Looper pedals are something many musicians dabble with. They can transform solo, acoustic gigs from yawn-inducing to awe-inspiring, and they can open up endless creative options.
If you’re a solo performer who longs to play guitar solos, but can’t as you have no accompaniment, or who needs a beat to lift their songs and give them the punch they need, a looper might be exactly what you’re looking for.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Looper Pedals on the Market
- Donner Tiny
- Zoom G1on
- TC Electronic Ditto
- Boss RC-1
- VOX Lil’ Looper
- Digitech Jam Man
- TC Electronic Ditto X4
- Electro-Harmonix 720
- Pigtronix SPL Infinity
- BOSS RC-300<
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
- What is a Looper Pedal?
- Who Uses Looper Pedals?
- Looper Controls
- Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Looper Pedal
- So, Which Should I Buy?
What is a Looper Pedal?
Looping machines allow you to play a part, record it and then play over it, whilst it goes round and round. Some of these devices include built-in rhythm tracks or effects, to make your job easier, whilst some demand that you create everything yourself. They vary in complexity from very simple stomp-boxes to professional pedals with MIDI, AUX and expression pedal inputs, as well as multiple loop patches and lots to do with your feet. There’s also a wide variety of vocal-only loopers that are worth looking at if you only sing.
Some loopers are built into multi-effects pedals, where the looper acts as yet another function with which you can explore your creativity.
So how does looping work? You play into the pedal after pressing ‘record’. When you push the same button again (which is sometimes the only button), what you’ve played will stop recording and will immediately play back. As it plays back, you can play along to it unrecorded, or you can quickly push ‘record’ again and overdub the music that plays back. This overdubbing is usually unlimited, meaning that your music can have as many layers as you choose.
There are several reasons why people choose to loop.
Rhythm for Live Performance
These devices are very popular amongst guitarists who play solo, as it enables them to play both rhythm and lead parts. With a rhythm guitar part looping, you can take on the lead guitar part without worrying about it sounding thin or out of context. Some products have XLR inputs, meaning that you can also add beat-box sounds or vocals to your rhythm backing. Others have built-in drum beats, which you can trigger at the flick of a button to play on top of.
Experimentation / Creativity
Another reason musicians turn to these is to get them out of a creative rut. Laying down a loop can open doors creatively as you experiment with what fits on top of it. You can use this to play around with previously unknown scales, modes or even alternative tunings. Many of these devices also include effects like reverse, half speed or even things like delay, flanger and distortion. Playing around with these as you loop layers will enable you to find sounds that you wouldn’t otherwise.
Laying Down a Bass Part
Sometimes, all you need to lay down is a bassline, before you take on the guitar/keys/vocals on top. These pedals work excellently to put down a looping groove, that you can then let loose on top of. This can be useful for practising with, but can also create an effective performance that hits all the right frequencies.
Who Uses Looper Pedals?
Artists including KT Tunstall and Ed Sheeran are renowned for their professional use of loopers. KT Tunstall was one of the first to put them on the scene when she performed on Jools Holland in 2004 and used one to loop percussion, guitar and vocal parts.
Ed Sheeran has more recently done similar, like in this version of ‘Shape Of You’:
The most important control, that you’ll find on any looper is the record/play button. This is normally one foot-switch, which you press once to record, then again to stop recording and playback. Whilst it’s playing back, you can press it again to overdub what’s recorded.
As you loop, most of these products have LED lights which flash different colors depending on whether it’s recording, playing back or overdubbing.
On cheaper/smaller loopers, this record/play button also often works as a stop button. One drawback to this is the fact that you often have to double-tap it in order to stop it, which can be problematic when it comes to keeping everything in time.
Many loopers have a ‘reverse’ effect built-in, which allows you to reverse the sound you’ve recorded. This can create effects akin to 1960s sounds and is perfect for those who want to recreate guitar solos in the style of The Beatles or Hendrix’ recordings.
This effect works by taking the audio and flipping it. Used sparingly, it can add a really interesting layer to a performance.
