With so many looper pedals on the market, it’s hard to know exactly what they can do and how or when you might need some of the more advanced features. The first step in choosing a looper pedal is to decide how you will use it. If you are going to use it for practicing at home, you won’t need all the bells and whistles of the bigger pedals. A smaller pedal may even be preferable because it takes up less space and lets get right down to practicing your licks. Then again, if you want to incorporate loops into your live or recorded performances, you may want to pay attention to the following features:
Memory is of course an important consideration when buying a looper pedal. Looper pedals all have at least some built in memory, and many are now expandable via SD memory cards and/or USB ports, which can be used to plug in external hard drives. Memory is especially important when you want to record loops in stereo at CD quality. As an example, the Digitech JamMan Stereo holds 32 minutes of stereo recording, has a slot for a 16 GB SD memory card, and a USB drive to plug in additional memory.
Can You Play Mulitple Loops Simultaneously?
Some looper pedals merely let you play one recorded loop at a time. If you are merely using your looper pedal for practicing solos, this is not that big of a problem. If you want to use your looper pedal to build an entire song, however, the ability to play multiple loops simultaneously gives you the ability to use loops interactively, adding layers of complexity to your songs. Examples of pedals that let you play multiple loops simultaneously are the Boss RC-50 and the Digitech Jamman Delay/Looper.
Stereo or Mono Output
Most of the time, mono output is fine for jamming in front of your amp and just having fun. If you want to record in stereo, however, you will need a stereo ouput. Many pedals today provide ways of playing with stereo sound, such as chorus pedals that let you split your sound into stereo.
Number of Pedals/Switches
The number of pedals and/or switches on a looper pedal can make a big difference, especially if you plan to use a looper pedal in live performances. The pedals/switches are used to activate different features of the pedal such as turning certain loops on or off on a multi-layered loop. If you have only one foot pedal, you may be required to turn different dials on your pedal to trigger or stop various loops. This can obviously be disruptive if you are playing live. Fortunately, many single pedal loopers offer an option to purchase additional footswitches you can plug into your pedal to extend its capabilities. Of course, if this is your plan, you have to factor in the extra cost of the additional switches. You may find what you are looking for by paying a little extra up front and getting a looper pedal that has multiple pedals and/or switches such as the Boss RC-50 Loop Station or the Digitech JamMan Stereo.
Reverse looping is when you record a loop, then the looper pedal will loop it backwards rather than forwards. This is sort of a specialty feature that not everyone will use, but it does allow you to create interesting background textures for your music. Certain pedals such as the Boomerang III are great for this types of audio experimentation. Most of the newer pedals have this feature on board.
Midi SynchMidi synch is a technology that is purportedly offered by some looper pedals such as the Boss RC-50 Loop Station. This lets you synchronize your loops with external midi devices. This can be useful, for example, if you want to synch your loops with other electronic instruments and/or musicians in your band. This technology is still young, however. Pedals such as the Boss RC-50 Loop Station say they can do midi synching, but the reviews of the RC-50 show it doesn’t work so well. Certainly, it’s not reliable enough for live performances quite yet. This is a feature to look for in future looper pedals.