For those of you who predominantly play acoustic or electric guitar, a looper pedal may prove to be the most valuable music purchase that you ever make.
Unfortunately, the sheer variety of pedals available today can make purchasing a looper a bit overwhelming. There are dozens of manufacturers and hundreds of models, all of which come with their own pros and cons.
But thankfully for you, we’ve combed through a wide variety of sources in an attempt to help you find the best looper pedal for your needs. We’ll give you a basic breakdown of the pedals, as well as great recommendations for the one you should get!
If you're short on time or just want to get right to the winners, we've summarized our findings:
- Bottom Line:Far and away the most recommended looper pedal, the Ditto gets high marks for its quality, reliability, and simplicity. If you need > 5 mins loop time or need to store your loops for live use, this might not be the best choice. Given its friendly price tag, all in it's an indispensable tool. Best of the Best
- Bottom Line:The RC-3 is a feature-laden looper pedal, offering 3 hrs of loop time, storage for 99 presets, a built-in drum machine, AUX in, and more. The features come as a slightly higher price tag, and less simplicity than the Ditto. A fantastic choice if you demand more of your Looper, in a nice compact package.
- Bottom Line:Worthy alternative to the Ditto, with double the recording time (10 mins). Jam Sync feature allows you to sync multiple Jam Sync-enabled loopers together, which is helpful for more complex and live use. The bright status LEDs are a huge plus. Sometimes offered cheaper than the Ditto, keep an eye out on the price!
- Bottom Line:Often cited as the best looper under $100, the G1on is also a multi-FX unit. Remarkably pristine sound given its very budget-friendly price. 30 secs of loop time is limiting, but you can combine loops with any of the choice on-board fx & drums, for instant "one-(wo)man-band" status. Best Bang for the Buck
- Bottom Line:A powerful loop pedal, especially when paired with the optional FS3X Foot Switch. 10 min loop time, stereo ins/outs, and AUX in are great features. Syncing with the JamManager XT software is not ideal, but with a lower price and slightly better audio quality than the Boss RC-3, this is a worthy contender.
- What Does A Looper Pedal Do?
- What Should I Look For In A Looper Pedal?
- How Did We Choose The Winners?
- The 5 Best Looper Pedals?
So, What Does A Looper Pedal Do?
For those of you who aren’t already aware, a looper pedal is a device which records the signal from your guitar and then plays it over and over again. A looper pedal differs from a delay because the signal is repeated for as long as the musician requires, whereas a delay will only repeat a signal for a short amount of time. A delay pedal is an effect, whereas a looper pedal is more of a tool.
What’s so great about a looper pedal is that it allows a musician to create their own backing tracks on the fly, giving him/her dramatically more control over their practice routine.
To give an example, let’s assume that you want to practice some jazz improvisation at a medium tempo in the key of C Major. Now you could spend half an hour on the web trying to find a jam track that’ll fit your needs, or you could use a looper pedal to easily lay down a basic chord progression and get to practicing.
Some musicians also use looper pedals for live performance, laying down the basic progression of the song and then adding ornamentation on top of it. A good example of an artist who commonly uses this technique is Ed Sheeran.
Here's an inspiring performance from Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice, who uses looper pedals to not only loop his vocals, but also switches between acoustic and electric guitar to record different parts (the fun starts around 4:10 into the video). He would need four or five other musicians to do the work his one (or perhaps two) looper pedals are doing.
What Should I Look For In A Looper Pedal?
There was a time when we were standing right where you are now, unsure of just what we needed in a looper pedal and what we should expect to spend.
Having demoed a pretty wide variety of loopers, we’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t really need a lot of features in your looper pedal to get a lot of use out of it. Sure having the ability to slow tracks down on the fly or easily transfer them to your computer is handy, but it’s by no means a necessity.
At the end of the day, most looper pedals on the market are going to perform fairly well. The most important thing is that you a purchase looper with a well built chassis (the case of the pedal) and components that will hold up under the stress you’ll be putting it through.
