Going Loopy

Last week I wrote about the experience of going back out & gigging for the first time in a good few years. Just to recap, I’m playing in a duo called The Palace Buskers. We play a choice of classic rock ‘n roll, top 40 pop, some Commitments-style soul with the odd classic rock track thrown in for good measure. All this with just one guitar, a couple of vocals, a tambourine and not a backing track in sight. Needless to say there have had to be some compromises when it comes to making the arrangements work – gone are the big guitar solos & riff-heavy sections of some songs as these simply do not hold water with our rather sparse orchestration.

However, this week I treat myself to a new toy. I bought a TC Electronic “Ditto” looping pedal & I have to say that it has been a revelation. Here’s how I’m using it… Hit the record button as soon as we go into the verse immediately before an instrumental section, then hit “playback” at the beginning of the instrumental and it begins playing the chords back for me to solo over. No more just bashing out the chords, with a few “sus4” & other “twiddly bits” bolted on in lieu of a solo – now I can actually play a “proper” guitar break. What’s more, if I’m “in the zone” (as it were) and want to do an extended solo, the pedal will just keep going round & round until I’ve had enough and give the nod to the singer to come back in – a quick double-tap on the footswitch and it’s silenced.

Here is an example of me using the pedal in this way: This is the solo from our version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” which begins, as described above, with the verse before my solo (there would obviously be some vocals over this section when we do it live). All I do is loop these chords under my solo & hey-presto I’m a lead guitarist. There are some compromises: for instance, because the pedal is before my amp modeller in the signal chain, I can’t go to a different preset on my preamp for a lead sound. This would also affect the chords being played by the looper pedal if I were to do so. However, regular readers of this blog will know that I tend to use just one sound anyway & vary my lead/rhythm tones via the pickup selector & guitar volume control, so it’s no big hardship. This new found ability to play some lead guitar in the songs which need it makes the pedal worth the eighty five quid I paid for it.

Another way in which I’m finding it useful is for those songs which are essentially just the same three or four chords played over & over. For example, we play Amy MacDonald’s “This Is The Life” which goes C#m to A to E to G#m in a continuous loop for the entire song. All I do here is play the sequence into the pedal in a basic strummy fashion, which then allows me to put all kinds of other textures on top… a riff on the bass strings; a harmony part for that riff; a ska-style chord stab to accentuate the “two” & “four” in each bar; some power chords to fatten up the chorus etc. etc. Holding down the footswitch for a couple of seconds also activates an “undo” function on whatever was added in the most recent layer, so as well as building up the layers, I can remove them too. This allows me to create dynamic variation. Hold the switch down again in the same way & it re-introduces the part previously “undone”.

Here is a quick demo, about a minute in length, that I did within half an hour of getting the pedal out of its box. The only trouble I’m having with this wonderfully intuitive piece of kit is stopping myself from adding more layers than the song needs & making everything sound too “busy” – something which happened on this demo, hence the fade out before it all got out of hand.

I know that some folks reading this will be thinking “So what? I’ve been using a looper pedal for years” & if that’s the case, then forgive me for making such a big hoo-ha about it. Just try to recall that excitement you felt the last time you got a new piece of equipment which sparked your creativity and made you play in a more thoughtful way, and you’ll know where I’m coming from.

Until next time, have fun (I certainly am!)

John Robson Guitar Tuition & Musicianship Coaching

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