I´ve been playing around with bass loop pedals because I decided to play some solo gigs. To keep people entertained for half an hour you need more than your regular skills, so I added an extra player which is “the looped me”. Let me tell you that playing with a loop pedal is like learning how to play a new instrument; it has a steep and long learning curve. I learned a lot in this looping adventure and want to share it with you; so welcome to this fun challenge. Read on, learn and have a whole lot of fun looping the night away.
I have to say to round this up that, in my opinion, the clear winner is the Digitech JamMan Stereo (is actually the one I bought). It is the most complete, best-sounding looper of the list. As I said at the beginning I was looking for a pedal to do a solo show with and this one has it all: virtually infinite storage space, XLR input, stereo out and in and a volume knob for each that makes it very easy to use in live situations.
If you are looking for something simpler I would recommend the RC-3 which delivers a lot of features in a smaller package and is great to get started, especially with BOSS´ footswitch to avoid de double-stomp for stopping.
Maybe it is time to take your first step, loop those funky bass lines and come out as a one-man band, we´ll meet on the road.
Recommended Bass Loopers
BOSS Audio RC-3 Loop Station Pedal
What’s good: Drum section with a rhythm guide. Auto-recording feature.
Not so good: No input for a microphone (available in the RC-30). No input for a memory card.
The RC-3 has three hours of continuous recording capability for each of the 99 banks. It is a real powerhouse in the shape and size of a regular effects pedal. It is stereo in and out as the RC-1 and also features the external footswitch jack as well but that and the size are all similarities since the RC-3 is a way more complete looper pedal.
Among the features, I really liked on this pedal is the designed Rhythm guide that has some great drum beats to enhance your playing. The auto recording is also a great feature; it means that the pedal will start recording when you start playing and not when you stomp on it.
For those ephemeral moments of sudden inspiration, the ability to record the loops in a bank and extract them to the computer to work on them further is just great. Finally, it also has an AUX-in meaning that you can connect a different audio source to the pedal and make it part of your looping banks.
All of these features run on a single 9V battery. This pedal sure is a huge looper in a small box that is very easy to use; even more with the added BOSS external switch.
BOSS RC-1 Loop Station
What’s good: The loop indicator is great to see loop current status and progress. External footswitch capability.
Not so good: No adjustments can be made, it only has one knob. Takes up twice the space of other single-knob looper pedals.
This is a straight-up no-frills pedal for looping that is built like a tank. It is really cool that it is stereo in and stereo out because you can plug in more than one instrument and go stereo or maybe to a DI and your amp. It records up to 12 minutes of looping which is way more than you´ll ever need at once and works on batteries, meaning you can just throw it inside your gig bag and with two cables you are set to go.
There are two things I particularly liked about the RC-1. The first is that the last recorded line remains in the pedal´s memory even after it has been unplugged from power. The second is the convenient looper indicator that allows you to be aware at all times of the loop´s progress.
You can add an external footswitch which comes in super handy to avoid the main problem many of us have with one-switch loops that is stopping because it takes two stomps. With the external FS-7, you play and stop in a single stomp and can even Undo/Redo your last phrase.
TC Electronic Ditto
What’s good: Minimal size that will fit any pedalboard. Analog original signal and 24-bit uncompressed audio for the loop.
Not so good: No space for a battery. The USB port is only for firmware updates.
The Ditto looper is a great addition to the pedalboard of a bass player if you are going to use it eventually here and there but is definitely a one-trick pony. It is very similar in capabilities to the RC-1 but takes less than half the space on your board. The first time I held a Ditto in my hand I was amazed by the size and also the weight; it is very sturdy and heavy, it is built like a rock.
The thing I like the most about this pedal beside the size is the fact that the true bypass really works and the fact that TC Electronic maintained the analog signal through the pedal so it won´t affect your tone. It does not feature such a long looping time with only five minutes but the last loop can be retained when you power the unit off.
TC Electronic is a Danish audio brand (they also make software, plugins and studio audio equipment). Because of this leverage, they always have great sounding pedals and perhaps the first thing that hit me when I plugged in the Ditto is that it really sounds great. The dual-stomp to stop it is a little annoying, but the true analog and 24-bit uncompressed audio make loops sound tight, especially in the low end that for us, bass players are very important.
Digitech Jam Man Stereo Looper
What’s good: Dedicated XLR in for a microphone with separate volume control. 24-bit audio quality.
Not so good: Bigger and heavier than any other in the list. Too complex for just a little looping.
We can easily say that this is the most complete loop pedal on the list. I remember clearly playing it at the instrument store, flipping it over to connect it and being blown away by all the options available. It is stereo in, stereo out, you can plug in a microphone, add a footswitch, take the rhythm out, plug headphones, an AUX-in, a memory card, USB and the 9V adapter.
To start with, it is a 24-bit unit that doesn´t compress the sound. You can actually export to the dedicated software in WAV. You can loop 35 minutes in each of the 99 memories and 99 more in the memory card. You can store them all in the dedicated software called JamManager and access them anytime you like.
I was very pleased to find the auto-record function here too (avoiding that hand-foot synchronicity is crucial). The XLR dedicated input with a separate volume is also great to avoid feedback. You get four distinct volume knobs for the instrument, the voice, the looped playback and the rhythm that you can dial in.
