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Do you know your Reggae Bass?

Here are some things that you should know about the reggae bass.

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 playFender jazz reggae bass 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 amp?

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 fine.

Remember, bass amps do actually vary from player to player.  The 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

Reggae bass 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 fancy.

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 grove.

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 ear.  This 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.

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