Looping for Guitarists: An Open Letter to FX Manufacturers


david torn / splattercell
Platinum Supporting Member


TIMES HAVE CHANGED! since i posted this thread, as have my own opinions & perceptions.

since there are still valuable opinions & infos being actively posted here, the thread lives.
BUT!, PLEASE don’t respond to my OP as if it were posted currently.

thanks mucho,

i'm tired of ruining everyone's nice looping-threads, here, even if it occurs accidentally;
i've done it too many times, esp. when folks talk about "the cutting edge" and "being ahead of the curve" of the technology,
w/o real knowledge or much experience of what looping actually has to offer --- what it & the looping-gear, itself, already did offer --- beyond the "look ma, i'm a one-man/woman song-production-factory-in-realtime"-paradigm which so many seem to believe is the only way to "loop".
so, here's my open letter:

dear folks who make looping-devices, esp. those which are marketed to guitarists:
your products are decades behind the times; decades.

Lexicon PCM42 with Hall-mods
Electrix Repeater
Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro w/Aurisis LOOP-IV software
Elektron Octatrak
Looperlative LP1
TC 2290
Paradis Delay
MXR 2-second delay
EH 16-sec delay
DigiTech pds8000

etc etc etc

all of the above offer features, functionalities & possible sounds which are well beyond the possibilities your own products offer.
at least one of those irreplaceable devices dates back to the late 1970's; personally, i own & regularly use a few of the above.
some, daily.

here, i will not go into many comparisons with software (ie, non-hardware) development.

so: your looping devices are decades behind your own curve.
which isn't a big deal (at all) on one level:
music is music, and will always make its own way, based on musicians' need to make it.

however..... brilliant creative possibilities from within already existing technologies have been actively abandoned, in favor of what seems to be simple pandering to a marketplace comprised of folks who simply don't remember the great looping-devices already built before yours, and of folks who have zero awareness that such things ever existed at all.

maybe you have decided, somehow --- all of you --- that "if the punters don't know it's there and don't ask for it, let's not build it!", so you don't.
maybe, you simply don't care, which i might understand more..... if the market for advancing the possibilities & market for looping weren't ripe, RIGHT NOW:
because people buy the little, dead-end loopers.

no, wait..... don't get me wrong!
i get it.
to me, they're fun & cool & occasionally useful; but, creatively-speaking?
in most cases, there's a pretty quick creative dead-end built-into them gadgets;
they are, somehow, (almost-, kinda-) playback devices.

it is disturbing to me, (at least) that folks' visions of looping have narrowed & moved so far backwards, and over such a short period of time.

most guitarists don't know what's currently happening (with software looping), what has happened in hardware looping, and they seem broadly unaware of hardware looping's history, musically creative possibilities & precedents-set using that powerful gear which had already been released by previous designers & manufacturers.

on top of that?
not one of the current guitar-orientated major hardware-FX manufacturers has bothered to address any of that with the fresh design and release of a new looping product actually worthy of being called "contemporary".
not one.

now that there's a looping-bandwagon, we see the same looper-wars between manufacturers, here, day-in & day-out:
a battle over supplying the tiniest feature-set-possible which maybe/could/might please more uninformed consumers than its many already cross-eyed cousins does by being slightly more inclusive of things-mostly-done-years-ago.

the situation is straight-up lame, imo.
if you don't know better..... well, i (for one) think you should know better;
you have the resources & the access to build better, and to present (or, challenge) those capable musicians to make more music than they already do make, with what might still be fresh & new tools at their disposal..

see: hexe revolver, red panda particle, montréal assembly count to five, wmd geiger counter & etc etc etc:
all (& way more than i can list here) very interesting to increasing #'s of guitarists, it seems, all doing things we've been doing in software for years & years, but the musical explorations & results are satisfyingly different..... with a guitar-in-hand.

so, really, wtf is up with you all?
i've been there, in many times and in all kinds of company.
my history with looping design, consultation, manufacture goes way back.

i was there when Lexicon pulled the first Jamman out of the product-line after it only sold 12k units in the first year, underselling their minimum goal of 15k
i got the call when they'd rejected some very intelligent long-range plans for marketing;
and, i watched when they were late to return to the party after other offshore companies absolutely re-invigorated the looping market for guitarists:
anyway, sorry for that distraction.


but, now; now?
now, your loopers, they:
offer a song-form/phrase-format, only.
offer "beats".
offer no delay-style looping, with both feedback & oscillator modulations.
offer ridiculously un-ergonomic real-time interface possibilities (often).
offer few-to-none expression controls for guitarists whose hands are full.
offer no real musical approach to pitch, time and pitch-+-time manipulations.
offer limited midi.
offer extremely limited real-time editing; no slip+slide, no cut+paste, no slicing, no re-ordering, extremely limited multiply+divide.
offer not much "undo"-depth.
offer not very creative use of storage, recall, triggering & or "mixing".
offer no modulation.
offer no sequencing.
offer no randomisation applications.
offer no (or, minimally useful) tracks.
offer no randomisation possibilities.
offer little or minimally useful filtering/processing.

decades behind the times; decades.

there's a pretty tremendous GAPING HOLE in the creative/sound exploration arena of hardware-looping for guitarists, that arena which once-upon-a-time was, well, the electric guitarist's stock-in-trade.
remember the establishing, pioneering heroes of the electric guitar?
i don't play like them, but i remember & honor so many of them, every day. they seemed to me to often be saying things like:
"thanks! if you let me at that thing, maybe i'll show you things you didn't know could be done; maybe i'll even break it, in the trying."