The BOSS rhythm section sounds a little better but with this looper, you can use another cable and use it as a metronome in a monitor if you like. Finally, one of the things I enjoyed the most about this looper is the ability to set a bank to “fade out” and making smooth transitions between parts of the song. It is not a simple looper and is for those who really want to create music looping.
Donner Tiny Looper
What’s good: Very affordable and well-built. Three modes to experiment with new sounds.
Not so good: Doesn’t sound as good as some of the competition. Doesn’t work on a 9V battery.
This is the cheapest option in the list in the broad sense of the word but makes a great first step into the looping world. Right up from the box, the little three-way selector from the top tells you there is a lot of creative space for this pedal.
You can loop and then play it in speed, normal or reverse with just the flick of a switch. Reverse looping is an art form and it can be really good to break some molds and make new music.
Other than the three modes it is pretty similar to the Ditto but it doesn´t sound as good. I didn’t enjoy the size of the volume knob either; with the Ditto, you can do some foot-adjustments, with this pedal you need to kneel down. After trying both I understood just how much difference the 24-bit and true analog bypass make.
The lows on my P-Bass sounded tight and articulate with the Ditto but not with the Donner. It is completely made of aluminum alloy, so it is very light-weight and very sturdy at the same time.
Electro-Harmonix 360 Nano Looper Pedal
What’s good: Size fits most pedalboards. Storage space for 11 loops.
Not so good: Only 6 minutes of recording time. Mono in and mono out.
The Nano series of Electro Harmonix pedals is great because it is pedalboard-friendly and also sounds great. This small looper pedal can record up to 360 seconds (6 minutes in case you are doing the math in your head) and can store up to 11 loops accessed via a rotating switch.
Playing through it I felt that I was playing through a simplified version of the RC-3. Although it is a 24-bit pedal as well, to my ears it doesn´t have the sound quality of the TC, Digitech or BOSS. On the other hand, it is really very easy to use.
The size is perfect for a crowded pedalboard although is bigger than the Ditto. The fact that you can change banks or loops with the turn of a knob is quite useful and is something you can´t do with the Ditto Looper. I guess if you are looking for a straight-forward looping pedal for your bass that sounds good (not great) this is a good choice.
How much should I spend to get a good loop pedal?
A good looper pedal doesn´t necessarily mean the one that sounds the best, but the one with the best features. A looper pedal is just as good as what it lets you do with it. For example, if you take a look at the Digitech, Boss or TC Electronic lines, you´ll realize that price goes up as the specs grow. This means that the difference between RC-1, RC-3, RC-30, and RC-100 is the number of instruments you can plug to it and what you can do with the audio and not the audio quality of each pedal, which is a standard (24-bit uncompressed sound).
This being said, you need to think about the reliability of the pedal as well; buying a plastic-made Behringer pedal is not the same as a sturdy, metal-made BOSS pedal. Believe me that loopers do get heavily stomped as you are playing with it.
To begin the looping journey, I would say you have to go for the simplest format in a good brand like the Ditto Looper or the BOSS RC-1. Spending less money in a cheap one might be ok too for bedroom practice, but if your plastic looper, the brain of your pedalboard fails on you at the gig, you´re going to be very annoyed.
Once you graduate from the one-channel loops, you can get to the more complex dual-channel devices like the Jam Man Stereo and such. So, the amount you should spend can go along with your expertise and feature needs.
Loop effect on bass guitar
Looping your bass is something that can lead you to great sonic territories you might not have been before. There are virtuoso players who can create layers to solo on and have fun like shown on this video.
Looping on a bass guitar has an advantage and a disadvantage over other instruments
You have the low, you have the groove – Because of the low notes on your instrument you are entitled to creating a groove. Add some slap to it, a couple of chords and a high melody and you have yourself a song.
Not a familiar sound for the listener – As much as it is correct to say that you have the groove, several layers of bass playing creating a song with a melody are not what most people are used to hearing.
Adding a voice is crucial – To make the most out of your looping adventures you can try and sing or do some beatbox over your instrument with a microphone. Looper pedals that include a microphone in (like the JamMan Stereo) are a definite step forward.
What about loop length and storage?
Loop pedals differ in the number of different loops you can store on them but also differ in how they store them. For example, the JamMan series come with dedicated software that works as a librarian for your loops and also (the Stereo) has a slot to insert an SD Card and take your pre-recorded loops with you. Not all loop pedals have that ability and in fact, most of the smaller ones like the RC-1 require USB connectivity and you cannot record and recall several loops on the fly.
If you are going to loop live, you do not need the storage banks so much; on the other hand, if you are going to use it to play pre-recorded bases to play on top, you need as many banks as possible. Most loops can give you ten minutes of looping at once or more as well as unlimited overdubbing (recorded layers).
Where does loop pedal go in the signal path?
This is a very important question to ask yourself because what you want with a looper is to have all sonic sources going through it. Let me give you some advice on dos and don’ts
Watch out for the delay – It is a tricky situation to loop with a delay because you have to get the timing perfectly. I recommend you put delay pedals after the loop.
Pitch-shifting, reverb, distortions, and modulations go first – Such pedals as those that change the octave, filter a frequency, distort or modulate your instrument´s sound should go before the looping device so you can catch that sound in the looping sequence.
The tuner goes before – If you place your tuner pedal just before the looper you can silence the instrument but allow the loop to continue playing. Putting the tuner after the looper will silence all sound when it is engaged.