Let’s Talk Looping!

Here’s a little video I made yesterday using the looping setup I’ve been using live.

Any other looping geeks out there? I didn’t set out to be one—I just wanted to do a duo band with percussionist extraordinaire Dawn Richardson. Looping seemed, well, kind of ten years ago, but I got sucked in, and it turned out to be a cool format for a lot of the sound design I was doing in Apple’s MainStage software. So there.

As always in looping, it’s easy to build big textures, but difficult to break them down. That’s where I always choke.

FYI, Dawn and I made an album this way, and are working on a second. More info here.

44 comments to Let’s Talk Looping!

  • DFung

    Cool! You make the setting the loop endpoints look so easy – I lack the compositional sense to set the loops so that they’re musically useful as the layers build.

    Is that a Trussart Steelcaster?

    Thanks for the great blog!

    • joe

      Thanks for the kind words, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog!

      Yep, it’s a Trussart Steelcaster, and my favorite guitar for most of the last decade. James Trussart’s stuff so inspiring:


      I like the Boomerang pedals because they’re so forgiving when it comes to setting loop points. They just do a nice job of “rounding off” the attack. You almost never get noisy/clicky transitions.

  • DohminSemper

    Loopers are cool. I usually record a loop on the computer and soloing over it. BTW too bad I can’t get your album 🙁 I don’t have the extra money to spend…

  • Joe,

    Very nice and moody, dig the tones too 🙂 I do a lot of looping on my Digitech GNX4 workstation, the optional footswitch really makes overdubs, and removing tracks really easy. The Boomerang is a very nice looper too.


    • BroKen

      I love my GNX4 too, Mark. Amazing bang for the buck. I’ve also invested in Echoplex Digital Pro, which allows for some amazing multilevel looping capabilities. Pretty pricey, but very versatile. The Akai Headrush also has a lot of versatility, a variety of signal out configurations, and much more affordable than the Echoplex.

      Anybody ever check out the Looper’s Delight forum? They’ve put out some very kewl compilation CDs over the years.

  • Dirtbagg

    I’m trying to get a hand on using my Boss RC-2 to loop and work on solos and stuff.

    Still working on it too.

  • Swen

    The song is great. But it’s the dance moves that really sell it.

  • Great stuff as always Joe! I see you got some time to work the softstep into your rig. Is that a volume pedal on the right hand side of the board?

    Just to let people know – if you want to go for a *free* (as in shareware) software route for a looper you could also try:

    Sooperlooper: https://www.essej.net/sooperlooper/
    Mobius: https://www.circularlabs.com/ (mac or PC)

    • joe

      Thanks for the tips! I love the IDEA of a an all-software setup minus the hardware looper, but everything I’ve tried doesn’t really cut it in concert. That’s mainly because I’m using really, really big sessions in MainStage, with ungodly numbers of plug-ins, and I already am pushing a new, fast MacBook Pro past its limits. But even on a stripped-down setup, I encounter timing hiccups from every software system I’ve tried. It usually wouldn’t be a problem for, say, practicing or just brainstorming, but it’s unworkable for live gigs with a drummer. So far, anyway. I know we’ll get they’re sooner rather than later . . .

  • Dirtbagg

    Joe, you know it is a very cool version ofd the song Heros also

  • Dan

    I’m excited to hear about a new Mental 99 record, Joe! Is it too late for oddball cover suggestions? ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’, ‘She Bop’? Ahh,the possibilities..

    • joe

      Great ideas! [Scribbles in notebook.] Meanwhile, we’ve been playing “Hello I Love You” by the Doors, the Cures’s “Just Like Heaven,” and (!) Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On.” 🙂

  • Peter

    A nice little demonstration. I’ve seen Mental99 and had been curious about your looping strategies.

    -> “As always in looping, it’s easy to build big textures, but difficult to break them down. That’s where I always choke.”

    My issue with looping has been to avoid too much static repetition (I know, sounds like an oxymoron), and I appreciate what Mark E. Smith said “we believe in the three R’s: repetition, repetition, and repetition”.

    Breaking down the big textures, the Echoplex Digital Pro (RIP) in its final software had multiple levels of undo and expression pedal control of feedback (decay). Easy to morph out of the static repeat, though maybe more applicable to flowing improv than strict song forms. The Boomerang III has a decay knob but it’s inconvenient for live use.
    The Boomerang’s three channels with parallel, series or free options do make it pretty amazing and my EDP has gone totally buggy.

