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The Best Loop Pedals - With Super Looper Performances

Published: Fri January 11, 2013  News Feed

The Best Loop Pedals - Fruity Loops And Sweet Beats

By Hugh McKenna

The Best Loop Pedals

If you're after more repeats, check out our delay pedal guide with analogue, digital and looping delay pedals.

Updated February 2013: Loop Station World Championship 3 With Boss

The title of world's best loop pedal artist (player?) has been handed out again at the House Of Blues in Anaheim. Won by British beatboxer Shlomo (check him out below) in 2011 the Loop Championship has been growing in popularity and it's easy to see why. With some staggering instrumental and technological acrobatics being performed, even if you're not big on the idea of loop pedals yourself then you can't help but marvel at someone composing a full arrangement in real time only using their voice. Here's current champ Grison from Spain doing just that...

In the past ten or so years the use of loop pedals has grown massively, with ever more complicated arrangements being constructed from number of any number of sources. Traditionally loopers only had a jack input for guitar/bass but more recently XLR inputs have been added for microphone use. So from solo beatboxers through guitar based songwriters to classical multi-instrumentalists now anyone can get in on the act. This has led to some mind blowing performances and indeed Boss established the Loop Station World Championship in recognition of this, loop pedal artists from around the world compete to get to the the final at NAMM every year and ultimately become the greatest loop pedal performer. Here's the gear and info you need to become king of loops.

Sound On Sound

It's easy to take things for granted and forget just how far we have come with recording technology. These days you can record countless channels simultaneously, apply FX and overdub on the fly on a device that fits in your bag. Many moons ago in a time before digital technology things were very different and being able to overdub on a recorded backing track was enough to get you a slot on prime time television. So it was with the late and truly great Les Paul (Lester Polsfuss to his mum) who is largely credited with being the inventor of sound on sound recording. Here's a break down of how he recorded 'How High The Moon' with Mary Ford, taken from the wonderful documentary 'Les Paul: Chasing Sound!'

Of course Britain had it's own great innovator in the form of Delia Derbyshire, described by the Guardian as 'the unsung heroine of British electronic music'. Back in the 60's and 70's the BBC was on the cutting edge of innovation in sound and synthesis, most notably composing the utterly futuristic Doctor Who theme tune. Certainly the most famous early example of electronic loops and of course the only way to get a sound on a continuous loop in those days was to literally run a spool of tape in a loop, check out the video below. Without Delia we might never have had house music, The Chemical Brothers, Kraftwerk or Gangnam Style (perhaps not such a great loss there).

Skip To The End

There were many developments in digital signal processing from the 60's through to the early 80's but things don't change significantly for loopers until the digital sampler becomes truly affordable with the introduction of the Akai S900 in 1986. Early pioneers such as Trevor Horn (producer for The Buggles and Frankie Goes To Hollywood), Herbie Hancock and the Pet Shop Boys all had an impact but these sampled loops might now be seen as a bit of a gimmick, perhaps most famously by Paul Hardcastle on his hit single '19'.

Eventually the whole musical landscape changed with the use of samplers, dance and hip hop dominated the charts and airwaves. However they still mostly concerned themselves with taking short musical phrases from old funk, soul and rock records. It wasn't until solid state memory and digital processing became small enough and cheap enough that we started to get the loop samplers we recognise today. Of course there are still fantastic modern samplers from companies such as Akai and Roland.

Best Loop Pedal Performances

We've seen increasingly ambitious use of loop pedals since their invention, whether it's a guitar, violin or a looping howl that's being recorded there is some amazingly proficient and technical use of loopers going on out there. It's probably easier to show some examples of great loop pedal performances and we'll stick to what we're good at and let you know how you get your hands on the gear to do the same.

Here's the amazing Alex Hutchings delivering a mind bending performance with a GR-55 guitar system, RC-300 looper and computer. A whole arrangement with guitar, synth, keys and even drums being played on the guitar.

Other Super Looper Performances

Artist What They Do Video Gear Used
Jamie Lidell An early pioneer of pure vocal looping, with many of the tracks on his 'Multiply' album being just his voice looped.   We can see a small format Boss looper here as well as one of their vintage delay pedals. Complete the sound with a little combo amp.
Ed Sheeran Perhaps the most famous looper of them all. Combining a great voice with superb guitar/looper chops! As we've reported previously Ed uses an RC-20XL looper. Now replaced by the RC-30.
Shlomo Winner of the 2011 Loop Station World Championship. Not just a phenomenal beat boxer but uses the looper as an instrument in itself.   Can be seen using an RC-50 (now RC-300) in this performance from the Loop Station World Championship. Might just be the best beatbox performance ever.
Andrew Bird Multi-instrumentalist Bird creates whole complex arrangements with an array of instruments.   Uses a DL4 in this TED talk demonstration, along with a huge array of other pedals by the looks of things. A multi effects would be a good accompaniment for a huge range of sounds.
KT Tunstall Grammy winner KT Tunstall gets her freak on. A simple but effective looper setup based around the Akai Headrush E2.