Another interesting effect that many loopers have built-in is ‘half speed’. This takes your recorded audio, and reduces the tempo by 50%. It can be used to create ‘breakdown’ sections in songs or to produce a dramatic ending.
Having access to this audio technique can make your performance varied and climactic.
Tap tempo is a really useful tool that’s fitted into a lot of loopers that have built-in drum beats. This function enables you to quickly set the BPM for your beat, by tapping your finger in the time that’s in your head. After you’ve tapped it, the beat will either start automatically or you can then press ‘start’. It’s the equivalent of a drummer’s count in, and is a quick and easy way of setting yourself up in the appropriate tempo.
The quantize tool can be a lifesaver for musicians who are looping on the fly. It shifts any notes which are out of place into the place they should be, and it can usually be set to ¼, 1/8, 1/16 or even 1/32 notes. This means that, if you’re playing a fast passage of say 1/16 notes, but one of them isn’t quite on the beat as you record it, the looper will shift it so that you’re not stuck with a dodgy loop.
If what you record is too dodgy, and can’t even be saved by a quantize button, the undo button is there to help you out.
Even the most basic loopers usually have this feature, though it can involve holding your foot down or double-tapping, more expensive ones often have a dedicated button to delete your previous step.
This can be used to eliminate errors, but it can also be used creatively to temporarily add layers to your loop, before removing them and dropping the dynamic back down again.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
There are a few things to consider that will help to guide you towards making the right purchase. Are you looking to buy one of these for practising at home, for songwriting or for performing? If it’s merely for practising with, and recording backing chords to solo over, it makes the most sense to buy one with simple looping features and not much else. If you’re after a device that you can get more creative with, it might be best to look for something with built-in effects, potentially more than one loop and a memory bank to save your ideas on. If you’re a performer, it’s important to consider the practicality of using it on stage. Is there a footswitch? Is it easy to access? are there LED lights? Is there more than one output so that you can ensure the correct mixing on and off stage?
Built-in Drum Machine?
If you think that you might benefit from a built-in drum machine, the chances are that you will. These are amazing fun to practise with, create with and even to perform with. Most of them have a tap-tempo option, so you can quickly get in time and a lot of these devices also have the option to import an infinite amount of drum loops via MIDI or USB. If you’re considering using a pedal with a built-in drum machine on stage, it might be worth checking to see if there are separate outputs for your drum sounds and your other loops.
Are you looking for the ultimate in creative devices? If so, built-in effects are a must. These range from reverse and half-speed options, to full-on multi-effects machines that include delay, distortion, flanger and beyond. If you already have all of the effects you think you might need, and would rather go for something that simply loops, then you can opt for a pedal without these extra features.
How Many Loops?
Is there a chance you might want to use more than one loop per song, flicking between verses and choruses with your feet like a ninja, wowing crowds as you do so? If so, it’s worth opting for one that has 2 or more loops. If you’re happy to build layers on one loop, to create ideas or jam along to one chord progression at a time, a pedal with just one loop will be sufficient.
True bypass is a feature on many of these products. It means that there’s no circuitry between the input and output of the pedal, enabling your tone to stay exactly the same as it was before it entered the pedal. True bypass also ensures that there’s no unwanted buzzing from it coming through when it’s not in use.
Are you a tech geek who loves computers, synths, sequencers and VSTs? If so, a looper with MIDI inputs will be perfect for you. Loopers which interact with MIDI can import messages from MIDI controllers and devices such as electronic drum kits or samplers, in order to trigger or change an endless amount of sounds. A looper with this functionality can sync to DAW interfaces, and you can set the controls so that your interface does things that you’d normally do on the pedal, meaning you don’t always need to use your feet.
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Looper Pedal
The Donner Tiny Looper is a very inexpensive pedal which still has an impressive amount of features.
There’s a ½ speed option as well as a reverse option, accessible via a toggle switch, so you can easily manipulate your sounds after you’ve recorded them and explore an array of creative options.