Generally, a looper pedal is going to run you somewhere in the neighborhood of $100, and a feature rich looper could easily run you $200-300.
How Did We Choose The Winners?
Our research method is very comprehensive. We scour the web for forum threads from the likes of reddit and Gearslutz where people are asking "What's the best looper pedal?" Instead of relying on individual opinions, we tally up each time a looper pedal receives a recommendation or endorsement from an owner. This yielded a master list of about 23 pedals, and from that we sorted out the top 5. Then, we thoroughly read reviews for the top 5, watched demo videos, and finally went to try them out ourselves at our local music shops.
And as always, it’s important to clarify what “best” means in the context of this article. Sure, a $300 high-end looper pedal may have a lot of features that you won’t find on a $50 model, but that doesn’t matter to someone who can only scrape together $50. In our top 5 list, we make sure to include looper pedals that hit a variety of budget ranges, and we make sure to name the Best of the Best, and the Best Bang for Your Buck choices.
The 5 Best Looper Pedals
So without much further ado, here are the best looper pedals.
TC Electronic Ditto Looper
Loop Time: 5 minutes
The TC Electronic Ditto Looper pedal is without a doubt the best loop pedal on the market today for most guitarists. Think of it almost like the iPhone of looper pedals. We say that with conviction, since when we hunted down countless "what’s the best looper pedal?" forum threads, the Ditto came up the most liked and recommended one again and again. In fact, if you’ve read any of our other gear buying guides, you know sometimes when we tally up the votes, it’s a pretty close race between the gear that comes in first, second, and sometimes third place. In this case, the Ditto stole the show, coming in first by a huge margin!
The TC Electronic Ditto Looper is outstanding first and foremost because it’s a simple and affordable looper. TC Electronic set out to make a pedal by guitarists, for guitarists, and it shows in how relatively straightforward it is to operate. Not only is it simple and functional, but the sound quality is outstanding due to its 24-bit uncompressed audio fidelity. This is important because it makes for great clarity and distinction between the layers you’re looping. The Ditto is great even when it’s not on, with its true bypass circuitry (meaning your guitar signal goes through it unaffected). And to take it another step further, the Ditto has analog-dry-through, meaning that even when it’s on, the dry signal comes through the pedal, all analog, unaltered in any way. The Ditto Looper is so well-received by guitarists because it gives you the feeling that every feature that is essential to looping is simply best-in-class. If you want to get an idea of just how well-received it is, it has a whopping 400+ positive reviews on Amazon.
The interface on the Ditto couldn’t be much simpler - you have a single volume knob to control the loop volume, and a single footswitch to operate the pedal. In terms of the tech specs, you have 5 minutes of looping time, which is ample time to record and loop and entire song if you want to. You also get unlimited overdubs, meaning you can record layers upon layers to your heart’s content. At first it might seem strange that the Ditto is fully controllable by a single switch - and admittedly, it can take a little bit of practice to get used to using it seamlessly. Punch the switch once and the light turns red, which is record mode. Punch it again to stop recording, and the light turns green to indicate playback mode. The light conveniently blinks at the start of the loop. When it’s in playback mode, you can press the switch to arm it for recording, and it actually starts recording at the start of the loop, which is super convenient. Don’t like the loop you just recorded? Punch the switch and hold it for a second to undo (or redo). Press switch twice to fully stop the loop. Again, these controls might take a little bit to get used to (especially the double-tap to stop), but after playing with the Ditto Looper for a couple of hours they’ll become second nature.