TC Electronic Ditto

Akai E2 Headrush
Supremely affordable and comes in a great dinky enclosure which will fit on any pedal board. If you just need straight, simple looping then the Ditto is for you.
  • Small and affordable
  • Easy to use
Serious feature set without a serious price tag. The Jamman has PC connectivity and storage for 35 minutes of mono, CD quality audio.
  • Memory expandable with SDHC card
  • Time Stretching
  • Aux Input for CD/MP3 player
  • USB connectivity.
Not just a straight looper the Headrush is also a great tape delay simulation. Get those dub reggae repeats and Pink Floyd textures.
  • Two footswitches for looping.
  • Tap tempo.
  • Dedicated outputs for each tape head on the delay.

Performance Loopers - Under £250

There's some serious competition in this price range, containing dedicated loopers with massive memory and backing tracks, exciting performance loop pedals with inspirational effects and combined delay/loopers which allow you to get really creative.

Boss RC-3 Loop Station Pedal

Digitech JamMan Stereo Looper/Phrase Sample
Something of an industry standard for straight up looping. Masses of built in memory allowing up to three hours of stereo recording.
  • Undo/Redo functionality.
  • USB Connectivity.
  • Rhythm Guide - drum backing tracks.
  • Can operate on a 9v battery or a power supply.
  • Aux Input.
One of the most affordable loop pedals with a dedicated XLR input. An excellent choice for the looper who wants a dedicated looper for use with acoustic sources.
  • Four dedicated footswitches to get control over your loops.
  • USB Connectivity.
  • Three stop modes (Stop, Finish, Fade).
  • Metronome with various sounds and time signatures.
  • SDHC card can expand memory, load up with drum, bass and guitar samples for a full band sound!
More than a straight looper the VDL1 can apply FX to the live and recorded signals. These can then be manipulated in real time with the expression pedal. Put down a rhythm part, reverse it then lay down a distorted wah solo on top for a huge, trippy sound!
  • Two independent loops can be recorded (up to 90 seconds combined).
  • 11 Pre-effects for live playing.
  • 11 Effects for the recorded signal.
  • Expression pedal for live manipulation.
  • Mic input.
Best Performance Looper Pedals

Great Delay And Looper Pedals

Line 6 DL4 Digital Delay Modeler

Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai

VOX DelayLab Delay Effects Pedal
A modern legend from the masters of gear modeling. The DL4 gives you 16 delay models, presets, true bypass operation and a quality looper in one large format pedal.
  • Get a tape, tube or BBD delay sound or get even deeper with huge wall of sound delays!
  • Tap tempo.
  • True Stereo operation.
An instrument in and of itself. The Memory Man gives you delays and a looper. Because the looper is dedicated you can actually record delay effects on the looper. This can give you a massive psychedelic arrangements, all via your pedal.

  • Tap tempo.
  • Intelligent reverse echo.
  • Echo filter.
  • Preset functionality.
A simply staggering number of effects have been crammed into the Delaylab. With 30 digital emulations of classic delays and wholly new inventions. The Delaylab is a cutting edge pedal.
  • Combine Loop and Delay effects simultaneously for exciting performances.
  • True stereo operation.
  • Preset functionality.
  • Tap tempo.

The Best Loop Pedals Money Can Buy

If the loop pedal is going to be central to your setup then you're going to want large memory, lots of dedicated controls as well as great features. Here's Dolphin's pick of the best loop pedals.

Greatest Loop Pedals

Line 6 JM4 Looper

Digitech JamMan Delay Looper

Boss RC-30 Loop Station Pedal

Boss RC-300 Loop Station
  • Four dedicated footswitches.
  • Numerous presets and built in backing tracks.
  • Amp models and effects for guitar or vocals on the XLR input.
  • SD card support.
  • Headphones out.
  • Undo feature.
  • Built in tuner.
  • Delay effects.
  • 8 dedicated footswitches.
  • USB connectivity.
  • SDHC card support.
  • Delay presets.
  • Power supply included.
  • Full stereo operation, stereo I/O and tracks for recording.
  • Built in loop FX.
  • Mic input with Phantom Power.
  • Rhythm guide with real drums for backing.
  • USB 2.0 connectivity.
For the dedicated looper who demands nothing but the best performance loop pedal.
  • Three stereo tracks with dedicated footswitches and controls for each.
  • Dedicated fader per track.
  • Expression pedal for effects control in real time.
  • 16 onboard effects optimized for looping.
  • XLR Microphone input with phantom power.
  • USB storage; import/export WAV files.
  • Import .Wav audio files from PC or Mac
  • Auxiliary Input mixes MP3 players with the loop output
  • Stereo mixdown track frees tracks for re-use
  • Overdub or punch in/out recording
  • Quantize or non-quantize (free running) modes
  • MIDI Clock Sync as master or slave
  • Most user parameters are MIDI controllable
  • USB port enables backup/restore with PC or MAC

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