It also has a USB input, so you can import loops such as drum backing tracks from your PC / Mac, and it has an LED indicator to show the loop status.
The Donner Tiny Looper can record passages up to ten minutes in length, and it’s powered by a standard 9V adapter.
It will be suited to musicians who are just getting started with looping, and want a cheap option to find out whether or not it’s for them.
It will be less suited to those who are looking for something more controllable and professional.
- Very budget-friendly
- Includes ½ speed and reverse options, to add an extra creative element to your performances.
- There’s a USB input, so you can import loops from your PC or Mac.
- There are no built-in drum beats.
- It’s very basic – there’s just one foot-switch to control your recording and playback.
- It can’t be powered by a battery.
The Zoom G1on includes a looper within it. The effects consist of 75 different sounds, 5 of which can be used simultaneously, and this pedal also has the option of four different emulated amp sounds.
There are 68 rhythm accompaniments for you to record loops on top of, making it easy to stay in time and to instantly sound ‘musical’. The looper itself is quite basic; there’s just one patch which you can record, playback, undo and stop, but this pedal will be perfect for those musicians who are craving an all-in-one tool to explore different sounds and options with.
It will be less suited to those who already have effects pedals of high quality, as the built-in effects would then be rendered useless.
- Includes 75 effects and 14 amp models, so you can really experiment with a variety of sounds.
- Includes 68 rhythm accompaniments, so you can stay in time easily as you loop.
- Up to 5 effects can be used at once.
- It’s not that easy to use; combining effects can take some getting your head around.
- The looper itself is quite basic – there’s only one patch.
- It’s plastic, so will be prone to damage and/or breaking.
TC Electronic Ditto
The TC Electronic Ditto is an extremely easy to use pedal which makes looping accessible even to the biggest of technophobes.
It has just one foot-switch plus one knob to control the level. The foot-switch works as a record, play back, undo and stop control, depending on how you tap it.
It includes true bypass, so you don’t need to worry about the pedal messing with your tone or signal, and there are unlimited overdubs – making the looping layers potentially endless.
It’s a small, sturdy pedal that will easily slot into any pedal-board, making it perfect for those who just want a simple, quick guitar loop to fatten up their sound or to those who need something to play chords into whilst they jam along at home.
There’s no quantize or drum machine option, so getting in time can take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, this pedal is fun and simple.
Whilst the Ditto Looper is perfect for beginners and amateurs, it will be less suited to those who require more options and would like to use their looper in a professional performance.
- Extremely easy to use – there’s just a level and a record/play switch.
- Unlimited overdubs.
- Small and sturdy.
- There are no additional options like reverse, ½ time or effects.
- The looper is limited to 5 minutes.
- There are no built-in drum beats.
The Boss RC-1 is a high quality, simple looper that has stereo inputs and outputs. These stereo ins and outs allow you to create a sound that gives the impression of coming from different directions, even using two instruments if you wish, although you can also opt for the simpler mono option.
Unlike the other small loopers, this stomp-box sized offer from Boss can be powered by a 9V adapter. It also it extremely well built, in the sturdy metal housing that’s associated with Boss pedals.
The foot pedal itself is used to control the record, play, undo and stop functions. There’s also a level knob, so you can get the balance right between what plays back and what you put on top of it.
It has a circular LED pattern, to show you where in the loop you currently are, which can be very handy for keeping in time and planning your next step.
This pedal will be suited to those who might like to play on the streets or impromptu at festivals, due to its 9V battery option. Although it only has a 4.5 hour battery life, this is more than enough for a performance or 4!
It will be less suited to performers who require built-in drum loops, effects or multiple loop patches.
- Can be powered by a 9V battery – so it’s easier to use on the go or whilst busking.
- Stereo inputs and outputs.
- Very durable.
- More expensive than some of the other budget loopers.
- Heavier than some other budget loopers.
- Battery life is just 4.5 hours.
VOX Lil’ Looper
From the highly popular VOX manufacturers, the Lil’ Looper lends itself extremely well towards creativity.
