TC Electronic had an instant hit with Ditto, a one-shot looper with minimal controls. The recently introduced Ditto X2 adds reverse and half-speed modes plus the ability to export your creations.
Looping means many things to many players. For some, a looper is simply a handy composition tool, great for devising parts that work well together. Others use looper pedals for textural variation in an otherwise non-looped performance. And some ambitious players create entire concerts from loops.
Today’s looping devices reflect this range of applications. On the simple side, there are compact one-shot, single-track loopers such as TC Electronic’s Ditto and Hotone’s Wally. Single-track looping also appears on digital multi-effectors such as Line 6’s DL4 and TC Electronic’s Flashback 4. On the opposite end of the spectrum are elaborate multitrack loopers such as Boomerang III, Electro-Harmonix’s 45000, and Boss’s RC-300. Checking in between those extremes are such gizmos as Pigtronix’s Infinity Looper and Vox’s Lil’ Looper, both of which offer two tracks of looping for not much more than you’d spend on a single-track model.
There’s much variation from model to model. Some loopers remember your recordings from previous sessions, while others forget everything the instant you unplug. Some include built-in modeling or effects. Others, like Line 6’s JM4 with its prerecorded rhythm-section tracks, emphasize jamming and practicing. It definitely pays to consider your needs in advance and research each looper’s features.
(I use “one-shot” to refer to loopers that store only a single loop, though you can overdub onto that loop as much as you like. Other models let you record and play back many loops, but I don’t call them “multitrack” unless they let you combine multiple loops, or toggle between them to create multi-section compositions.)
While I hope you find useful info here, not everything will be relevant to your gear, needs, and tastes. So first, a word about how this lesson is organized:
• Looping Basics covers tips and techniques valid for all looping devices, even the simplest single-shot/single-track models.
• Multitrack Techniques focuses on arranging and performing with advanced loopers, with an emphasis on breaking out of predictable looping.
• Digital Possibilities explores the mischief you can make when looping within a digital system, be it laptop-based or a standalone hardware rig.
Our focus is spontaneous, realtime looping. This lesson doesn’t cover such topics as integrating prerecorded loops into your performances, syncing your looper with other musicians’ time-based devices, or using your looper as a practicing tool.
With hundreds of prerecorded backing tracks, Line 6’s JM4 emphasizes practicing and jamming. It’s a single-track model, yet it’s packed with features, including XLR input, amp modeling, effects, tone controls, and a tuner.
Part 1: Looping BasicsGet on the good foot. Do you have trouble consistently creating tight, rhythmically accurate loops? It could be simple performance anxiety. Many of us tend to speed up—and tense up—as we approach a loop point. If we accelerate at the end of a phrase, the loop feels wobbly. If we strike the note immediately following the loop point a bit early, we get a glitch when the premature attack collides with the loop’s start point.
If these are problems for you, make a point to relax your body and breathe fully before you click record. Some photographers recommend snapping the shutter on the exhale for increased camera stability, and the technique often works when setting loop points. Our bodies just seem to flail a bit less when we breathe out.
For all our digital dexterity, we guitarists can be terribly clumsy. This may sound silly, but can you consistently tap your foot in time while playing, even when your part doesn’t fall on the downbeat? Can you do the same with your non-dominant foot? Practicing this may help.