Recording Your Guitar – Part 3: Loopers
In the third and final part of our recording series Marcus Leadley explores what looping can add to your guitar adventures. Strap yourselves in…
Loopers are great for guitarists, because they’re hands-free – and they’ve come a long way since the days when a basic overdub function allowed you to build short mono loops. With multiple loop capability, stereo sound, built-in FX and direct computer connectivity they have become powerful recording tools in their own right. Memory capacity has grown to such an extent that you could theoretically craft an entire guitar concerto in a looping environment. However, the lack of deep editing or ‘punch in’ capability means that dedicated multitrack recorders and computer DAWs are more practical.
All the same, loopers are a brilliant songwriting and performance tools and are especially useful for capturing ideas to work on later, as they let you jam with yourself in a very intuitive way. Mono loopers are excellent for creating layered guitar parts and dense guitar atmospheres, and you can add stereo effects in the mix later if you wish; the only trouble is, you can’t separate the elements out. Stereo gives you more flexibility and hard-panning left and right ultimately gives you a discrete 2-track recording that can be edited later or manipulated using stereo effects. Loopers with the capacity to generate multiple, but synchronised loops, offer a degree of flexibility closer to a conventional multitrack track environment.
If a small footprint’s what you need , the Digitech JamMan Solo’s a goodie
Loop recorders tend to come in three flavours: dedicated loopers, offering the longest record times and most creative flexibility; devices which are principally loopers but offer some extra guitar effects; and delay/modulation pedals that offer a limited looping capability as an added function. So if all you want is a simple recording function to capture ideas in progress or you want to play along with your recorded sound, what you may actually be looking for is a contemporary delay pedal. Many modern multi-FX units also have a looper built in, but none offer advanced features or long recording times. We’ll be looking at these noble devices in a different context later on, as their ability to record is not really a primary attribute.
For a straightforward, well-featured mono looping pedal, the Digitech JamMan Solo (£152) is a great tool. The internal memory allows you to store up to 35 minutes of CD quality loops split over 99 internal memory locations. There’s a memory expansion slot for an SD card so you can add a further 99 loop locations and record up to 16 hours of material! The unit has a USB socket so you can move loops/recordings to your computer. Loops can be built by indefinite overdubbing and there is a useful undo/redo function that works on the last part recorded.
The Vox Lil’ Looper and the Line 6 JM4 are dedicated compact loopers.
For added flexibility the Vox Lil’ Looper (£178) is a mono looper with two independent loops – which adds the interesting possibility of jamming with a friend as well as building complex but independent riffs. The unit also features 11 guitar FX so you don’t theoretically need an additional pedalboard. Maximum recording time is limited to 90 seconds. The Lil’ looper only outputs in mono and there’s no USB, so to separate loops you would have to record each independently to your DAW and manually re-sync them. The Vox VDL1 Dynamic Looper (£309) adds an expression pedal and additional loop effects to this format.
For an entry-level stereo looper the Digitech JamMan solo XT (£162) is a good starting point. The internal memory gives you 35 minutes recording time (44.1/16 kHz) that can be extended up to three hours using a micro SD card. There’s an optional rhythm-guide style metronome to keep you on tempo. For greater flexibility you can sync two units together… and there’s USB. The Boss RC-30 (£176) has a very similar feature set except the three-hour memory is internal and there is no SD card slot for memory expansion, or the ability to slave units together. There’s an optional rhythm-guide metronome for tempo.
Digitech and Roland continue to slug it out as we move up the price range, but while both acquire a dedicated XLR mic input, the Digitech JamMan Stereo (£236) and Boss RC-30 (£273) have some different features. The Boss has more foot control for switching between loops, while the Digitech offers two discrete synchronised stereo loops with their own volume controls and a range of onboard effects. Memory card expansion with the Digitech means you can store up to 16 hours of material. You can also play loops backwards, speed them up and slow them down without changing pitch.
The TC Flashback x4 is a versatile delay with looper added on
Line 6’s JM4 Looper (£262) is an interesting concept. While the internal 24-minute stereo recording time isn’t excessive (though it’s expandable to 6.5 hours with SD card) the unit comes with 100 pre-recorded live-instrument jam tracks/drum grooves to play along with, and you can load own songs to work on. With 12 amp models and a suite of Line 6 effects as well as artist, song and user-programmable presets, it’s a very complete earning and recording tool.
The Pigtronix Infinity looper (£358) is a really professional piece of kit that offers superb 24-bit/48kHz recording for two synchronised stereo loops. A series loop as well as a parallel loop mode allows you to build A/B (say, verse/chorus) structures.
The Boomerang III Phrase sampler (£425) also lets you sequence or layer loops – but with this unit you can create up to four stereo loops, each separately controllable for volume. You can program loops to fade in and out which is great for ambient playing, and there’s a reverse function for a bit of weirdness. The Boomerang doesn’t have a USB port so you’ll have to transfer loops to a computer in real-time using an old-fashioned analogue process; however, with audio recording quality at 20-bit/48kHz, any minor loss of fidelity will probably go unnoticed.
Finally, at the top of the looper price range comes the Boss RC-300 Loop Station (£617). You can combine three separate stereo loops or set up sequential playback and move files to computer via USB. You get onboard effects, an expression pedal and independent footswitch control for the loops. This is also the only looper in the group with assignable aux outputs so you can send loops to different mixer/DAW channels so you can set up different live master effects. Any limitations? The three hours recording time and 16-bit/44.1 kHz means it’s sonically still in the same class as the lower-cost Boss loopers.
Moving away from dedicated loopers to pedals with a looper function, the TC Electronic Flashback (£135) is a stereo delay looper with a conveniently small footprint that makes it ideal for a multi-function pedalboard. It records 40s mono or 20s stereo loops with as many overdubs as you like.
The looper in the Akai Professional E2 Headrush (£203) is more limited in terms of recording time (top quality: 23s loop plus 11s for overdubs) but it has a unique four-head tape echo emulator with independent outputs so you could feed four amps or tracks.
The TC Flashback X4 (£296) has independent stereo delay and loop engines, and for complete madness you can record loops with the delays! It records 40s in stereo and has an undo/redo function. There’s no loop storage or transfer function, so an analogue dump is required. Finally, the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man With Hazarai (£286) is a multifunction delay pedal with a built -in 30 second stereo looper. You can reverse the loop, record it with echo, overdub it, speed it up or slow it down, and use the tone filter. Again, it won’t remember the loop when you switch off the power.
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