If play acoustic or electric guitar, a looper pedal may prove to be one of the most valuable music purchases that you ever make. Loopers can help you practice technique by slowing down or speeding up pieces of songs you are trying to master, help you create elaborate layers to build songs like Ed Sheeran or Damien Rice, or used limitedly as an effect for sonic backdrops. Whether you plan on using your looper alone to practice in your bedroom with an acoustic guitar or in a live performance with an electric and a full band, these are the best loopers pedals on the market.
- The 5 Best Looper Pedals
- 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
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|TC Electronic Ditto||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||Amazon|
|Boss RC-3||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.||Amazon|
|DigiTech JamMan Stereo||JamMan Stereo gives you unparalled looping features for the price. From computer connectivity, stereo output, click tracks, reverse playback and more this looper has it all at with solid build quality. The expandable memory also gives you virtually unlimited CD-quality audio recording.||Amazon|
|Zoom G1on||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 Your Buck||Amazon|
|Line 6 JM4||The Line 6 JM4 looper gives you 24 minutes of recording time plus a whole host of other features. It is an excellent looper with expandable memory that comes with hundreds of presets, effects, and backing tracks making it stand out as an ideal practice tool.||Amazon|
TC Electronic Ditto Looper
Loop Time: 5 minutes
The TC Electronic Ditto Looper pedal is the best looper pedal on the market today for most guitarists. We are not alone in that opinion, as the Ditto seems to be the almost ubiquitous on artists' pedalboards.
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 simply works.
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. When we ordered our Ditto we also got this 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. In that instance, the other pedals from the Ditto line may fit the bill.
If you are interested in playing live, consider upgrading to the Ditto X2 version. The beat sense of the X2 allows the pedal to pick up the tempo of drums. The mics are able to listen to something like a snare and adjust the tempo and be in time. It’s pretty incredible and eliminates the challenge of trying to time your looper perfectly in a live performance. You can always put it in practice mode to eliminate the tempo matching and use time stretching to slow it down or speed it up manually to stretch it out to practice techniques. If you're going to use the pedal in a band environment or live, we recommend the X2, but for bedroom playing and practicing, we recommend the simplicity of and economy of the base Ditto.
Bottom Line: The TC Electronic Ditto Looper is, overall, the best looper pedal out there right now if you are looking for a simple and reliable tool. Any looper in the Ditto series will give you great sound quality, 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 straightforward. It's built like a tank and does exactly what it claims with aplomb. The simple interface is great and the small footprint is very pedalboard friendly.
We really can’t stress how good this pedal is, especially for the budget-friendly base 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 Stereo
Loop Time: 35 minutes, up to 16+ hours with expandable memory
Digitech had a very clear frame of mind when they were designing the Digitech JamMan Stereo is pedal. It was to make one of the most versatile pedals in this price range without unnecessarily complicating the looping process and they delivered. This looper is very intuitive and becomes easy to use relatively quickly. You can record multiple sections or loops of the song on different banks and then easily cycle through the loops to select your desired one.
A common gripe with many loopers is the limited recording options they offer. The JamMan works around that by supporting an SDHC card that can expand the memory allowing you to record up to 16 hours of high quality music.
The basic design does make it impossible to jump from one bank to another without cycling through all the banks in between but you can start the process of moving up and down the lop banks while the current loop is still playing and select the loop you want. The device will wait for the current loop to finish playing before playing the loop that was selected. The loops can be stopped and started either abruptly or in a fader style. The tempo can also be increased or decreased on the fly. Using an external pedal, you can save the loops with your feet allowing for complete hands-free operation.
The build-quality is impeccable as the all-metal construction feels really sturdy. The footswitches are all heavy duty and can be stomped upon without a worry of breaking them or jamming them. The buttons and knobs do feel a bit flimsy in comparison to the rock solid footswitches but as they are meant to be operated by hand, they are sufficient. Overall, a very sturdily built pedal that will last many years unless you deliberately attempt to destroy it.
The JamMan, in addition to looping, has rhythm and accompaniment capabilities built into this device that is normally only found on keyboards. The JamMan Solo feature allows you to load things like a bass line, drums, and other forms of accompaniment allowing you to create a complex one-man band experience. This is a godsend for musicians who do not have all the necessary instruments and can load these sections using a computer. Using this feature is a bit more complicated than basic looping but once mastered can really help you out. It is also great to use as a practice tool.
