Guitar Loop Pedals | Ultimate Guide

Ultimate Guide to Loop Pedals (Plus the Top 5 Loop Pedals Compared!)

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?

An example loop pedal from Boss

This particular guitar loop pedal is the Boss RC-30

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:

Ed Sheeran

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

Howie Day

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 Keaggy

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.

 

TC Electronic Ditto

TC Electronic Ditto X2

Boss RC-30

Digitech JamMan

Line 6 JM4

Price:
All USD
$99$179$299$249$329
Memory:5 Minutes5 Minutes3 hours35 Minutes24 Minutes
Memory Slots?:NoneNoneNoneYes; SD card slotYes; SD card slot
Inputs:1 (guitar input)1 (stereo guitar I/O)2 (XLR Mic + stereo guitar I/O)2 (XLR Mic + Stereo guitar I/O) + aux input2 (XLR Mic + Stereo guitar I/O) + aux input
Switches:1 foot switch2 foot switches2 foot switches + input for more4 foot switches + input for more4 foot switches
Unique Features:One of the most simple loop pedals on the market.

Undo/redo functionality

True bypass

USB Connectivity
Loop FX (reverse & 1/2 speed)

Undo/Redo function

True Bypass

USB Connectivity

Stereo input and output
One of the most popular loop pedal options

USB Connectivity

Numerous Loop FX

Mic input w/ phantom power

Onboard rhythms
JamMan Loop Library USB connectivity (and software)

Aux input and headphone option

Built-in metronome

Loop FX (reverse, speed change)
Numerous preset options

7 Smart Control FX

100+ endless jam tracks and pre-recorded loops

Integrated Tuner

12 Line 6 Amp models
Compare:

TC
Ditto

Check pricing on Amazon

TC
Ditto X2

Check pricing on Amazon

Boss
RC-30

Check pricing on Amazon

Digitech
JamMan

Check pricing on Amazon

Line 6
JM4

Check pricing on Amazon

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.

Example of a Pedalboard that includes a guitar looper pedalBasic 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:

More Ultimate Guitar Guides

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.

 

23 Responses to Guitar Loop Pedals | Ultimate Guide

  1. Louie says:

    You lost me at “This particular guitar loop pedal is the Boss RC 30″…. I’ve researched loopers extensively too… Enough to know that the Boss looper pictured — and the same one Ed Sheeran uses in his video — is the discontinued RC 20 XL. Besides, it says so right on the pedal! OK then… So how credible will the rest of this article be? I’ll rest my judgement until I read it to the end.

    • Louie says:

      I’m replying to myself just to keep this on track. Sorry if I come off dry and factual, but like you, I want to get to the point and help anyone looking for a looper. In the Ed Sheeran clip, you can’t see his pedal at 00:28; go here to get a good look at it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX2eJsj9MiQ What you said about the benefit of loopers is all true. In addition, when you play to your own phrases you develop your own playing style — something every serious guitarist aspires to. There are two loopers you left off the list: EHX Nano 360 (as simple as the Ditto, but with a total of 6 minutes of recording and 11 memory slots); and the Boomerang (4 footswitches, true on the fly verse-chorus-verse accessibility, excellent sound for live playing, but no memory slots). In fairness to the JamMan Stereo and Line 6 JM4, SD card slots give them many hours of additional recording time. The JamMan also has 9 on board rhythm tracks, similar to the Boss RC 30, but unlike the Boss, it has no FX. By the way, the RC 30 FX are bogus; if you’re looking for good sounding FX listen to the JM4. In fact, you owe to yourself to check out Line 6, period.
      Bottom line: loopers are a must for any serious or aspiring guitarist, but it’s a tough call. Budget, functionality and personal
      preference all play a role. I settled on the JamMan, but like U2… “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.

    • Josh Summers says:

      Hey Louie, thanks so much for your comment! You’re absolutely right about that picture so I appreciate the correction. The picture of the Boss RC-30 has been changed to the right one.

      The rest of your feedback is great and I appreciate the addition of your favorite loopers, the EHX Nano 360 and the Boomerang, both of which I haven’t had a chance to personally try out. There are plenty of options to choose from, so sometimes you just have to flip a coin and decide, else you’ll always be trying to find what you’re looking for! 🙂

  2. Claudia says:

    I have a regular acoustic guitar that you can’t plug in to anything, if I got a sound hole could I use that to connect to a loop pedal??