The TC Electronic Ditto Looper is not completely without flaws. For one, it doesn’t have a battery. You must power it with a 9V power supply providing 100 mA or more. We got our Ditto from Amazon (hooray for Amazon Prime free 2-day shipping), and also got this $10 Planet Waves 9V Power Adapter, which is the recommended power supply and works perfectly to power the Ditto. Also, this pedal’s simplicity might not be for everyone. If you are a live performer with complex looping needs when it comes to your layers and arrangements, you might require more options that what the Ditto Looper provides. Unlike some other looper pedals on the market, you can’t save any recorded loops with the Ditto. This is unfortunate if you need to store a bunch of pre-recorded loops for songs you want to perform. Also, say you are songwriting and come up with some brilliant loop worthy of recording, you’ll have to hook it up to something that is capable of recording. As soon as you switch the Ditto off, you’ll lose whatever you had going on it. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a terrible thing; we found that by having to recreate loops each time we switched the Ditto on, we had to inject more creativity and come up with even more interesting stuff!
Bottom Line: The TC Electronic Ditto Looper is, overall, truly the best looper pedal out there right now. For composition, songwriting, practice, and live use, it really has no equal. The recording quality is great, and the impact to your guitar’s tone is minimal, if not nonexistent. It’s definitely the looper to get if your looping needs are relatively simple. We love this quote from an Owner of the Ditto:
I have one and it's fantastic. Does exactly what it's supposed to do and nothing else. And it's cheap. And it's sturdy.
We really can’t stress how good this pedal is, especially for the budget-friendly price it is offered at. Simply having one handy as a practice tool will tremendously improve your guitar playing, timing, rhythm chops, soloing, creativity, etc. Whether you’re replacing your old looper pedal, or buying your first one, there’s a 99.8% chance you’ll fall in love with the Ditto. Definitely the Best of the Best.
Boss RC-3 Loop Station
Loop Time: 3 hours
The TC Electronic Ditto may have taken first place by a large margin, but second place by a significant margin goes to the Boss RC-3 Loop Station. Immediately when you look at it you’ll notice it lacks the dead-simple interface that the Ditto has, but in turn it adds some pretty great features. These features, plus the Boss build-quality, reliability, and experience in making loop pedals make the RC-3 a very strong contender.
The tiny buttons placed close together might seem intimidating at first, but rest assured that operating the Boss RC-3 is pretty straightforward and simple. In fact, you can ignore the buttons and get straight to looping by hitting the footswitch once, and the red light in the top-left corner indicates you’re in record mode. Hit it again and both green and red LEDs light up meaning you’re in playback AND recording mode. Hit it yet again, and just the green one stays lit, meaning you’re playing back your loop. Double-tap the footswitch to stop looping. This operation is very similar to that of the Ditto. The RC-3 also has the handy feature of starting and stopping the recording on the measure, so you don't have to have perfect timing with the footswitch.
We were surprised to find the Boss RC-3 being recommended in forum threads that were asking for the best budget looper pedals... we don’t think the RC-3 has a budget-friendly price tag. However, it does have quite the impressive set of features. You get a whopping 3 hours of loop time, and 99 presets to store your loops in. And speaking of storing loops, the RC-3 has a USB port so you can save your loops to a computer, or load WAV files into this pedal to be part of your loops, and have those be saved (no special software required, which is great). As a side note, this works great not just for looping, but just for storing any kind of sound effects. Say a song of yours needs a sound effect like a clap of thunder. Find that sound sample online, load it up into one of the 99 slots of the RC-3, and boom, you’ve got a mini sampler! OK, moving on, you get a AUX IN 1/8" jack so you can plug in an iPod, iPad, or other mp3 player and have that be part of your loops as well. You also have the option of mono or stereo inputs and outputs, which is handy. If operating this loop pedal with the single Boss footswitch seems too difficult, the RC-3 has the option of an external footswitch, which takes some of the functionality of the RC-3 and expands it out to it (Boss recommends using the Boss FS-5U Non-latching Footswitch).
One more feature worth mentioning is the Rhythm feature, essentially a built-in drum machine, which you can use as a metronome (with a handy tap tempo button, so you can set the tempo you want on the fly, though several reviewers lamented the tap tempo not being displayed nor being able to be adjusted incrementally). The rhythm portion also comes with its own volume knob. This is a great feature for practicing, but we wouldn’t recommend using the built-in drum tracks in recordings or live; they simply sound a bit thin, cheap, and basic, and overall not that great. The RC-3 also comes with 9 pre-recorded loops to jam along with, complete with bass, drums, and piano parts. A fun feature to practice and play with, but by no means essential.
