Guitar Loop Pedals | Ultimate Guide
Over the past decade, guitar loop pedals (also known as “looper pedals”) and rack units have become an increasingly important tool on a guitarists pedal board. Whether you’re an electric guitar player or acoustic guitarist, whether you only play at home or you gig on stage, there’s a ton of value in having a guitar loop pedal at your disposal.
I’ve used a number of loop pedals over the years and over that time I’ve begun to see what features I value and why. Below I’m going to spend some time sharing exactly what a loop pedals is, how to integrate it into your playing, and what are the best loop pedals available on the market for guitars.
Bottom Line: If you’re feeling bored in your practice sessions or if you need a fun way to enhance your soloing skills, a loop pedal is going to open a door to creativity that you didn’t know you had. Once you play with a loop pedal, you’ll have to buy one. Once you buy one, you’ll never stop using it. (Don’t believe me? Check out the videos below in the “Who Uses a Loop Pedal” section)
What is a Guitar Looper Pedal?
Simply put, a loop pedal is a device used to capture sound clips which are then played over and over again (looped) and often overdubbed.
While loop machines have been around for quite a while, the idea of a guitar loop pedal is relatively recent.
Instead of the traditional box controlled by the hands of a DJ, loop pedals allow guitarists to control the looping and overdub features via foot switches.
There are a number of different ways that you can utilize a looper pedal including:
- Practicing Solos: just record yourself playing a few simple chords and then practice your solo technique without embarrassment!
- Compose a Song: nothing gets creative juices flowing better than an awesome-sounding track from which to write.
- Learn a Lick: most loop pedals allow you to record from an auxiliary input (like your phone, for example) and then slow that down without changing the pitch. This allows you to figure out how the guitarist you like played a certain lick.
- Build Your Own Performance: see some of the videos below to see exactly what I mean by this.
The value of a loop pedal is the ability to layer sounds. The possibilities are as endless as the creative minds who put these pedals to use, a few of which I want to introduce you to below.
Who Uses a Guitar Loop Pedal?
Loops pedals have slowly found their way into pop culture through a few very talented musicians. There are plenty more than I am able to introduce here (and I hope you’ll share your favorites in the comments below!), but the following three artists are my favorite:
The most modern of the three musicians, Ed Sheeran has become well-known for combining percussive acoustic sounds, a microphone and sweet melodies into a one-man-band. Although his pop hits have provided fame, his creativity on the loop pedal has earned a lot of respect from me.
As you may notice, Ed uses a Boss RC-30 for his loops, among many other pedals (see specs in the comparison chart below).
Jump to :28 when Ed begins playing
I saw Howie Day in concert in the early 2000’s when he was touring with Nickel Creek. He came out completely alone with his guitar, two microphones and a few pedals, but the layered sound that he crafted using his loop pedal was nothing short of genius. Watch the video to see what I mean!
In the following video you’ll notice that Howie actually uses two loop pedals, namely the Line 6 DL4 (see specs on the comparison chart below).
Phil was using the loop technology before it was cool. Back then it was only available as a rack unit called the “JamMan” but he knew how to push it to its creative limits using slap harmonics, reversing the loop and I once even witnessed him sing into his guitar sound hole.
Jump to the :25 mark where he begins his percussive loop.
There are obviously numerous other excellent musicians who play using a loop pedal, probably some more famous than these, but hopefully this gives you an idea of how a professional uses a loop pedal as part of their artistic arsenal.
Top 5 Guitar Loop Pedals
Based on pricing, features and popularity, here is a breakdown of my five favorite loop pedals on the market today. For further description on what each feature means and why they are important, scroll below the chart for more details.
When you’re looking to buy a loop pedal for your acoustic or electric guitar, there are a few different features you need to consider including available memory, types of inputs, number of switches and other miscellaneous features.
- Available Memory: the amount of memory available in a loop pedal dictates the length of your loop. Some manufacturers measure this in actual megabits while others tell you exactly how many seconds of memory you get (i.e. 30 seconds of loop time).
- Types of Inputs: While most loop pedals only accept quarter inch inputs (the standard guitar cable input), there are some which allow you to plug in an XLR and add a microphone to your loop sequences. In addition, there are some loop pedals which have auxiliary input jacks, which means that you can loop music from an MP3 player or other such device.
- Number of Switches: Some loop pedals have one switch while others have multiple. Some pedals have dedicated switches while others are programmable. The more features you want in your loop pedal, the more likely you are to need more switches otherwise you’ll be bending down to play with dials more than you want. Two of the pedals listed above have inputs for additional pedals to be added (sold separately).
- Miscellaneous Features: this is the category that makes each loop pedal different. Some companies create pedals with FX features like ½ time (slowing the loop to half speed) or reverse (reversing the entire loop). Other companies allow you to store a select number of loops and switch between them. All of these aren’t a necessary part of a loop pedal, but it could be icing on the cake for you.
How to Use a Loop Pedal
Using a guitar loop pedal can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. There are loop pedals with 5 different switches and there are loop pedals with only one. It all depends on what you want to do.
Basic Setup: for an acoustic guitarist setup is simple – just plug the guitar into the loop pedal input and either plug in headphones (if your looper pedal has a headphone jack) or connect the pedal to an amplifier. Thankfully there’s not much more to it than that.
For the electric guitarists there are obviously numerous ways you can insert a loop pedal into your signal chain. I recommend you have the loop pedal either at the very end of the chain or next to the end, perhaps before your volume pedal. The reason I suggest this is because most guitarists want control of the sound before it hits the looper. For example, I might use my octave pedal to create a bass line in the loop, but if that octave pedal comes after the loop pedal in my chain then everything I create would be dropped down an octave.
The Basic Loop: Although each loop pedal is different, the basic use is still the same: click a switch and play a couple bars of one chord, rhythm or multiple chords. When you’re done – and keeping in time with the beat – click another switch to begin the loop sequence. If you’ve done it right, it should immediately start playing where you began, allowing you to add to or solo over the loop.
The trick to using a loop pedal is training yourself in the right rhythm. It’s harder than it sounds unless you’re a natural at syncopation. Each time you hit the switch with your foot you have to be right on the beat or the whole thing falls apart.
Don’t worry, though. With enough practice it will become so natural you won’t even think about it. For a bit more explanation on using a loop pedal, check out this video:
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Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this Ultimate Guide to guitar looper pedals! If you’ve found this useful, please consider sharing it with your friends. Also, here are a few other guides you might enjoy by Guitar Adventures.