    I think of guitar looping as being so 35 years ago, Fripp and Eno bla bla; and I have an LP of Terry Riley doing the Turkish Surgery Dervishes from 40 years ago organ with looping tape recorders, and Ramon Sender and Pauline Oliveros were doing the same 10 years before that.

    • joe

      You saw us? Hope I didn’t suck, ’cause it took me a long time to be able to do some of these moves smoothly. (I deliberately set myself a middle-aged guitar challenge, but bit off more than I could chew!)

      The earliest looping example I knew was Steve Reich’s “Come Out!” from 1966, but now that I think of it, Riley’s stuff would be earlier, wouldn’t it? I was just reading about Reich on Wikipedia, and learned that he studied with Luciano Berio, who was definitely my fave late 20th-c. composer.

      Looping is problematic! I didn’t want to do it! I just wanted to find out how much noise Dawn and I could make together!

      Regarding the Echoplex Digital Pro: That was largely the brainchild of the brilliant Keith McMillen, (https://www.keithmcmillen.com), who now makes the SoftStep MIDI controller, which I use, and the new 12-Step, a footpedal MIDI keyboard. He’s a super-cool guy, and I suspect he could help you troubleshoot your EDP.

      Form factor was a big issue for me. I wanted something small, self-contained, and non-rack-mounted. Also, I wanted something that didn’t require 100% eye contact to operate. Now, after using the Boomerang III for a year or two, I only have to be a shoegazer about half the time. 🙂

  • Very nice, Joe. Very straight forward and love the sounds you were coming up with. Tasteful, mate. Trés tasteful 🙂 I’ve been contemplating getting into the looping thing, so now I am intrigued. Have you experimented looping acoustic guitars with mic’s and/or built-in pickups?

    • joe

      Aww, thanks Mark. Means so much coming from you. Anyone who doesn’t know this brilliant player should check out: https://soundcloud.com/hexoguitar

      Re: acoustic — that would be cool! But initially, I’ve been on the keep-it-is-minimal-as-possible track ’cause I’m old and tired of lugging lots of gear to gigs eager to explore how many sounds I can get out of one guitar. 😉

      • 8-.

        I’m game for giving this a lash if you are.

        • This is a bit off-topic and a couple of years late to boot, but I am streaming Mark Altekruse’s music from the Soundcloud link, and I am absolutely floored! I love it! Such a wonderful discovery. It pays to read through the the posts. 🙂
          Also, the video that drew me into this blog post is great as well; now I want to try looping!

  • While looping has had it’s ups and downs, I still sometimes find myself fascinated at the accidental landscapes which occur when you get a large palette of manipulations. This particular short set uses the Oberheim (Gibson) Digital Echoplex Pro, which is really great for glitch and splice insertions as well as the more common layering. Hopefully the link will work!


  • Bo

    Joe, you’ve lost weight! Hoping to re-connect one of these months….sigh.
    Tech clinic way overdue (for me:-)!


  • Nice tune & tones, Joe. I’m going to checkout the album. FYI – The latest software for the Rang(TM) III is Version 2.1 and allows for expression pedal control of Decay Rate or overall playback volume. Also, the Side Car(TM) controller has been released. It’s a companion pedal for the III that adds 5 more buttons for simultaneous control of all the III’s functions.

  • Jean Pasqualini

    Dear M. Gore,
    Just discovered your blog and I am enjoying it! I just started doing some looping in my spare time (I’m a teacher). I am also using Mainstage and the Boomerang. How did you get that bass sound (the first one on the video) with your guitar using Mainstage?
    Merci beaucoup!

    • joe

      Thanks Jean — I’m glad you’re enjoying it! The “bass” sound is made using stock MainStage/Logic plug-ins. Email me, and I’ll send you the file so you can load it into MainStage.

      Remember, though, that my 6th string is tuned all the way down to C, which has a lot to do with the deepness of the tone. Also, I often use third-party plug-ins for bass sounds, such as Waves’ LoAir and SoundToys’ Filter Freak. Furthermore, I tend to pay bass lines with the soft flesh of my bare thumb, which also emphasizes the lowest parts of the sound.

