.
Multi-instrumentalists, you will be best looking for a looper with multiple inputs. Some loopers offer designated guitar, vocal and keys inputs. Others have just one or two mono and stereo inputs.
The best loopers have designated faders for each of your inputs, giving you control over each track individually.
If small and simple is what you’re looking for, you have the Donner Tiny Looper, TC Electronics Ditto and the Boss RC-1 to take your pick from. The Donner Tiny Looper is minute and also offers reverse and half-speed modes. The TC Electronics Ditto is similarly small, but doesn’t have the optional extra modes. Boss’ RC-1 is the only small and simple pedal here that will run off a 9V battery. It also offers Boss’ famous reliability, which will be a deciding factor for some.
If you’re after something that can do more than just loop, the Boss RC-300 and the Jamman JMSXT will have no doubt caught your eye. The RC-300 is extremely large, but it can do everything from effects to multiple instruments to drum sounds, plus save them all. The Jamman is smaller, but also can save a lot and has features including a tap tempo, AUX and USB inputs and the ability to slow down or speed up loops without changing the pitch. Both of these pedals have huge memories.
Whichever looper you think is right for you, we know that it will open up many creative and performance doors. Enjoy the freedom of being a one-man-band!