Last updated on October 27th 2017: Edited for basic grammar and spelling errors by Erin Cosner.
Looper pedals, in their simplest form, only do two things: They record your input and play it back. In most situations where guitar players use them they're doing so in order to create or "build" their own backing tracks.
You might also hear this called "sampling" or "overdubbing". Basic functionality of a looper guitar pedal allows you to do this multiple times for playback, recording or improvising over something you've already recorded.
Let's look at an example from a guy named Josh Wilson:
Josh uses the looper pedal to build a full band's worth of backing tracks for "Amazing Grace."
Another guy who does some good work with looper pedals is Reggie Watts; albeit he's more strictly a vocalist with a looping device that has some additional mixing capabilities:
As you can see, the technology involved is fairly straightforward, with a few basic feature-related considerations. Let's talk about those considerations in regards to the guitar.
Dedicated looper pedal or built into other effects?
In a lot of cases, looping functionality will be built into a pedal that's not specifically a "looper pedal." For example, the Line 6 DL4 delay modeler has a built-in looping function, though makes no mention of "looper" in the product's title. Usually looping capability is combined with delay.
This is a worthwhile consideration for those who are looking to buy a looper. Could you possibly kill two birds with one stone with something like the DL4?
Other features that you'll want to pay attention to include the following:
- Loop time (up to 20 - 30 minutes is not unusual)
- Playback options (level, tempo, etc.)
- Stereo connection
- Ease of use via foot control (some pedals are better for this than others)
- Drum patterns
- Tap tempo included
Since the technology is simple, we'll use these features to put together a list of best looper pedals that we can recommend. You can skip ahead to our recommendations if you want. The next few sections describe how we curate these lists and who is responsible for the content.
How are we choosing a best looper pedal list? Isn't that kinda subjective?
The Boss Loop Station pedal at the end of the signal chain. Flickr Commons image via CheesyFeet
Websites that we would not recommend to you, write lists like this one all the time. And yes, they are extremely subjective. Not only that, but they're largely unhelpful in terms of providing actual knowledge about the guitar pedals in question.
With that in mind, we need to point out something about this piece of content and others like it that we have written - This is based on the knowledge and opinion of real musicians. We are not marketers or internet gurus trying only to make a buck off Amazon. We do however use affiliate programs to support this site and those who run it, but we are not simply throwing pedals up without knowing why we're suggesting them.
This is based on the knowledge and opinions of real musicians who have used this gear.
And while the opinion of any human being on a topic like this is always going to be somewhat contextual and subjective, we can give you concrete reasons why we recommend these pedals over others.
Primarily, our recommendations are based on the following factors:
- Actual use and experience with the pedal
- Secondhand knowledge from other musicians we know who have used or owned the pedal
- A proper value assessment
Guitar World contributor, educator, writer and guitarist since 1996.
Worship leader, PCA deacon and guitarist.
Session musician, guitar, keyboard & bass
- Editing and Proofreading: Erin Cosner
- Article design and formatting: Bobby Kittleberger
What is a proper value assessment?
We determine value first by knowing the features of effects and guitar pedals that matter the most. For example, when it comes to delay pedals we know that (in many cases) having a tap tempo included in your delay pedal is better than not having one.
How do we know this? Because we've actually used delay pedals, some of which did and did not have a tap tempo.
This means that we can make a proper value assessment based on actual features without just saying "this delay pedal will sound great" or one of our personal favorites:
"Among the most prolific pedals made popular by its solid performance."
Use this Google result if you want to see what site we're referring to.
That kind of "endorsement" is completely unhelpful.
Additionally, as we can identify and confirm more of those features that add quality, we can then look for pedals that give you those features at the lowest possible price points.
Thus we define the best guitar pedals by those that provide the most value, based on the following:
Our template is quite simple.
Just look for the features that matter and see which brands and pedals deliver those features at the lowest price.
- As quality goes up, value increases
- As price going down, value increases
- As quality goes down, value decreases
- As price goes up, value decreases
What this list is and What it is Not
We should point out that this list is not a ranking or a full review of each pedal. Per our publishing policy, we do not publish physical product reviews in favor of making contextual recommendations.
The term "review" is a bit deceptive, since most people who review guitar gear don't have anything bad to say about it. That's not a review as much as it is an endorsement. In most cases, we simply avoid talking about products that we can't or wouldn't recommend to Guitar Chalk readers.
Thus it's misleading to use the term "review."
As a consequence, we want to be clear that this list is not a review, nor are the numbers used an indication of ranking the products in any particular order. Instead, these are contextual recommendations based on our experience that may or may not apply to your own situation.
