5 Revolutionary True Bypass Loopers

True bypass loopers are among the most useful tools available to any guitarist that has more than a few pedals sitting at their feet. What these utilitarian signal routing devices lack in sex appeal, they more than make up for by enhancing the tone, functionality, and overall sonic integrity of any rig. For instance, being able to strategically switch entire groupings of pedals out of the signal chain with a single stomp can dramatically cut down on noise and signal loss. And if you're a player that likes to use vintage pedals—which often suffer from poor-quality buffering, excess noise, and delicate switches—a true bypass looper can make these pedals viable for live use again, without resorting to modifications that might detract from their value. A bypass looper can also function as an isolated tuner output for silent tuning, or a simple A/B selector.

Besides their many utility functions, true bypass loopers also have much potential for creative applications. A common way to use them is to engage and disengage multiple pedals at once. Most pedal jockeys have run into a situation where they might want to step on, say, a fuzz, a delay, and a phaser all at once. Even if you've got huge feet and a background in ballet, stomping on more than two pedals at once is a daunting and inelegant proposition. A bypass looper can group these pedals together, allowing the player to click on a bunch of them with a single switch. A looper can also turn just about anything into a road-ready guitar effector, as the sends and returns of many of these units can be made to interface with just about anything, from studio rack effects to an iPad. Virtually any sound mangling device one has on hand can then be pressed into service as a makeshift stompbox.

High quality loopers and switchers, especially the complex multi-channel variety, were formerly available only to rock star types that could afford custom units from Bradshaw, Cornish and the like, but today any guitarist can afford one. They are available in many different orientations, from compact enclosures with a single send/return loop, to ultra-powerful switching motherships with a gazillion ins and outs, extensive MIDI and expression capabilities, and lots of memory for saving presets. Any player that uses pedals would be served well by having one in their tool kit. Here are a few of our favorite true bypass loopers.

BYOC A/B True Bypass Looper Kit

For those with simple needs, small budgets, and but a few basic stompboxes, Build Your Own Clone offers a very inexpensive and easy-to-build kit for constructing an A/B true bypass looper. There's not much going on circuitry-wise in the average bypass looper, so building one from a kit is an excellent option that can save a lot of money and won't require too many hours hunched over a soldering iron in the basement. It's a great project for first-time builders. BYOC's design can work as either an A/B box or as a dual-channel true bypass looper. It features one footswitch for bypassing the whole unit, and another footswitch that selects between two independent effects loops. It also has LED's of different colors to let you know which loop is engaged. For under fifty bucks, it's a remarkable deal, and it has the potential to change the way you interact with your pedalboard in new and exciting ways.

Pigtronix Keymaster

Pigtronix is well known for its characteristically unique take on guitar effects, and the company's Keymaster true bypass looper adds to this reputation, offering guitarists and other musicians many adventurous possibilities for creative signal routing and blending. The Keymaster has two independent channels, each with its own footswitch and LED. The features that really set it apart, though, are the Series/Parallel switch and the Crossfade knob. Together they are tons of fun. When running the loops in parallel, the player can twist the Crossfade knob to blend the loops together in any ratio, and with an expression pedal plugged in, this function can be manipulated for on-the-fly effects blending. The Pigtronix Keymaster is further outfitted with 10dB input and output boost controls and balanced XLR ins and outs, which makes it great for vocalists, horn players, and recordists that might want to use guitar pedals in a decidedly non-guitar capacity.

Z. Vex Loop Gate

If you're looking for a simple, compact true bypass looper that does something a bit more exciting than just switching effects in and out, then Z. Vex has got you covered. The company's Loop Gate blends a send/return effects loop pedal with a noise gate and mixing functions to breathe new life into the pedals that you already have. It can be set up to fade effects out, creating organic sounding trails, or it can slice and dice the sound in a stuttering tremolo fashion when the Chop mode is engaged. The Gate/Mix switch and Sensitivity knob can be used for basic noise control functions, or for using the dynamics of your playing to trigger the loop. In true Z. Vex fashion, the Loop Gate takes the simple true bypass loop concept and adds a new and unexpected dimension to it, turning a basic utility pedal into an inspiring musical companion for the creative-minded pedalboard pilot.

Molten Voltage Toggle

Molten Voltage is a company that is all about creative controlling and switching. Its Toggle true bypass looper is remarkable, allowing the user to switch rapidly and rhythmically between two totally independent effects loops. The switching function can be engaged normally with the footswitch, or it can be set to switch in time with either tap tempo, or the dynamics of the picking pattern. It is equipped with seven switching modes, including TapSwing, TapTwo, TapTriplet, TapFour, StrumTrigger, StrumLatch, and regular old A/B mode. This incredible flexibility allows for many interesting rhythmic switching variations, as well as some really drastic sonic shifts. The Toggle also has a jack for external triggering, which lets the user trigger the switching function based on the input from an outside audio source, such as a drum machine, or a microphone coming from the kick or snare of a live drum kit. This makes Toggle a genuinely useful live performance tool that can make one guitarist sound like a pair of dueling six-stringers.

Boss ES-8 Effects Switching System

For every working guitarist who has ever lusted after a David Gilmour-esque custom Bradshaw switching system to control all of their effects, the Boss ES-8 comes very close in a much more affordable, off-the-rack form. At $699 street price, it's still a significant gear investment, but it's also much less than the custom switching systems of yore, and it is outfitted with at least as impressive a range of functions. The ES-8 is indeed a major engineering accomplishment on Boss's part, with its elegant black enclosure, rugged build quality, simple layout, transparent sonic characteristics, and frankly astonishing signal routing and switching powers. In its most basic mode, it can be set up as a simple router and switcher for up to nine effects. Dig in deeper, however, and it becomes a complex signal chain master controller that can save up to 800 presets, switch the order of effects instantly, and harness the power of MIDI to communicate tempo and other information to your pedals. It's capable of so much, in fact, that few users will ever truly be able to maximize its powers. That's okay, though, because even if you only use 25 percent of the Boss ES-8's capabilities, you're still getting a wicked good deal.

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