Whether you're after a looper pedal to finally get underway with your ambient prog project, or giving your band a boost by layering electric guitar and acoustic guitar parts live, having a loop pedal in pride of place on your pedalboard will open you up radically different creative approaches that may become your signature with enough practice. Here we've rounded up the best looper pedals available today, to help you understand what looping is, and where to start.
Some artists use loopers to trigger pre-recorded samples, rather than loop their riffs on-the-fly (like Ed Sheeran), and many looper pedals now support importing and exporting sound clips, or even an external memory card.
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If you're unsure where to start with looping, things don't need to be particularly complex to begin with. If you only have, say, one or two sound effects or overdubs per song, a simple looper pedal could replace a drum trigger pad or even a laptop in your live rig. A looper pedal is also more portable – particularly if you have an ever-growing pedalboard – and far cheaper to replace if it gets damaged or stolen.
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What is the best looper pedal right now?
For the most basic but effective live option among the best looper pedals here, it's hard to get past the TC Electronic Ditto Looper X2. With essentially only two controls (start and stop), it's difficult to mess up loops live, unless your timing is really off. With a little practice before you take things public, the Ditto Looper X2 is as powerful as anything else, and the lack of quantization is actually a bonus if you're playing in different time signatures or using polyrhythms.
If you have money to burn and the smaller units featured in this best looper pedals guide aren't cutting it for you in terms of features or the number of loops possible, the Boomerang III Phrase Sampler is our top recommendation. Simply put, you'll find this unit at the feet of many touring artists who use loops.
A new entry is the Boss RC-10R Rhythm Loop Station. This looper/drum machine hybrid features a load of on-board beats and loops to really inspire your creativity.
Choosing the best looper pedal for you
At the simple end of selection of the best looper pedals, there are units that record a phrase and immediately start playing it back, with few-to-no controls on the front panel except perhaps a mix control. At their most complicated, loopers act as digital workstations that allow multiple channels of synchronised audio, quantizing and different time signatures, as well as foot-controls dedicated to each loop.
For our money, the single most significant feature of the best looper pedals is a dedicated start/stop button for loops. Most loopers above the basic entry-level models will have this, but at the cost of a larger pedal. If you're using it live, such a feature is basically essential. If it's intended only for practice or songwriting use, you can get away with a streamlined unit.
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Extra features like quantization can be incredibly useful, but we've found that these often require changes in your live set-up. For example, your drummer playing to a click. When using quantized loops, you can sometimes find yourself avoiding 'organic' compositional tricks, like changing time signatures or the song tempo. Sometimes, less really is more.
Finally, as you're likely to be stacking recorded loops, the quality of the analogue/digital/analogue (or A/D/A conversion) will matter. As with recording into a DAW, 24bit is a good benchmark to opt for.
The best looper pedals to buy right now
The TC Electronic Ditto X2 is still incredibly popular as an entry-level looper pedal, and the truism with groceries applies to TC's looper line: if you go one above the cheapest, you get the best value.
So it goes with the Ditto X2. Incredibly simple on the front panel, there's a single control for the loop volume, then it's one tap to record, one to play, and there's a dedicated stop button.
There are two effect modes too, which offer reversed playback and half-time playback of your loops, stereo I/O, and the ability to load and save loops via USB. Simple, but highly effective and lots of fun to use, which is why it's our current top pick for best looper pedals.
The latest in Boss’s Loop Station collection earns the ‘R’ suffix due to its built-in rhythm generator, making it almost like a looper/drum machine hybrid.
On-board you’ll find 280 preset rhythms covering a host of musical genres and each includes two unique sections (Pattern 1 and Pattern 2) with transition fills and an intro and ending. There’s also storage for 50 imported user rhythms
In terms of looping functionality, there’s a stereo looper with two independent tracks, six hours of recording time and 99 onboard memories for storing your own phrases.
This is an inspirational pedal for songwriting and practice, and it’s a capable live tool, too, particularly if you’re a solo act looking to produce a bigger sound on-stage.
Read the full Boss RC-10R Rhythm Loop Station review
The Boomerang III may be the size of a bridge console on the starship Enterprise, and it may not have modern affordances like loop saving and loading via either SD card or USB – and there's no quantization, although it can be sync'd to a midi clock –but there's got to be a reason so many pros use it, right?
The simple answer is that it's stacked with features for live-only use. This best looper pedal contender isn't aimed at being a compositional tool, or playing back pre-canned backing tracks. It's there to support players making loop-based music on the fly. As a result, there's features you can find on other units (think one shots and stutter effects) but also unique ones. These include a reverse mode that enables you to sample yourself to create reversed solos, like the oddball Digitech Space Station.
Loops can also be copied, shuffled, erased and re-routed on the fly, with serial modes that enable you to transition between loops to effectively keep the flow of a song going from section to section.
Depending on the sample rate and whether you choose mono or stereo, there's up to 35 minutes of recording time available on the Boomerang III, and two assignable footswitches. With the Sidecar Controller (an optional extra), you can expand this further.
At the core of the Boss RC-30 are two synchronised loops. There's a streamlined interface with a couple of sliders for volume and then two footswitches. The footswitches are pulling double-duty: where the left-hand one stops its loop with a double-tap, the right stops all loops with a double-tap.
Whether it's on these smaller units or the larger RC-50/300 sized ones, which offer quantization, we've never been a fan of that pattern, preferring instead to bank through loops with a button if it means we can have dedicated start and stop footswitches.
Although they're not something we've ever found a use for, there are backing tracks in a variety of styles that can be triggered. More useful are the effects – especially as this is a Boss unit – with a step phaser, delay, sweep filter, lo-fi setting and pitch bend all ready to be applied to your loops.