In terms of sound quality, it’s a notch below the TC Electronic Ditto in terms of clarity. This is due to the loops being in 16-bit audio, as opposed to 24-bit. The RC-3 also introduces an ever-so-slight bit of noise to the signal chain, and when switched off it is unfortunately not true bypass. These are minor annoyances, and only the most sensitive ears will be able to tell.
Bottom Line: Despite some drawbacks, the Boss RC-3 is a great little loop pedal. It holds its own against the significantly more expensive Boss RC-30 Loop Station, in a much more compact package. If the 5 minute loop time and lack of loop storage of the TC Electronic Ditto is too limiting, the Boss RC-3 is the one to get. The drum machine functionality - while not the best quality - is good for practicing your chops, but what we really love is the AUX IN, and the ability to hook it up to your computer via USB and transfer your loops back and forth. The price is a little on the high end, but you’re getting a lot of great features and recording capacity with the price still far lower than some of the premium $300 looper pedals out there.
DigiTech JamMan Express XT
Loop Time: 10 minutes
Sporting a funky vintage racecar aesthetic, the DigiTech JamMan Express XT is as dependable as it is stylish. Featuring 10 minutes of stereo recording time as well as an easy to read three LED display, the DigiTech JamMan Express might quickly become your favorite practice tool. The race for the third place loop pedal was tight, but the JamMan Express just barely edged out the competition. After this review, you’ll see why it’s very worthy of being on a best looper pedals list.
The DigiTech JamMan line actually has several looper pedals at various sizes, feature-sets, and price points, and the JamMan Express XT is the most compact and most affordable one. If you’re in the market for a looper pedal in around the $99 price range, chances are you’ll be looking at this one and the TC Electronic Ditto (in nearly every forum and review we looked at it seemed people were trying to decide between the two). If you go strictly by our analysis and the number of recommendations both pedals received, the Ditto objectively wins. Subjectively however, there are several things that might sway you towards the JamMan Express.
Like the Ditto, the JamMan has true bypass which keeps your signal nice and clean when the pedal is off. Unlike the Ditto, the JamMan has stereo inputs and outputs, which is a nice option to have handy. You can power it with a 9V adapter, or a 9V battery (it comes with a 9V battery, so the moment the pedal arrives at your doorstep, you can plug it in and play with it). Honestly though, when we were testing this pedal out, the battery wore out quite quickly, so like with most pedals we highly recommend you use it with a power adapter. The operation is remarkably similar to the Ditto. You have an On/Off footswitch, and a nice big volume knob to set the Loop Level. Stepping on the footswitch once kicks it into recording mode. Stepping on it again kicks it into play mode. Hitting it yet again switches it into dub (i.e. overdub) mode, so you can record layers on top of the original loop. Pretty simple. Its “silent clear" feature means that you can press and hold the footswitch while playback is stopped, and your loop clears out instantly with no fuss (this is actually better than some loopers that might play a tiny clip of your loop when you’re instead trying to clear it out).
The JamMan has twice the recording time of the Ditto, an ample 10 minutes, and also lets you do infinite overdubs. One feature we love about the DigiTech JamMan more than any other looper pedal are the 3 big bright LEDs indicating what mode you’re in. Whether you’re casually playing at home or performing in a dark, smoky venue, glancing down and seeing a brightly lit red (record), yellow (overdub), or green (play) LED is massively helpful. Another nice feature is Jam Sync. On the back of the JamMan you can see IN and OUT jacks for Jam Sync, which allows you to take different pedals with the Jam Sync feature and lock them together, meaning the loops start and stop at the exact same time, synchronized with each other. This is good for advanced looping, and it’s more of a nice-to-have feature.