As well as having an instrument input (which can be used for guitar, keyboard, electric violin or whatever you wish), there’s an XLR input to allow you to loop vocals in the same way as Ed Sheeran and KT Tunstall do.
There are also 12 built-in effects on this pedal, including delay, phaser and distortion, and there’s a quantize tool to allow you to easily keep in time as it corrects any notes which don’t quite hit the beat.
There’s a tap tempo as well as a metronome, which will also help with your timing and there are LED buttons to tell you when different functions are in use.
This is an excellent option for musicians who like to get creative both on stage and in the practice room, and it will be sure to open up a lot of new ideas.
It might not be the right option for people who are looking for something simple, as the wide range of features can take some getting your head around.
- Instrument input as well as an XLR input for a microphone.
- Includes a quantize tool to keep you in time.
- 12 built-in effects.
- There’s so much built-in to this pedal, it can take some getting your head around.
- Loop is limited to 90 seconds.
Digitech Jam Man
The Digitech Jam Man is another great tool for creativity, particularly songwriting. Like the Boss RC 1, there are stereo inputs and outputs, so you can use two instruments and/or create the effect of sound coming from different directions, and like the VOX Lil’ Looper, there’s an XLR input as well as an instrument in. Both of these have separate level controls.
There’s a USB input here, so you can download rhythm tracks to play along to as you create and there’s the option to create more than one loop, meaning you can shift between different song sections using your feet.
This pedal also is able to store loops you’ve created, so you don’t need to worry about forgetting your ideas, and there’s a reverse option which can create some interesting and strange sounds.
It’s quite complicated to use, but it will be perfect for musicians who want to get their teeth stuck into something with a huge amount of options.
It won’t be the right choice for musicians who just want to create simple loops.
- Stereo inputs and outputs.
- Separate output for rhythm tracks, which can be downloaded via USB.
- Level controls for loop, rhythm, mic and instrument.
- It is quite complicated to use.
- The positioning of the foot-switches can be quite awkward to use in a performance.
TC Electronic Ditto X4
The TC Electronic Ditto X4 is an upgrade from the simple TC Electronic Ditto. This pedal includes 7 loop effects, including reverse, ½ time and double speed, allowing you to access new sounds that you mightn’t have previously been aware of.
There are 2 stereo loop tracks, meaning you can easily switch between chorus and verse parts, and both of these have their own level control, enabling you to fine-tune any differences in dynamics.
There’s also a decay knob, to control how quickly your notes fade away after you play them and a ‘stop’ button to allow you to instantly shut off the loops.
This pedal will be perfect for those who want something simple, but not overly limited. There are enough functions to successfully and easily control the sound and levels of multiple loops, plus the addition of effects.
It will be less suited to musicians who require built-in drum sounds or a wide range of built-in effects.
- 7 loop effects including reverse, ½ time and double speed allow you to explore your creativity.
- Dual loop controls give you excellent control over the loops’ levels.
- Simple design that’s easy to use.
- There are no built-in rhythm tracks, although these can be imported via MIDI or USB.
- It has a lot fewer features than some other mid-range loopers.
The Electro-Harmonix 720 is a stereo looper that’s very portable and good-looking.
It has stereo ins and outs, so you can record two instruments at once, and it can hold up to 10 loops in its memory bank.
Unlike some of the cheaper pedals, this one is extremely easy to stop – with just one click – and it also has separate LEDs so you can quickly see whether you are recording or playing back.
As well as these features, the Electro-Harmonix 720 has a reverse button and a ½ speed button, allowing you to create breakdowns or ‘trippy’ sections of songs, and there’s an option to fade out the loops.
As well as being smaller than a lot of loopers, this pedal can be powered off a 9V battery, making it the most portable looper here that has a memory bank and built-in effects. It will suit musicians who want something that’s pretty simple but also has enough about it to make it a legitimate piece of kit to take on stage.
It will be less suited to those who require built-in drum beats, quantizers or MIDI options.
- Reverse and ½ speed buttons are easy to access and light up when in use.
