Around & Around We Go: Looper Basics

If you’ve wanted to try a looper out for a while, or maybe you ignored the fact that they existed, you may be wondering: where do I begin? Well, you’re in luck! This week on That Pedal Show, Dan and Mick answer that exact existential question.

As guitar players, it’s part of the mystery, and dare I say fun, of playing music to utilize a new piece of gear into our rig. Sometimes it might be a different kind of overdrive, maybe a humbucker in place of a single coil pickup, or even a different style of amplifier. Even the smallest tweak can paint our tone in such a drastically altered color, which can add to the flavor of our sound as a whole. However, there are some additions to our rigs that maybe we haven’t experimented with or we have used and are frustrated with the results (or lack thereof). Yes, my friends, I am talking about the one and only looper pedal. So many artists utilize looper pedals to create the best, most creative songs out there, and trying to emulate their techniques can be intimidating. If you’ve wanted to try a looper out for a while, or maybe you ignored the fact that they existed, you may be wondering: where do I begin?

You’re in luck! This week on That Pedal Show, the guys answer that exact existential question. With an advanced looper on one side, a novice on the other, Dan and Mick dive into the basics of what a looper is, how to effectively use one, and where is the best place for it among the signal chain.

So, What Is It?

In an anodized nutshell, a looper is a very simple concept that can get extremely convoluted fast. Although you could do three or four videos about loopers, Mick explains that this video isn’t for the complexities. “If you’re a ‘looper’ or you’re used to looping, this video is not for you. This is for someone who hasn’t used a looper before.” All loopers do essentially the same thing: once the pedal is switched on, it will record the signal that is coming into the pedal, and once the recording is finished it will continually loop back on itself. Pretty simple, right?

So why is a looper such a useful and powerful asset for a guitar player? Well, there are two main reasons: one would be practice and the other would be performance. When it comes to practice, a looper allows you to play a chord, or maybe even a chord progression, and then fill in around it. It gives you a chance to familiarize yourself with the notes around a particular area of the fingerboard and how it sounds to said chord. Secondly, a looper can help with your performance and becoming a better player. If you have something to play along with, it allows your improvisation skills to step in and show your originality. It could even help with your ability to maintain a natural rhythm, and that will improve your playing purely through technique alone.

Okay, Okay. How Do I Use It Now?

Now that you have your looper, you may be wondering where to begin on your looping adventure of chaotic learning and fun. While there are many loopers available, Dan and Mick both recommend the TC Electronics Ditto Looper because it’s a simple one-switch pedal (one switch to record, loop, and delete). On the same side of that argument, all loopers essentially do the same thing, just with various added features. As Dan said quite eloquently, once you start looping and enjoying it “you would continue to record, and just build up, you know, layer upon layer upon layer, like a lovely Danish Danish pastry.”

The most frustrating part of using a looper is getting the start and stop time for the recording to be seamless. As the guys show, getting the perfect footswitch just takes practice. “Since all pedals are a little different and have subtle recording delays,” Dan explains. However, the guys recommend doing a count of four and on one begin the loop, then keep the count in your head and end it back on one. That way the loop is keeping with time and there will be a less of a delay between the loop repeating itself. In order to build upon loops and create complex sounds, the key is to be clean, simple, and accurate on the first way around.  If the four count is difficult for you to do along with focusing on your playing, a metronome can help you stay on track with keeping things in time.

I Love My Looper!! Where Do I Put It…?

Lastly, the biggest question the guys get regarding loopers besides how to use it, is where in the signal chain is the best. The answer? Very simple, and for a good reason. Both Dan and Mick agree that the looper should be the last pedal on the signal chain. As every experiment they do, the guys have the new Boss RC-10R looper pedal before all of the effects, and the MXR Clone Looper at the end of the signal. When the RC-10R is being used, even if the original sound is recorded without any effects, turning on any effect pedal will alter that recording. The RC-10R in this instance is pushing the looped signal through those effects, thus changing the sound of the loop before it gets to the amp.

When they switch to the Clone Looper, all of the alterations to the tone appear before the looper, so unless an effect is on as it’s being recorded, the modulation will have no effect on the loop. This allows for that layering effect Dan mentioned earlier. You can make the sound of your guitar sound like there is more than just one guitar, or change the tone of your lead sound. While there is so much more information out there about loopers, this short video is just so you can test the waters of the possibilities of a looper pedal and how it can change your sound or alter your playing skills.

That’s it for this week’s episode! Tune in next week when the guys tackle the latest and greatest debates in the guitar world.

TPS Rig Rundown:

Guitars: 1965 Fender Telecaster, Fender Classic Series Jazzmaster Lacquer

Pedals: TheGigRig Three2One, Peterson Strobo Stomp HD Tuner, ZVEX Box of Rock, Benson Preamp Limited Edition, Analogman Bi-Chorus, Diamond Memory Lane Jr. Delay, Catalinbread Topanga Reverb, MXR M303 Clone Looper, Boss RC-10R, TheGigRig Humdinger, TheGigRig G2

Amps: 1987x Marshall Reissue w/Zilla Custom 212/Celestion Alnico Ruby Speakers, Matchless HC-30 w/Hughes & Kettner Vintage 212/Celestion G12M Greenback Speakers

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