The RC-30 also makes our list of best looper pedals because it can save and load audio via USB, with the ability to load and play back WAV files. However, this is where things dip into less-than-ideal territory. For live playing, most audiences won't notice the difference between 16 and 24 bit, but if you've got tracks from a recording you want to load on, chances are they'll be 24 bit. Hardly the end of the world, but certainly a bit of extra effort.
Though two loops might not sound like much at this price, you can add up to 256 overdubs per loop, and the two loops can be sync'd as well. That synchronisation is not only the basic kind; that is to say, the two loops playing for the same length of time, but also making one multiples of the other.
In addition to parallel operation, the loops can be set to series: the one starting after the other for more streamlined transitions between sections in a song.
The Pigtronix Infinity Looper isn't quantized, so you have to be precise in laying down your initial loop. That said, if you're playing over backing tracks you can synchronise the loop with the backing track via MIDI. You can even use it for two guitarists, or a guitar and a synth if you're pulling double duty. Do this by separating the stereo inputs and outputs, accessible via a dedicated split mode.
The Infinity Looper features in our best looper pedals guide because it has some useful bells and whistles too, with a reverse function, variable speed and stutter modes. If you hook up an expression pedal, you can also control the loop ageing with that.
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Given its price, the Digitech Jamman Express XT has a lot to recommend it. Taking on the lessons of its bigger brothers in the Jamman range, the Express has ten minutes of space for loops and stereo I/O. Crucially, it has a feature called JamSync, via which you can chain together multiples of these small pedals to expand your loops.
Like all single-button loopers, there's always the downside of getting the unit to stop cleanly. Recording is a breeze, with the same 'tap once to record, once to end the loop and start playback' as most other loopers, but the double-tap-to-stop has always been the sort of thing that's easy to mess up live.
However, if you're a bedroom player or you're more co-ordinated than us, the above might not be an issue. If so, the Jamman Express XT is one of the best looper pedals for offering excellent value for money.
Ground zero for guitar looping, its powerful, expressive looper earned the Line 6 DL4 legendary status as one of the most important guitar effects ever made. However, its large size and tendency to die have seen its popularity wane as smaller, more reliable multi-delays have come on to the market.
As a looper, it can very much hold its own, with features like one-shot loops, speeding up and re-triggering that many other loopers still don't have. That said, depending on where you are in the world, it may be surprisingly expensive for a unit released in the year 2000, and there is a reason that many of the pros who used it as a looper traveled with a couple of spares.
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The Electro-Harmonix 720 is named for the 720 seconds (12 minutes) of loops that it can store across 10 dedicated loops. Although scrolling between these on the fly live is definitely in the 'flying by the seat of your pants' camp, you can attach an external three-button footswitch to access the undo/redo functionality and the bank up/down controls.
In our opinion, it's better to have the banking controlled by the knob, leaving the two footswitches free to act as dedicated start and stop controls. Like the TC Electronic Ditto X2, the Electro-Harmonix 720 Stereo Looper Pedal offers some effects as well, with reverse and half-time modes. It also has a loop fadeout mode that will gradually fade a repeating loop out.
Although the looper on the DigiTech Trio+ is pretty basic as a standalone looper, if you're a bedroom player working on songs, or you're looking to thrash out ideas before hitting band practice, the Trio+ might be better for your needs than even the most advanced looper pedal.
Why? Well, pedals like the RC-30 offer backing tracks, but the power of the Trio+ is its ability to play in a loop and then instantly generate a bass and drum backing track that can be modified to fit a number of styles. The pedal also supports up to five passages that enable you to move through the component parts of a song.
The original Trio was strictly for non-live use, but, so long as your parts are simple enough and you've got access to a PA to run it into, the Trio+ might just keep up live. Though for our money, it's still better seen as a compositional aid rather than a reason to never help your drummer pack down his stands again.
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Previous versions of the smallest looper in the Boss range have felt difficult to use live, but despite the RC-1's single-button operation, the huge glowing ring to denote the loop length and playback position somehow turns this around. The Boss RC-1 Loop Station is intuitive to use and the display is very clear as to where you are in your loop or capture, meaning that we made fewer mistakes.
It's not mentioned in their top-line specs, but like the RC-30 the RC-1 is 16bit, which shouldn't be an issue for live use. It doesn't have any save and recall functionality, but the loop you've recorded is preserved when the unit is powered off. That helps you to avoid any frustrating mistakes if you're using this looper as a composition tool.
The HeadRush pedalboard amp modeller and multi-fx unit sounds fantastic, but despite having a large touch-screen, it's less intuitive to use than other units, such as the Line 6 Helix.
To some extent, the same is true of the HeadRush Looper. In terms of features, it has everything you could ever need: reverse and transposing options, a slew of I/O ports on the back, up to four-track recording, and loading/saving via both USB and SD card.
However, at the time of writing, the footswitches aren't reassignable beyond their 'hold' function, and the 'stop all' switch is on the second row, as are the 'stop' switches for the four main loops. Anyone with experience of live-looping will tell you that you're usually juggling loops, and the footswitches need to be as close to your feet as possible.
Being able to stop and start a loop by either rapidly hitting the 'stop' on one and 'start' on another with one foot, or rocking with both your feet to instantaneously switch loops is a staple of live-looping performance, if you're not playing to pre-canned loops that you could sequence.
As a result, guitarists looking to record and overdub multiple instruments and don't need to tap-dance will likely get on with the HeadRush, while those doing on-the-fly looping might find it leads to mistakes when playing live.