Bottom Line: The DigiTech JamMan Express XT is a serious contender for space on your pedalboard. Its build quality is solid, it sounds great, and packs more features and more looping time than the Ditto in an ever-so-slightly larger footprint. The big bright status LED lights alone are almost enough to seal the deal for us. You still can’t save any loops, so if that’s a must-have requirement for you, take a look at the Boss RC-3. Whether practicing, jamming, performing, or composing, you can’t really go wrong with the JamMan Express. If price is the deciding factor, keep a very close eye on Amazon as the price of both this and the TC Ditto tend to fluctuate a bit.
Zoom G1on Guitar Multi-Effects Processor & Looper
Loop Time: 30 seconds
The Zoom G1on Guitar Multi-Effects Processor is actually quite an incredible pedal, and an incredible bargain. The entry level price for a dedicated looper pedal is around $100, and with the G1on Zoom you not only get you a looper for half that price, but also a full-fledged multi-fx processor! Given the price of admission and the many recommendations it received for people asking for the “best looper pedal under $100”, the G1on earns a solid place on our list. We’ll touch on a lot of its features, but we’ll mostly focus on reviewing it as a looper pedal, since that’s what you came for!
The impressive thing about the Zoom G1on is how good it sounds given its very budget-friendly price tag. It’s one of those rare guitar pedals that makes you wonder how they were able to pull of the price vs quality without sacrificing much. Sure, if you’re an effects pedal purist and have a pedalboard built out with the best of everything, multi-fx pedals might not impress you. For the rest of us, the amp and effects modeling of the G1on sounds fantastic. You get 100 guitar effects (delay, reverb, distortion, amp models, etc), 68 built-in rhythm accompaniment patterns to jam along with, and even a built-in tuner. Trust us, we're not exaggerating when we say this thing has some quality sounds. The 240+ positive reviews on Amazon back us up.
On to the looping functionality. The Zoom G1on allows for 30 seconds of loop time, and infinite overdubs. 30 seconds is quite a bit less time than most dedicated loop pedals offer, but that’s one of the tradeoffs you have to make for this price. Still, it’s ample time to record an interesting lick or progression, making this a great practice tool. While having 60 seconds would be better, we’re personally ok with 30 seconds, since we don’t find ourselves needing to loop 5 minute songs very often. Of course, your milage may vary. The audio quality is good, 16-bit 44.1kHz (CD quality). Remember how we mentioned the 68 built-in rhythm patterns? Well, you can play along to any of them in your loops, which lets you get pretty creative with this thing. The drums sound much better and more realistic than the cheesy sounding ones of the Boss RC-3. Operation is simple, with two very easy-to-stomp foot switches (the left one controls play and record, the right one is to stop and clear). Unfortunately, there is no undo function if you messed up your latest overdub. The most fun thing about the loop feature is that you can use it in conjunction with the G1on’s effects. For example, throw on a drum rhythm, put on some delay and chorus, and make a loop with a chord progression. Next, switch to the octave effect, and your guitar suddenly becomes a bass guitar so you can record a bassline. Then, throw on a distortion effect, and play a lead line over your loop. This pedal makes it very easy and fun to be a one-(wo)man-band and do some interesting things.
The Zoom G1on comes with 4 AA batteries, but you can also power it via a 9V adapter, or USB, which is a nice feature. Zoom recommends this one, but we like the Planet Waves 9V Power Adapter. Despite the body of the pedal being made of plastic, it actually feels solidly constructed, and has an all-metal base. We haven’t used it for long enough to comment on long-term durability, although what we see is promising.
Bottom Line: The pros and cons of the Zoom G1on Guitar Multi-Effects Processor as a loop pedal are fairly obvious. The most glaring features you will miss are a lack of undo, and the relatively short 30 second loop time. On the plus side, this is as inexpensive as a loop pedal comes, and with it you get a very decent sounding multi-fx unit. With the headphone output, you could take this thing with you anywhere and jam out or practice without bothering anyone else. If you’re on a budget and want a looper that is well-built and user-friendly, perfect for practicing, and has the added bonus of loads of quality effects and amp models, the Zoom G1on is a no brainer, and wins our Best Bang for Your Buck.