so, what could be done, to bring your products up to speed & set a potentially more contemporary speed?

here's my first loose & partial outline of things which might be done:
1) FIRST, BUILD A SIMPLE LOOPER WITH HIGH-END OLD SCHOOL FEATURES & CAPABILITY: build an AFFORDABLE looping device that perfectly mimics every functionality of a modified lexicon pcm42 of the early 1980's, but with a few extra features, and which might be expandable/upgradeable,
2) NEXT, build a more expensive brand-newy looping device that incorporates the best of the EDP, Repeater & Looperlative, but with some extra-contemporary, groundbreaking (for hardware) features, and which might be expandable/upgradeable, OR
3) LASTLY, look at the above knowing what those boxes were (and STILL ARE) capable-of, and build something truly fresh & innovative, and
4) have a business plan with a healthy schedule, and make sure that clear & exciting & creatively intriguing educative materials --- videos & clinics, etc --- are made available to both customers & distributors.

and, def be aware that if you don't do this
--- taking advantage of the interfacing inbuilt into hardware platforms, and capitalising on the requirements of instrumentalists ---
others will do it, eventually.
software is already ahead, by a long shot..... which has slowly begun to attract more guitarists, but.....

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david torn / splattercell
Platinum Supporting Member
Wow. My head is spinning. I had no idea that loopers could be all that. When you design yours please let me know.
so much is possible, partially because so much has already been done;
that these things were already done and are a) disappearing & b) becoming almost completely forgotten --- by guitarists --- is what disturbs me.


Wannabe Shredder
Silver Supporting Member
Well said David.

There seems to be so much dumbing down now. Look at a good 80-90's delay, packed to the brim with features we hardly see today, and now we have processor power capable of so much more...


i wouldn't look towards the guitar manufacturers...

i see you mentioned hte octarack.. the move towards live performance / modular and hardware oriented settups in the techno / electronic music realms will most likely be where something is going to come from.

Every time i fire up Traktor (dj software) or Maschine (beats production software) or Ableton i see inspiring and creative approaches to sampling / looping and LIVE performance using them.

fingers are crossed!

sadly there is probably a multi page thread on this board proclaiming the genius of Ed Sheeran because he can make bongo noises on an acoustic and loop it while he plays - MIND BLOWN!


This is all true. I've tried several looper that do little things but it's never enough. I've always finish by only using the looper to loop, so I now run a Ditto Looper...

If there would be a real nice looper I would consider buy it.

Hope someone will see that, like Strymon maybe.



w/o real knowledge or much experience of what looping actually has to offer --- what it & the looping-gear, itself, already did offer --- beyond the "look ma, i'm a one-man/woman song-production-factory-in-realtime"-paradigm which so many seem to believe is the only way to "loop".
I enjoyed reading your entire post, but this bit particularly resonates with me. A lot of people who use loopers limit themselves to the one approach, which a) quickly becomes boring, and b) creates a market where looper manufacturers focus on helping with this one trick.

I know often dread the music when I see a solo artist with a looper. "Ooh look, they're going to start every song by laying down a rhythm track, a shaker and/or beatbox percussion track, and then just phone in a well known song." Very rarely do I see a looper used for genuinely interesting things.

I think the problem with that is the approach is the fact that they shoehorn a looper into their music to make up for a lack of a band. You end up with a boring waste of time at the start of a song as they set up their loops, and nothing more of interest really happens for the rest of the song. The interesting looping stuff happens when people start exploring what they can do with loops, rather than using it as a substitute for a band.

My acid test is this: If, without watching, I can immediately tell that it's looping, it's probably not going to be that good. If, without watching, it's a seamless musical experience where sounds are added in a way that feels natural, it's a great, musical use of looping. All of the looping examples I've heard from Splatt fit into this second category.

I currently have a Boss RC30, but I avoid the stereotypical one man band usage (other than for practice at home). In live situations, I usually only use it for drones and other ambient sounds that can slot into the mix without being a case "oh look he's looping all the parts of the song." I would love to explore the musical possibilities of this tool further, but my current musical context doesn't really give much space for that.


I just wrote a looper article for the Tone Report. You won't like it OP.

It might be shorter than your post too, lol.


I don't disagree that the technology has devolved, but there might be a very good reason for it.

Perhaps it's that guitarists don't *want* all those features. My favorite looper has been the TC Ditto, which is horrible on features but just small and easy to use - the idiot's looper. Didn't bond with the RC20 or RC3 or any of other several loopers I've tried.

So sure, build a complex one for the looping geniuses, but it'll have to be priced pretty high, because it probably won't sell too well.

PS There are several free plugins I've tried on Linux that actually do the stuff you're mentioning. Pretty complex and awesome. But ultimately I didn't need all those features either!


Unsurprisingly, I'm totally on-board with Splatt's post. Given how much musical technology has advanced over the last couple of decades, and how much easier it is to find the audience for these devices than it was in the '80s and '90s, both because "looping" is now a common word in the guitarist lexicon, and also Internet, it's ridiculous that I'm still looking enviously at devices built before Y2K in terms of features.

And please, don't tell me to just switch to software. Some of us greatly prefer the simplicity of purpose-built hardware. How many of you are primarily generating your sounds through laptops? Exactly.

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