Our Two Best Looper Pedal Picks from these Lists
The two looper pedals we are most confident about recommending would be the TC Electronic Ditto Looper and the Boss RC-1 Loop Station, or any of its variants.
Best Looper Pedal Picks: Recommendations Based on Value
This roundup will be simple in that we'll highlight the looper pedals we like best, based on value and the aforementioned quality indicators. At the end we'll add some information about delay pedals that have a looper included, as well as placement in your signal chain.
TC Electronic Ditto Looper
TC Electronic designed the Ditto looper to be really simple and easy to use, particularly for guitar players. If you don't mind going without some of the other perks like a drum machine and SD card slot (we don't) there are some additional guitar-centric goodies in this box.
First, it's true bypass, keeping your tone pure as it passes through the pedal when disengaged. It also has a dry-thru analog circuit, which means your original dry tone is always run through an analog signal path. The basic features include unlimited overdrubs, a undo/redo function and up to five minutes of recording time.
That's all you really need for a looper pedal to work well in a guitarist's context.
Using it is also dead simple, the nuances of which can easily be picked up by watching the demo video below.
Price and Value
TC Electronic does a fantastic job of trimming the typical looper pedal fat and lowering the price of the Ditto. And while it's not always bad to have those extra features (in some cases they're more desirable) this looper pedal works really well without them and lives up to its branding as an ideal guitar player's looper pedal.
Boss RC-1 Loop Station
The Boss Loop Station pedal interface has gotten significantly simpler over the years, going through several iterations before landing on the RC-1. We had zero trouble figuring out how to work it, as the control process is straightforward and intuitive, and similar to the simplicity you get with the Ditto.
The recording time can go up to 12 minutes, all of which can be stored via onboard memory, even after the pedal is turned off. We found it to be ideal for simple jamming and practice sessions, particularly for remembering quick riffs or testing out melodies over chord progressions.
Stereo outputs and inputs are another good feature, something we didn't get with the Ditto.
Price and Value
Pricing is similar to the Ditto, though the RC-1 gives you the stereo connection, some memory and a little more recording time. However you do lose the true bypass and analog dry-thru circuit that made the Ditto so attractive to guitar players. Make the call based on how you weigh those features - whether you want the boutique-style components of the Ditto or the added flexibility of the RC-1.
Both are solid choices.
NUX Loop Core Pedal Looper
The first two looper pedals we've looked at have gotten an inclusion because of their simplicity. But, what if you want something that's a little more feature-rich? The NUX Loop Core has some distinct advantages in that department, with 99 user memories and a tap tempo that allows you to control a bank of stored drum patterns and kick tracks.
There's also a USB connection that allows you to connect to a Mac or PC to export and save settings. All of these features work well, though the pedal's interface is so small that it can feel like a lot of work to spend extended amounts of time configuring them. This pedal would benefit a lot from a larger front panel.
Still, it's a good fit for someone who cares about having the drum tracks, or who just wants more ways to store and tweak their loops.
NUX includes stereo inputs, outputs and an AUX input for adding external music via an MP3 player.
Price and Value
The NUX Loop Core gives you a lot of features at a similar price point to the Ditto and RC-1. Our only complaint would be the small interface which felt similar to typing on a Blackberry. We also weren't as concerned about the drum tracks and tap tempo, since our use is strictly limited to guitar.
If you feel differently about the extra digital features - the phrasing, drum loops and tap tempo control - the Loop Core should get a big boost on your priority list.
DigiTech JMSXT Jamman Solo XT Stereo Looper
The JamMan by DigiTech is similar to the Loop Core in terms of its feature list and setup. You can record up to 35 minutes of CD-quality loops, which are storable, either in the pedal itself or via an SD card if you need more space (up to 16 hours total).
One nice feature about the JamMan is that it includes a DigiTech power supply, which might be of unique interest to someone who is running off batteries.
Otherwise, it feels like a looper pedal that fell somewhere in the middle of the Loop Core and RC-1. The JamMan is bigger than the Loop Core, which makes the interface seem a little easier to use. It also feels sturdier and heavier, which is likely due to the JamMan being a metal chassis while the Loop Core was some kind of aluminum.
Again, the issue here is whether or not you want the extra control.
Price and Value
The JamMan is a little more expensive than the other pedals on this list, with a similar set of features. While there are some things we like about it more than the Loop Core, it's difficult to identify differences between the two. Still, a good choice when compared to its peers.
Boss RC-30 Phrase Looper
The Boss RC-30 is a completely different animal when compared to the looper pedals we've been looking at up to this point. It's far more advanced in terms of the features it provides. Included are dedicated volume faders, built in effects and 99 onboard phrases. All of this comes in addition to three hours of studio-quality recording that can be handled in the pedal alone.