  • Roger Moore

    Hello fellow Fiends! I am a long time guitarist/brand new DIYer who is here to learn a bit about FX circuits. My newness means, I of course, have little to share when it comes to building little electronic wonders, but while experimenting with Project #1 (the Bad-Ass distortion) I came up with this little trick using my loop pedal (a VOX dynamic looper in this case) that I thought some of you may like trying. Although some may already do this. I plug my guitar straight into my looper and then out from the looper into a circuit on the bread board. This way I can make a loop and then put down the guitar while I madly go about twisting knobs and popping components in and out of the circuit on the bread board. I think it’s much easier to be objective and really hear what effect any changes are making to the sound when I am not actually playing the guitar, but letting the looper do my dirty work. Well I do hope this makes sense and that some of you may find it a useful technique to apply to your tone bending madness. I will now go back to my mad experiments. Thanks again Joe!

    • joe

      That’s a great idea Roger — one I’m going to steal starting today. :thumbup:

      Only things to add: Make sure the output level is close to what it would be bypassed (some loopers have a independent gain stage) so you can get an accurate read on the dynamics. And plug in your guitar once in a while just to get a feel for touch response.

  • Derek Doss

    This is awesome, Joe. Long time fan and fellow Boomerang user. Is there a picture of your pedalboard somewhere? I looked around and could not see one. I always like to see how the pros have theirs set-up.

  • Actually Joe, Looping isn’t so “10 years ago” it has evolved, :-)there are more available tools than ever.  I’m using a hardware looper, a looperlative  LP-1  which is currently out of production but more sophisticated than the typical floor looper  check out my youtube page for some examples when you have a free moment  https://www.youtube.com/user/BillWalkerGuitar, in regards to software loopers you might sign on to https://www.loopers-delight.com/loop.html,  the web site started by the late great Kim Flint initially to help people understand the depth of the Echoplex digital pro but it has continued as a chat site populated by an international community of serious loopers many of which are doing very sophisticated multi track live looping and understand what’s what in the world of both software and hardware loopers. In addition there are two facebook sites,  Loopers Delight and Live looping where people share their loopage and knowledge.
    Bill Walker

    • Peter

      “the late great Kim Flint”
      Kim Flint. F*#k. I hadn’t heard till now. For years I was on the loopers delight list but got off a few years ago. I’d met Kim though didn’t really know him, but such a cool guy. After reading Bill Walker’s post I just did the search and learned what happened.
      Bill’s “Blues for Kim” speaks for itself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nL4xuLKMQ8c  and I am humbled, and sorrowed.

  • Sickie....

    I just ordered a Boomerang III.  Am I in for a “LOOP” ??? 

    Just how cryptic is the manual? 

    Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.  

  • Roger Moore


    I don’t own that looper myself (would love too, just outta my price range :cuss: ) However I did notice that they have the manual online over at boomerangmusic.com. Enjoy that looper!

  • Very cool, Joe!  I’ve always admired your work with Guitar Player and was blown away with your creative inputs on Waits’ Bone Machine.  As a fellow looper, I was super stoked to see this when I saw the link description.  Well done!

    • joe

      Thanks for the nice words, Jeff. Very much appreciated! FYI, I’m doing some more looping videos right now to accompany an upcoming Guitar Player magazine piece on the topic. Stay tuned! 🙂

  • cornfieldexpress

    hi joe, have seen all your looping videos. i loop using Mobius hosted in MS2 in a Macbook and a softstep to control things. planning on adding a 12step just for Mobius to avoid midi conflicts. i see that you have a 12step. have you ever tried using that for looping in Mobius hosted in MS2 and used the Softstep just to control MS2 and use it for program change messages. any thoughts and ideas would be great.

    • joe

      LOL — sorry, I’m going to have even more questions for you than you have for me! Actually, I’d never even HEARD of Mobius till I read your email. And now I’m real curious. (Here’s the URL, in case anyone else is curious.) As you no doubt know, MainStage has its own fully featured looper, and when I started getting into looping a couple of years ago, I had dreams of doing all the processing in software. But I just couldn’t make it work for me — I had too many timing errors. Apple has improved the software since then, but my MainStage sessions are SO overcrowded, they push the CPU to the limit (even on my super-fast new MacBook Pro). Once I switched to a hardware looper, everything just worked. So I want to hear more! How do you like it? As far as MIDI control, I can’t think of any reason why the KMI pedals wouldn’t work fine exactly as you describe. (Actually, I’ve been using a KMI SoftStep in the videos, not a 12Step, though I have one of those too, and it should work equally well.)

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