- Smaller than a lot of the other loopers, making it easy to fit into a packed pedal board.
- Can be powered off a 9V battery.
- There are no drum beats or MIDI options.
- Limited to 12 minutes of recording time.
Pigtronix SPL Infinity
The Pigtronix SPL is a very interesting pedal that has two separate stereo loops, allowing you to play different sections of songs without breaking the performance.
This pedal also has an expression pedal input and a MIDI input to allow you to import drum, synth or other sounds.
Each of the loop channels has its own foot-switch to record, play and overdub, and there’s a separate stop button to make an instant killing of the loop easy.
There are separate loop volume and master volume controls, enabling you to mix your output to an extent and there are 9 loop presets to inspire you as you get started.
This is a professional pedal, that will suit tech-friendly musicians who know exactly what they want out of a looper.
It will be less suited to those who are just looking to get started, as it’s not extremely easy to use and it’s also pretty expensive.
- 2 stereo loops allow you to cater for verses and choruses and record two instruments at once.
- Includes MIDI in for an array of creative options if you’re tech-friendly.
- Has an expression pedal input.
- There’s a lot to this pedal – it will take some time to get used to.
- It’s pretty pricey.
The BOSS RC-300 is easily the most professional and versatile pedal on this list.
There are three stereo tracks here, allowing you to loop multi-sectioned songs and there are also an array of built-in effects including a phaser, flanger and reverb.
The looper includes a lot of built-in drum beats, so you can create stunning sounds straight away and the pedal can store 99 loops within it, making it an excellent option for instantly loading pre-recorded loops on stage or for getting your ideas down.
There’s an expression pedal on the side of the pedal, allowing you to control the intensity of your effects as you play and there’s a USB port to allow you to import or export sounds.
This pedal is perfect for those who take looping seriously, and are doing it professionally on stage.
It won’t be the right pedal for those who are just getting started, due to both its complexity and steep price.
- Three stereo tracks allow you to loop multi-sectioned songs.
- Built-in effects including phaser, flanger and reverb.
- Includes a lot of built-in rhythms.
- It’s very expensive.
- Using it for songs with multiple sections can be very demanding on stage.
So, Which Should I Buy?
As you can see, loopers come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.
If you’re looking for something minute, you have the Donner Tiny Looper or the TC Electronic Ditto Looper to choose from. The Donner is the cheapest of these options, and also has reverse and half speed options to encourage creativity. The TC Electronic is more basic, acting as nothing more than a looper which makes it easy to use and understand.
If you want something a little bit bigger, whilst still not getting too complicated, the Boss RC-1, Vox Lil’ Looper or the Electro-Harmonix 720 will be more suited to your requirements. The Boss RC-1 is the simplest in the list, containing stereo inputs and outputs that can be looped easily but with no effects or drum beat options. The Vox Lil’ Looper is a little more complex, including an XLR input for mic options as well as quantize options and built-in effects. Electro-Harmonix’ 720 comes somewhere in between these two in terms of complexity, with some built-in effects and a memory bank, as well as stereo inputs and outputs.
Those wanting something medium-sized, you have the option of the Zoom G1on, Digitech Jam Man or the TC Electronic Ditto X4. The Zoom G1on acts as a perfect entry-level device to introduce you to not only looping but effects and modeling amps, too. The Digitech Jam Man has a USB input allowing you to import or export sounds, as well as two loop channels to shift between song sections. The TC Electronic Ditto also has this option, but it’s simpler than the Jam Man.
If you’re looking to go big, the professional options are the Pigtronix SPL Infinity Looper or the Boss Multi-Effect Processor RC-300. The Pigtronix device caters for two loops, two instruments and is also great for MIDI options. The Boss RC-300 can handle three instruments and loops, plus it has a huge memory and built-in effects. The RC-300 is a masterpiece of a pedal, but it’s also the most expensive by far.
Whichever of these devices is best suited to your needs, we hope that our reviews have helped you to find it. Have fun getting loopy!
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.