From a buyer's perspective, this is a more involved looper pedal, which I would recommend more for guitarists and musicians who might have a specific concentration in this area, particularly those who are looking for a looper pedal to use in a live performance scenario.
You should also note that the RC-30 is significantly larger than the other looper pedals in this list, making it easy to take advantage of the extra features.
It's pretty easy to write and delete presents, use the FX Loop section or the volume faders.
If you don't mind the extra cost, it's the best looper pedal on this list, from a strictly feature assessment.
Price and Value
Those of us who have used the RC-30 find it to be more than we need in a practice environment. However, this is the pedal that Josh Wilson uses to do his live rendition of "Amazing Grace," which we think provides a really helpful context for potential buyers. In other words, if you're looking for a performance tool, the RC-30's price should be less of an issue for you.
Looper Pedal Placement in Effects Chain
Flickr Commons image courtesy of Aaron H. Warren.
One of the most common questions about the use of effects is whether or not there is an optimal way in which to order pedals. In a typical signal chain, the input originates at your guitar and is outputted through an amplifier. The guitar pedals sit in the middle of that line, processing the signal from the guitar before sending it into the amplifier and out through a speaker.
Strymon has an article that explains this in detail and provides some helpful graphics for scenarios with and without an effects loop.
While these graphics don't address a looper pedal specifically, they're helpful references.
Let's look at the non-effects loop version first:
Without an Effects Loop
Here's the same setup with an effects loop (send & return) in the amplifier:
With an Effects Loop
The best placement for a looper pedal would probably be at the very end of your signal chain, right before your amplifier. In this case, it should go behind even your ambient effects (delay, reverb, echo) so that it can more clearly record and play back the sounds produced by those effects.
Other conventions would have a looping pedal at the beginning of your chain which is also a valid approach.
When using other pedals, we preferred to use it as an extension of our amplifier.
You can safely treat it as an ambient effect, since it's essentially a "sound after sound" stompbox, just like delay and reverb. This is why those three effects often share housing in the same pedal, i.e., delay/reverb or delay/looper.
Delay Pedals with Looping Feature Included
Image via Line 6
As we've already mentioned, delay pedals will often include simple looping functionality, allowing you to record and overdub.
In most cases, the functionality associated with the looping side of the pedal is simple. However, a lot of folks who want a looper guitar pedal don't need a lot of tweaking to go along with it. Similar to the Ditto, the looper portion is desirably straightforward.
We've dug through all the delay pedals that have loopers included, and listed some of our favorites here:
FAQ about Looper Pedals
Q: Do I need the phrase and drum sample features?
A: Personally, we prefer to go with something like the Ditto or RC-1, which forgoes the more advanced drum machine-style features in favor of a better core product. In most cases, we'd suspect you can easily get drum machines and samples from elsewhere. GarageBand is a good place to start.
Q: Are looper pedals hard to use?
A: There's a bit of a learning curve, but most are pretty simple after a few minutes of getting used to the functionality.
Q: What would be the best looper pedal for a live performance?
A: The Boss RC-30 is our favorite looper pedal recommendation for performers and live scenarios.
Q: Is it "okay" to use batteries for these pedals, or should I buy a power supply?
A: Nine volt batteries will power your pedals fine. The downside is that they're expensive and guitar pedals tend to drain power from them really quickly, even when not engaged. If you just have a few pedals, and you don't play live, 9V batteries are fine. But, as your board grows, particularly if you're performing, a power supply becomes much more important.
Q: What kind of cables should I use in between each pedal?
A: We recommend using low profile right angle patch cables (regardless of brand - those ones are made by Hosa) for saving space between stompboxes.
Concluding and Additional Questions
Have questions about the looper pedals that we didn't address? Feel free to drop them in the comments section below. Usually Bobby will answer there, which is preferred over email so that others who read the article in the future will have access to that information as well.
We also love hearing pedal suggestions and recommendations for these types of posts.
Just keep in mind our value assessment and method for including products. It shouldn't just be something you like personally, but should have some objective support as to why it belongs on a best guitar pedals list, such as this one.
- Strymon Effects Pedal Order Article
- Pedalboard Power Supply Rating and Recommendation Guide
- The Pedalboard Planner Written Guide
- The Interactive Pedalboard Planner Web App
- The Minimalist Pedalboard Build
- Best Pedalboard and Power Supply Roundup
- Best Pedaltrain, Boss and Gator Pedalboards
- Reverb's Looper Pedal Article
Flickr Commons Image courtesy of Tom Whitwell