    • Josh Summers says:

      Hey Claudia, great question. Yes, you can do that without problem. Heck, you can mic your guitar to use with a guitar looper pedal but you’re possibly going to have to deal with feedback issues 😉

  3. ed hansen says:

    why not include the EHX 45000 and the TC helocon VL3 series. ?
    if each track or preset or part of can’t bve saved to a pc via usb; why bother.
    I read enough problems on the RC300 or 500 to not bother.

    • Josh Summers says:

      Thanks for the comment, Ed! These are some great units and there are plenty more that I would like to include later but I can’t include them all. What is it that you like about these in particular?

  4. Chris MacDonald says:

    Great posting; I am new to looping and settled on a Jamman Stereo as my first looper and so far it has been a steep but exciting learning curve. I am looking at getting a Boss RC 30 or RC 300 once my skill level improves to the point where I can justify the purchase. If I go for the RC 300 I may hang onto the Jamman as the size makels it easy to cart around. I did find your posting a good introduction to loopers. Thank You.

  5. Andrea says:

    Hey! Great article! I’ve been playing guitar for about two/three years now so I guess I’m not a beginner anymore, but I’m not really that advanced either. Playing with a loop pedal seems like a great way to extend my skills while adding even more joy to playing the guitar, but I’m afraid my “lack of skill” might make it too hard to play use it properly… Any advice?

  6. Bluesman55 says:

    Any feedback on the Pigtronix Infinity Looper?

    • Josh Summers says:

      Hey Bluesman! Thanks for the comment.

      Unfortunately, I have little experience with the Pigtronix Inifinity Looper. If you get it, I would love to have you do a review here! 🙂

      • Bluesman55 says:

        Hi Josh,

        Well, I pulled the trigger on the Infinity Looper. It works great!!! Tonnes of functionality. I also have the BeatBuddy and I’m having some challenges synchronizing both devices together. Hopefully that will get sorted out tonight as I read through the 1/4″ thick text manual that comes with it.

        A step-by-step, rig set-up video would have been nice for the BB and Pigtronix crew. Oh well, we’ll get it all sorted. Review to follow after it’s all working.

  7. Bluesman55 says:

    The Infinity looper has been developed to work seamlessly with the Beat Buddy, apparently. It has some great features. I’m a few weeks away from buying one. At least, I’m in the “strongly considering it” category. I want to use it for live performances. I’d be happy to post something when I have more to offer.

    In the mean time, the infinity looper has loads of video on the Pigtronix site. Cheers.

  8. Brian says:

    Hey Josh, I’m particularly interested in the part where you said, “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.”

    Can you list some examples that specifically have this function? Particularly, does the TC Ditto X2 do this? Thanks!

  9. Kieran says:

    Im intrested in getting a loop pedal but when i watch people on youtube they either have a mixing desk or a computer. I only have a guitar and amp. What else do i need to start me off ?

  10. Bluesman55 says:

    You have every thing you need to use a loop pedal. Mixing desks/computers aren’t “needed” to use basic loopers. Get one and have fun!!!

  11. Zeljko says:

    I have Digitech RP155 guitar processor. From Digitech tell me that they don’t suggest that someone connect any effect pedals behind processor and I don’t know whether they mean on looper pedals, too. Can you write about NUX looper core and can I connect some effect pedals in front this looper pedal? Thank you, wonderful topic!

  12. Shannon says:

    My daughter has an acoustic that you can’t plug in….can you use a loop pedal with a guitar like that?

    • Bluesman55 says:

      Unless you put a pick up onto that guitar the other option to get the signal to a looper would be a pain. Go to your local music store and get a reasonably acoustic guitar pick up. They can be installed simply and quickly with limited tools needed.

  13. Frank O'Connor says:

    I just bought the bew 3 ttone loop. Is this a looper or sould I send it back?

    Frank

  14. Zen says:

    Hi.Ty for this info.I got a fender Mustang 3 v2 for amp.
    I just heard about loop pedal and plan to buy one.
    Any suggestions about which one works the best with my amp?

  15. […] Music is the soul of the human race. It feeds our creativity and awakens emotions within us. These feelings lead many to begin playing instruments and creating their own musical pieces. Guitars are one of the most popular instruments to learn due to their versatility in different types of music. In the creative process, sometimes players will want to create a layered sound and for that they need a guitar loop pedal. […]

  16. Ben says:

    I just bough an EHX Nano 360 Looper pedal and love it! It was less expensive than others and lets me record up to 6 minutes of a clip and store in 11 different settings which is great for practice, rehearsals or performing. I record chord track and then use it to practice scales, riffs and licks. I already have tons of distortion available in my amps and plenty of effects in my portable amp so the looper was the essential missing feature. I think next to looper, a delay, flanger, pitch shift/bed, and wah pedal are the others quite important for music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *