If you spend any time trolling social media for gear news and sound snippets, you’ve probably encountered Mark Lettieri. Making up approximately 1/17 of the roster of funk-jazz-rock ensemble Snarky Puppy, Mark has also established himself as an exceptional small act performer. This week, in the throws of a trio tour through the UK and Europe, Mark stopped by the TPS studio to talk all things pedals, life, and tone with Dan & Mick.
While Mark packed a ton of effects onto a pedalboard designed to fit in the overhead compartment, one item he never leaves home without is his humble TC Electronic Looper.
So what are loopers and how can you use one?
Introduction to Looper Pedals 101
Looper pedals used to exist on the fringes of gear but have truly become a mainstream item for players across genres. In short, a looper pedal allows you to capture and playback a lick, riff, progression, or section. You can then add to this loop by recording more content or play live over it for an unaccompanied and infinite jam session. Loopers are ideal for developing ambient architectures as well as rhythmic materials. Regardless of the genre, they enable the creation of material that is far more complex and textured than playing solo. In short, if you’re ever forced into a game of “desert island pedalboard,” be sure to toss a looper onto your hypothetical rig — you’re never truly alone with a looper!
These days, there are endless options for looper pedals. Given their technological affinity to echo effects, several delay pedals — such as the TC Electronic Flashback 2 or Electro Harmonix Canyon — have built-in loop functions. Other standalone options, such as the Boss RC-1 Loop Station or anthology of offerings in the TC Electronic Ditto library range from simple to sophisticated.
So we’re up to speed on what a looper is, now the question is how to use one beyond laying down a simple four chord progression.
Mark Lettieri’s Three Tips and Tricks for Elevating Your Loops
Mark’s Instagram loops are infamous. They are deceptively simple yet evolve into harmonic, even orchestral, masterpieces. As Mark explained his experience and approach to looping, however, he shared their creative and practice prospects. Here’s three main takeaways for building better loops.
(1) Looping for locking in your mental metronome.
Apart from their assets for arrangements, Mark highlighted the practical element of looping for refining your sense of time and rhythm. “First of all, simply doing a loop is great for timing practice.” If you’ve ever experimented with a looper, you know it takes some practice nailing down both when to punch out and how to keep your added content in tempo. As a practice piece of gear, then, loopers are excellent tools for drilling your mental clock and coordinating it with your hands and feet.
(2) Looping to think multi-dimensionally about your arrangements.
One of the beautiful things about looper pedals is their near endless capability to stack recorded parts for texture, movement, and emotion. This also demands that you think more about how to coordinate chord shapes, single notes, and even effected sounds to build up a looping edifice. As Mark demoed using a basic two chord funk progression, for looping newbies there are some basic ways to get more mileage of that loop. These include: droping in a faux baseline with the lower strings to provide a sonic anchor, tossing in an upper-register chord structure or riff for rhythmic flair, or adding in some melodic content with a bit of sustain. As Mark reflected, “some of this is just messing around with ear training and really basic composing,” but the result is a better sense of the fretboard and increased confidence in improvisation.
(3) Offset a single looped element to gain some groove.
Now that you’re practiced with time and have created an on beat masterpiece, why not set things off kilter slightly to give the arrangement a bit of swing and swagger? This is arguably Mark’s signature move to give loops a bit of unexpected bounce. For example, count through the beats of your loop and play a basic run that is offset from the beat in a sixteenth note. For mark, displacing one element of the loop slightly gives a developing piece “a fun little groove.” The time and vibe are still there, but the result is something you simply can’t avoid bouncing and bobbing to.
Whether you’re jet-setting for a world tour or orchestrating your best desert island gig for solo jamming in your basement, be sure to pack a looper. For this and all your pedalboard needs, head over to see us in store or online at Riff City Guitar.
Mark Lettieri’s TPS Rig:
Guitar: Don Grosh NOS Retro.
Pedals: MXR M280 Vintage Bass Octave, Pigtronix Octava Micro, Dunlop Volume X Mini, Keeley Monterey Custom Shop Edition, J Rockett Melody Drive, J Rockett The Dude, MXR Phase 95, TC Electronic Flashback 2, Dunlop EP103 Echoplex Delay, TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, TC Electronic Ditto Looper.
Amps: Supro Black Magick 1×12 combo with standard speaker, Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III 1×12 combo with standard speaker.