Blog - The kit that revolutionised my music making

Many years ago I took part in an inspiring NORCA workshop with the very talented trombone player Dennis Rollins. Best known for his work with Courtney Pine and The Jazz Warriors, (A gig I was lucky enough to see as a teenager, at the UEA, Norwich), this was my first upfront introduction to The Loop Pedal. Dennis Rollins uses live looping of his trombone to create landscapes of musical layers, enabling him to play as a solo artist, or with others. His workshop was a vocal based one at Norwich Arts Centre. Encouraging us to layer up vocals working collaboratively, we created dramatic vocal scenes and had a very enjoyable day making music. I was hooked. Shortly after that workshop, we bought the Boss RC20XL loop pedal. I’m sad to say it sat in a cupboard for many years, mainly as I had no idea how to begin to use this, and small children took precedence. You may be familiar with artists that are using the loop pedal today such as our home grown Ed Sheeran, or way before that, KT Tunstall. Four years ago, I purchased a very nice Roland BA 330 All-in-one portable digital PA system suitable for use anywhere. This amazing speaker is used by buskers and has, I’m going to get geeky here, two XLR inputs combined with jack inputs, and another two channels for stereo inputs. Here is a picture just so you can see the thing of beauty-

This, combined with a second hand Sure SM58 microphone and the pictured Boss RC20XL loop pedal that I dusted the cobwebs off, was where my journey began.

So what is a loop pedal?

Well, a basic pedal like the one I’ve featured allows you to record a track, like a vocal line, or in my case I plug in an electric ukulele, record a track of about 45 seconds, press the pedal again, and it plays the track back. When it gets to the end it ‘loops’ the track by playing it again and continues to do so until you press stop. Then the fun begins, as you can then record vocals over the top, or play another different line of uke, or mic up a cello and play over the top, or the spoons, cazoo, didgeridoo, whatever you can get your hands on. To be honest, you don’t even need a speaker, you can plug headphones into the pedal and hear what you’re doing like that, but I do like a bit of volume in my living room.

So, as primarily a singer, (although I loop with ukulele and cello too), I began experimenting with making short loops, layering them up and exploring what I could come up with. At this time I had had the pleasure of seeing Girl In A Thunderbolt (Maria Uzor, better known more recently as one of the fantastic Norwich duo making it big, Sink Ya Teeth). She was playing at The Workshop locally, and she used the loop pedal with skill and mastery, not an easy thing to do. The reason being (depending on the pedal’s functionality) your timing has to be very sharp in order to press the pedal in just the right time so that your loop replays in the correct time, for example, every eight bars of four beats, rather than eight and a half bars of four. Skills. I spent many months making loops of about 40 seconds, I thought I might make an album entirely of loops. As much for my own pleasure as the thought of others listening to it. That is something I am still working on, but other opportunities took over.

I had a lot of fun with the RC20XL, as it runs off battery, and so does the Roland speaker, I took it to an eight day festival called Dance Camp East a couple of years in a row, and ran some spoken word workshops centred around the loop pedal and my bass guitar. It worked a treat, but I found there were limitations to the output of creativity with this pedal, you can only layer up on one track and can only remove the last track you recorded from the composite layers. Fine for gigging but less so as a devise to use for recording and using with DAWS (a Digital Audio Work Station used by musicians and producers to create audio tracks, for example Ableton or Cubase, or there are many free downloadable audio editing software packages available too.)

After doing a bit or research, I decided to upgrade. Although there are many other reputable brands other than Boss delivering loop pedals, I thought I’d go with the brand that I knew and their reviews were great, so, with the help with a loan from a good friend, I purchased the Boss RC300. Oh My. Now this is a lovely piece of kit.

As you can see, this has THREE pedals instead of one. That means, you can get one track playing, experiment on the other two tracks and keep or delete them. (The build quality is lovely, this is a foot pedal loop station so very popular with guitarists and the like.) You can also layer up as many loops on just one of the pedals as you like. Better still, you can plug this into a computer and download the .wav audio files straight into your music program, in this case Ableton 10 lite which came free with a midi keyboard purchase. With an XLR input for the microphone and jack lead input, I nearly filled the 100 tracks this machine can record, over a few months. Of course you can delete the recordings and re-record, but sometimes its nice to have instant access to earler work. Another very useful feature is that I could import a .wav audio file to use as a backing track to experiment vocally on one of the pedals, so for gigging out this would have been a great devise as a solo artist, if I hadn’t found anyone else to work with. Fortunately, my partner DJ Steve Scratch Wurly was at the time making some fine EDM tunes (Electronic Dance Music) and this with the help of the RC300, is where our journey together musically began. He’d write a tune, I’d put it on the loop 1 track and then experiment vocally on the other two pedals, export it to Ableton and recomposite the track, tweak the vocal effects and three years later we are soon to release our first album under our name WonKy. Now all I have to do is learn my own lyrics (I'm quite forgetful) and look forward to the time when we can all play out live again.

I’m a bit of a loop fanatic. Anyone that turns up at my door (before COVID), would be subjected to me persuading them to have a go on the loop station. Seriously, I could be a sales representative I’m so enthusiastic about this devise, obviously I’m not. Now the RC300 is great, but it only has three pedals and is better suited to guitarists than vocalists due to the foot pedal operation. To my surprise, last year I got given the best Christmas present a person like myself could have been given. My partner had saved up and presented me with the Boss RC505! Oh boy, let’s take a look at this one….