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Do you know your Reggae Bass?
Here are some things that you should know about the reggae
Unlike the reggae guitar, the role
of the reggae bass may at first appear to be less significant. But, nothing could be further
from the truth. If you are an avid fan of reggae music you would know that, without the reggae bass line,
reggae would never be the music it is today.
If you don’t believe me, try to remember your favourite reggae
song. Ok, what came to your mind first? I am pretty sure it is the defining reggae bass grove of that
song. It is for this reason, the bass guitar is arguably the
most important instrument in reggae.
Types of bass
With the latter in mind what kind of bass do you need for
reggae? All you need to play reggae is a four string bass guitar, and hands down the best reggae bass guitar for reggae is the Fender Jazz
Bass. Most if not all of Bob Marley’s Bass-lines were played by
Aston “Family Man” Barrett using a Fender Jazz Bass.
Ask any reggae bass guitarist who is worth their salt and I am sure
they will agree with me on this – the Fender Jazz Bass is the crème del
la crème of reggae basses. Get your hand on any one of these babies from
the 60s and you will be in reggae bass heaven.
Of course there are other good basses out there that could be used
for reggae and one brand that springs to mind is Paul Reed Smith. Robbie
Shakespeare, from the famous duo Sly and Robbie has been playing a four string Paul Reed smith for
years. Be warned though they are very expensive!
The 4-string Music-Man StingRay is very good for
reggae. It is also pricey but, not as expensive as the Paul Reed Smith
and you really can’t go wrong with this one for value. Other brands you
might also want to look at are Steinberger, Warwick, the Yamaha TRB series and Ibanez.
What might sound good to one person might not to another; so
shop around to find one that suits you, taking into consideration the sound, look and feel.
Now that I have the bass, what type of
Any good bass amp should do the trick but, if you are in doubt go
for something that can give you a very big deep and natural sound. Many
reggae bass players back in the day used their bass with an
acoustic amp. They used this combination mainly to mimic the upright bass
which gave a more natural sound. So you could try an acoustic bass amp so
long as it is loud enough.
Ampeg makes very good amps and their reissue B15 is one you might
want to look at. Other makes you should check out are Fender, Dean,
Ashdown, SWR , Trace Elliott, Hartke, Orange, Roland and Gallien-Krueger. There are more manufacturers no doubt but, the high end models of these makes will do just
Remember, bass amps do actually vary from player to
sound, the price, and where you are going to play should be your ultimate guide, so buy the best reggae bass amp
you can afford.
The reggae bass sound
sound is traditionally very deep and natural - no bells and whistles. These days however,
musicians are experimenting with different sounds and settings, so again it boils down to what tickles your
With this in mind, aim for as natural a sound as
possible. First though, start off by placing some flat wound strings on
your bass. Then adjust your playing technique, by playing as close to the
neck as possible. This will help cut the highs, darken the sound and help give a natural sweet reggae
As stated earlier, the choice of bass will vary from player to
player but the basic guide line remains the same. So play around with the
settings on your bass until you get a deep thumping reggae sound. Basically you want to get rid
of the highs and use as much middle as is reasonable without brightening the sound too much.
I am very much aware that the bass guitar can not be set in
isolation to the amp. Getting the right sound from the amp can be a bit tricky. If you are not careful here
you can indeed end up with a very muddy sound.
Start off by putting all amp settings to 12 O’clock, and then roll
back the middle and the high settings to the point where the sound is deep and pleasing to the
should get you the sound you are after. If you are still not
satisfied, play a favourite reggae CD (it needs to be played as loud as possible to make the bass section clear)
and try to emulate the sound from that by setting your guitar and amp simultaneously.
Because of the deepness of the reggae bass sound, you should try
and keep the sound as tight as possible. Using 10 inch speakers (4x10
cabs) can do wanders in tightening up your sound so by all means experiment with them.
Like I have said else where, sound is more or less personal and
very subjective. What I have done here is to give some guide lines from
which to work. For more see how to play reggae bass.