As good as this pedal is, it does fall short in a few cases. The first is the lack of a true bypass. This would have been fine had this device been a quite one but it does generate a noticeable amount of noise. The buttons also make an audible noise when pressed without a loop playing which can be annoying. However, this is something you can live with at this price point.
Bottom Line: It is easily the most versatilel looper at this price with some really innovative and powerful features. It also has a relatively shallow learning curve which is great for a looper. If you are on a tight budget and need a really feature rich looper then this is the looper to go for. You are getting a virtually unlimited amount of recording time with stereo output, computer connectivity and near hands-free operation which typically costs a lot more.
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.
Line 6 JM4 Looper
Loop Time: 24 minutes
Line 6 has to be commended for the JM4 looper. While its primary function is as a looper, it can be so much more than that depending on how you use it.
The JM4 is a classically good looking pedal with features to match. The first thing that you will notice about the JM4 is its golden color scheme. It looks a lot more appealing than the huge number of looper pedals out there. It also goes for the long and slender look instead of the boxy look most pedals possess.
Getting to the features, this is so much more than a looper. Line 6 is an industry giant in the field of multi-effects processors and they have included many effect goodies on this looper. It also has separate inputs for a guitar and a microphone and both get some cool in-built effects to boot. There are over 200 preset sounds created by some of the most well-known music artists out there. It also includes some of the best amp models from the legendary Line 6 line-up. There are effects galore which you can mix and match to create your own sounds and there are 36 banks available where you can store your own styles.
Another handy feature is the collection of 100 realistic jam tracks. Most similar systems on such pedals sound too robotic and while they are great as a practice option, it can never recreate the feeling of playing with a live band. The Line 6 has remedied that somewhat by making its loops from live sessions. Jamming along to these tracks feels a lot more realistic and dynamic. These come in really handy and you can even use them for live performances once you figure out how to use them seamlessly.
All of these awesome features should not distract you from its primary feature and that is of a looper. The JM4 allows you multiple overlays and has four footswitches dedicated to the looping function allowing for seamless operation. It offers 24 minutes of CD quality recording and this memory can be expanded to almost 6 hours with a memory card that you need to buy separately. You can also use this feature to add your own jam tracks to play over or manipulate by transposing and time stretching the tracks. We found the looping capabilities of this pedal quite satisfactory and using it is pretty straightforward. The footswitches are placed a little close together and can be a problem if you have big feet.
The primary sin of the JM4 is that it tries to do too much and in that regards has become way too complicated for its own good. The sound quality on the default setting isn’t all that great and you need a fair bit of tweaking to get this pedal to sound just right. The looping is pretty great but getting the effects to work just the way you want is pretty difficult, Also, since there are no footswitches dedicated to the effects, it is impossible to change them on the fly.
Bottom Line: The JM4 has made some really ardent followers. The first thing that we would like to get out of the way is that this is not a replacement for your guitar amps and pedals. It is a looper with some additional effects built into it. Buy it for the jam tracks and the looping capabilities. Look at all the effects as an additional feature. It is on the expensive side and whether this price is justified will depend on how much use you can get out of it. This is definitely a unique looper pedal with some great features. It is also one of those pedals that you will either love or hate. So consider everything it offers and see if that justifies the price and the steep learning curve.
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?
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 basic looping functions fairly well and, provided you a purchase looper with a well built chassis (the case of the pedal), it should serve you well for a long time.
The thing to consider before purchasing one of these recommended loopers is how you are going to use the pedal. Live performances with a looper are very different than playing by yourself in your bedroom because you need more capabilites. These could include tempo matching, stereo output, and more that we'll discuss in detail in reviewing the individual pedals.
How Did We Choose The Winners?
When asking "What's the best looper pedal?" it's important to remember that loopers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. That's great news, because it lets musicians choose between some great options with different capabilities and at different budget levels. We tested these out thoroughly and can tell you it is a great time to be a musician. These looper pedals are all proven excellent options. The difficulty will be determining what capabilities you need and how much money you need to spend in order to get what you need from your looper. In our top 5 list, we make sure to include 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.
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.