DigiTech JamMan Solo XT
Loop Time: 10 minutes
Rounding out our top 5 best loop pedal list is another one in the DigiTech lineup, the DigiTech JamMan Solo XT. This is the big brother to the JamMan Express, and adds on loads more features. It’s also, unsurprisingly, more expensive. Feature for feature, this is the primary competitor to the Boss RC-3.
The controls of the JamMan Solo take a little bit of time to get used to. With 5 buttons and 2 knobs, the interface is certainly not as simple as the Ditto or JamMan Express. In terms of features, the JamMan Solo caters to more looper power users. You get 200 memory locations to create and store loops in, and if you stick a microSD card in the slot, you get another 200. It has 35 minutes of loop time, however be advised that the maximum length of a loop you can store is 10 minutes. You get stereo inputs and outputs, Jam Sync compatibility (for syncing multiple JamMan loop pedals), and a USB port for syncing with the JamManager XT software on your Mac or Windows computer. There’s even an AUX in to connect an external device like an iPhone, iPad, or other mp3 player.
Operating the JamMan Solo is similar to the other loop pedals we’ve covered. As you hit the footswitch, watch for the central LED light to light up red to indicate recording, yellow to indicate overdubbing, and green to indicate play. Tap the pedal twice to stop the loop, and briefly hold it down to undo the latest recording. To clear the current loop, simply press and hold down the footswitch while the pedal is stopped (this makes the loop play for a second before deleting it which is a bit annoying - we prefer the “silent clear" feature of the JamMan Express). When you’ve recorded a loop, one feature we really love on the JamMan Solo is being able to speed up or slow down the tempo without changing the pitch (this is a great tool for practicing - if you can’t quite nail down a solo part, simply slow down the loop and work your way up to full speed). You also get a rather primitive drum machine, with some rhythms to play along with. Just like the Boss RC-3, the drum loops have their own volume knob.
Nearly every review we read for this loop pedal recommended the optional DigiTech FS3X Three-Function Foot Switch, which adds an additional 3 buttons that can be used to patch up/down, as well as stopping the loop. It just makes operating this pedal more intuitive, although it will add a good $30 to the price of the pedal. The build quality is great, and the solid metal housing rivals that of nearly-indestructible Boss pedals. The included 9V power supply is a nice bonus (especially because oddly there is no battery option on the JamMan Solo).
The sound quality is great, and we have a hard time hearing any discernible tone changes, even when layering a lot. On paper, the sound quality of the TC Electronic Ditto is better, but we can’t really tell much of a difference. The JamMan solo is a great tool for songwriting, especially with the auto-recording feature. When you turn this feature on, you can arm the pedal to record, and only when you start playing it will auto-record. When you want to manage your loops and either save some to your computer or bring some into the pedal, you unfortunately have to use DigiTech’s software. We much prefer the way it works with the Boss RC-3, where it simply acts like a memory stick. We read some negative reviews on the compatibility of the JamManager XT software with certain operating systems, so make sure to check the DigiTech website for the latest.
Bottom Line: Given the DigiTech JamMan Solo XT’s slightly higher price tag, you should get it if saving your loops to memory is something you really want. Also, keep in mind the optional DigiTech FS3X Footswitch is highly recommended, and will bring this one very close in price to the Boss RC-3. The JamMan Solo XT sounds a bit better and more clear to our ears than the Boss RC-3, although our research shows the RC-3 is recommended quite a few more times. It has far more preset slots than the RC-3, so if you need the storage capacity for songwriting or live use, this is the looper pedal for you.
So how do you feel about looper pedals? If you have any thoughts or experiences that you’d like to share, feel free to tell us all about it in the comments section below.