How Ed Sheeran Uses Looper Pedals
Ed Sheeran is known for his compelling live performances – even as a solo performer, he can create powerful backdrops of sound that seem impossible without the help of a live band.
He does this with the help of a single piece of equipment, one that has in some ways become synonymous with him – the looper pedal.
Looper pedals operate on a simple idea – you record what you’re playing and then, by kicking the pedal, you play the recorded music.
It might sound easy, but looper pedals be quite difficult to play well. If you get your timing off, it could turn into an absolute mess!
Once the line of music is played back, you can then overdub it with new passages on top of the original line, allowing you to add to the soundscape. Most loop pedals also allow musicians to change the tempo and direction of the looped music, allowing limitless possibilities when it comes to creating rhythms to perform to.
For solo performers, it also helps recreate the effect of having supporting musicians.
The most advanced loop pedals available allow musicians to record several lines of music, which helps add to the intricacy of a performance.
At the start of his career, the main loop pedal used by Sheeran was the Boss RC-20 XL Phrase Looper. This was a foot pedal that allowed for a long recording time of up to 16 minutes. It also allowed the storage of up to 11 loops at a time, with an undo function that made it easy to create perfect loops. It was also easy to use – it had a built-in auto quantize function, allowing for accurate loop timing.
Unfortunately for those looking to try this loop pedal, this model has been discontinued. There is an upgraded version available for purchase in the Boss RC-30, however.
After outgrowing the Boss RC-20 XL, Sheeran replaced it with the ‘Chewie Monsta Looper.’ This is a custom-built piece of equipment that was created by his guitar tech. it controls a different loop pedal offstage – the Roland FC-300 Midi Foot Controller, which his guitar tech controls in case of any mishaps on-stage.
The Chewie Monsta has 4 tracks that Sheeran can use to record on. While he could use the Roland FC-300 just as effectively, the Chewie Monsta is his preference because he is more comfortable with its custom pedal layout, and it better allows him to see how he is using his loops.
Sheeran’s masterful use of the loop pedal can be seen in the video above. He starts by recording a simple line of music on the loop pedal. Once he replays it, he adds more supporting melodies to it to help add to the sonic effect. He slowly builds up the loops, adding vocal effects. The final piece of music is a rich combination of complimenting sounds that give the effect of a full band and backup singers – all created by a single musician and guitar.
It is important to note that the use of a loop pedal is not the same as using a backing track. A backing track is a pre-recorded musical accompaniment for a live performance – you can have pre-recorded vocals, a pre-recorded band, or both. The use of backing tracks is popular during solo performances, or when a performance involves elaborate dance routines. However, it often leaves an audience feeling cheated, especially when not explained through the lens of a complex visual performance.
However, loop pedals allow for the live creation of a supporting audio track. Sheeran creates all his loops on-stage, as he confirmed when he refuted the claims that he used a backing track during his performance at Glastonbury in 2017. Though the effect of the music is amplified with the help of technology, loop pedals are not the same as backing tracks in that all production is done live on stage.
Ed Sheeran’s use of the loop effective is so widespread and effective that the technology is, in the minds of music lovers, intrinsically linked to his live performances. Despite this, however, he recently announced that he plans to stop using the setup.
Making the statement during the last performance of his Divide tour in August 2019, Sheeran said that fans had probably seen the last time he used a loop pedal during a gig. At the same event, he also announced that his next tour would be at least 2 years in the future – in 2021 – so it remains to be seen how he plans to perform without the use of his go-to accompaniment.
Featured image of Ed Sheeran by Markus Hillgärtner, http://www.markushillgaertner.de / CC BY-SA