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Looper/Switcher Pedals - What Are They?

All About Pedalboard Looper Pedals

One of the most powerful pedals for your pedalboard might be a looper.

What is a looper pedal? How can it help? How might it make a dramatic improvement in your tone? I hope to answer these questions and more in this All About Pedalboard Looper's article.

Sidebar: This Is Not About Repeating Recorded Phrases. There are pedals available that loop a recorded phrase at the touch of a switch, such as the JamMan, the Boss Loop Station or the VOX Lil' Looper Multi-Effect pedal. This article is not about those or similar pedals. I am discussing how and why you should create grouped sets of effects pedals. If you want to learn about pedals that loop phrases, a great video to search for is the KT Tunstall Black Horse and the Cherry Tree demo.

To understand the benefits of a pedalboard looper, you first need to understand the problems they solve, which are:

  1. Remove a tone-killing pedal from your chain until needed.
  2. Pre-stage a combination of effects.
  3. Get pure, clean, full-strength guitar tone instantly.
  4. Easily activate your pre-staged effects from one up-front pedalboard control strip.

Solution 1: Removing The Tone-Killing Pedal

Even when your pedals are inactive, signal passes through them. This means passing your signal through connectors, probably transistors, possibly even buffers, all of varying quality. When you pass your signal through several pedals, or even one pedal, your original clean signal is degraded. This leads to what some call "tone-loss." This problem is also known as "signal sucking" or "tone suck." Each of these terms describes the degradation of your original signal that would normally pass from your guitar, through one quality cable, into your amp.

A looper eliminates this problem by routing your signal on the more direct path from your guitar, through one cable, through the looper, and on to your amp. Think of this as "pedal bypass."

Solution 2: Pre-staging Effects Combinations

The looper allows you to create a chain of effects combinations tied to the looper, that are only active when you toggle a switch. You can create a crunchy high-energy signal chain, a separate retro-vibe chain, plus an extreme octave-driven screamer. The list of chains is limited only by your imagination.

Sidebar: An Effects-Chain is a combination of one or more effects devices, daisy-chained together with patch-cables, to create unique tone for specific situations.

Let's assume you have two or three effect chains you rely upon. How do you activate one? Traditionally, you would need to remember which pedals are in the chain, then do a little tap-dance to turn on the right pedals, hoping you don't activate or deactivate an incorrect effect.

This process is simplified if you own a looper. Once your effects chain is in place you simply connect the output (sometimes called "send") of the looper to the input of the first pedal in your chain. Then connect the output of the last pedal in your chain to the input (sometimes call the "return") of the looper. When ready to activate the chain, simply step on the looper switch that activates this loop. Instantly the chain is active! Want to add another effects chain? Follow the same connection steps. You can even activate multiple effects chains simultaneously (assuming your looper supports more than one loop).

Solution 3: Getting Clean Guitar Only

Once you have your effects chains connected to your looper, as described under "Solution 2", simply stepping on the toe switch of your active loops instantly removes them and returns you to pure, clean, guitar-only signal.

Solution 4: Fast & Easy Control

Once you see the value of using a looper, you will likely create several. If you place the looper pedal at the front edge of your pedalboard, you can now activate any of your pre-staged effects chains quickly and easily. No more complex memorization. No more tap dancing.


Ready To Shop, Or Learn More?

Knowing the problems a looper pedals solves, you may wish to begin shopping now. You can find a selection of looper pedals at Select Sounds LLC by simply clicking here. If you want to understand more about how they work, read on.


An Example

Frequently, an example is the best explanation, so below I show a sample of using a looper to create and control three effects chains. The first effects chain creates a nice crunchy lead tone. The second chain creates a funky tone. The third chain is for a spacy, moody, passage. The chains will be wired as follows:

Chain 1, Crunchy Lead: Overdrive -> Fuzz -> Boost
Chain 2, Funky: Wah -> Phaser - Envelope
Chain 3, Spacy: Compressor -> Flanger -> Delay

For this example, the looper used is the very affordable Nose Little True Bypass Looper from Nose Pedal.

First, create your effects chains by connecting the effects pedals to each other. For Chain 1, connect the output of the Overdrive pedal to the input of the Fuzz, then connect the output of the Fuzz to the input of the Boost. At this point, you have an effects chain, but they are not yet connected to your rig.

Sample Crunchy Effect Chain

To integrate the effects chain to your pedalboard rig, they will be connected to the Looper pedal. To do this, simpy connect the output on the looper labelled "Out 1" to the input of the Overdrive pedal. Then connect the output of the Boost pedal Input connector for the first loop on the Looper ("In 1").

Effects Chain Connection To Looper

Your first effects chain is now part of your pedalboard. To activate this crunchy lead series of pedals, simply step on the first switch of the Looper. To deactivate this set of pedals, step on the same toe-switch. Easy!

When you are ready to connect the next two chains, repeat the above process. [Connect the wah to the Phaser, then the phaser to the envelope pedal. Connect the compressor to the flanger, then to the delay pedal. Connect Chain 2 to the connectors on the looper labeled In 2 and Out 2. Do the same for In 3 and Out 3 for your Spacy chain.]

Finally, connect the Output on the side of the looper to your amplifier and the Input side of your looper to your guitar. Also connect 9v power to the Looper so the LED's will light up to show active loops.

That's it!

Simply power everything on and try out your loops. A loop is active if the LED is lit. You can activate one, two, or all three loops. (Using all loops, except in specific situations, is a bad idea. The more loops you activate, the more drain on your original signal... isn't this the reason we need the looper in the first place?)


How to avoid problems

The point of adding a looper (or two) to your pedalboard setup is to solve problems, but they can also create tone loss if used improperly. How can you use a looper pedal improperly? By activating an open loop (by open loop, we mean an unused loop).

If your looper has open loops, your signal will be cut if you accidentally step on the activation switch. To prevent this, do not activate any unused loops (that is, loops with no cable connected). To prevent accidentally activating an open loop, use a small patch cable to close the unused loop. This essentially creates a tiny effects chain that immediately returns signal to your rig.

If you notice a drain on your signal, troubleshoot for open loops as follows: 1) If your looper had LED's, make sure they are all turned off by stepping on the toe-switch of the active loop. 2) disconnect all loops and use a simple short cable on each in/out loop connection. 3) Add your effects chains back to the looper one at a time, until you have identified the problem.