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The Top 10 Reggae Instruments and Some


Here are the top 10 reggae instruments you will see in most reggae band and hear on most reggae recordings. Let me reiterate, these are just the top 10 reggae instruments and some, please note that any instrument can be used in reggae. Peter Tosh was known to have used up to twentreggae instrumentsy reggae instruments at a time to record.

1. The Guitar

Where would reggae be without the tired but true sound of the reggae guitar? Of all the reggae instruments the guitar is probably the most popular. It is mainly used for rhythm and lead parts. A Fender Strat, Tele or a Gibson Les Paul is normally used but, some musicians use other models to good effect.

2. The Bass guitar

The bass is the most important reggae instrument. You are free to disagree. I play lead and rhythm guitar myself but, all the other reggae instruments sounds pale if the bass is not there to liven things up. A band can do without any single reggae instrument at a given time, but they would be hard pressed to get by without the bass guitar. The industry standard for reggae is the Fender Reggae Bass. Sorry! Make that the Fender Jazz Bass.

3. The Piano

As a reggae instrument the piano is hardly used these days for obvious reasons. That’s a shame really, because you can’t replace the natural sound of a milked piano with a keyboard. I am sure some will disagree. The piano was use along with the guitar to give a fatter or a double rhythm sound. A good quality upright piano was normally used.

4. The Organ 

These days when people speak of reggae instruments the organ does not readily springs to mind. But, the organ sound has a place in reggae that can’t be replaced. It is the bass organ that gives that sweet bubble or shuffle sound that gives body and dimension to the rhythm section. A Hammond Organ or Hammond Organ sound is what you should aim for.

5. The Clavinet 

The clavinet like the upright piano and many other reggae instruments, is not used much these days but when it is used it adds interest and difference to the sound. The Hohnor D6 or C clavinet will give that vintage sound if you can get your hand on one of them. Failing that, you can use the clavinet sounds that came with your keyboard or workstations.

6. The Keyboard

The reggae keyboard is the most flexible of all the reggae instruments and it has made many reggae instruments redundant in many bands. It is used to replicate a myriad of sounds ranging from pianos, organs, strings, bass, guitar, trumpet, horns and all sorts of synthesizers. You name it the keyboard can do it. Any good workstation form Yamaha, Korg or Roland will do.

7. The Drum 

As an instrument of reggae the drum is obviously used to keep the timing and to maintain the integrity of the one drop beat. A standard drum kit is not always used, sometimes when it is a chanting song the bongo drum is more ideal. A good standard drum kit will do for reggae.

8. The Bongo 

The bongo drum is mostly used as a reggae instrument by the Rastafarian community. The current generation of reggae artists and musicians from around the globe are trying to develop a sound of their own which is not a bad thing hence, the limited use of the bongo. The bongo is used to give a spiritual as well as an African feel to a song or beat.

If you have not heard Noel Simms AKA Scully Simms play the bongo you are seriously missing out. Do yourself a favour and check him out on YouTube. While you are at it check out Bongo Herman also.

9. The Horns 

Horns are mainly used in reggae for introductions, counter melodies and lead fills and sometimes long solos. The trumpet, trombone and saxophone are normally used together or as individual reggae instruments. They are sometimes played very softly through out a song but can also be used to signify the importance of the message that is about to be song. For more, listen to the work of Don Drummond (trombone), Rico Rodriquez (trombone), Johnny Dizzy Moore (trumpet) and Dean Fraser (saxophone).

10. Percussion

Any percussive instrument can be used in reggae music. There are really no limits as to how they can be used. Reggae musicians have used shakers, wind chimes, guiro, cowbell, quika (kweeka) drum among others to produce excellent music. Note that some of the percussive instruments used by reggae musicians were their own invention. Some have been known to use cups and pot heads. In fact Lee Perry, when he was at Black Ark studio, used bottles with water in them to create varying sounds. So let your imagination be your guide.

And Some

These are my top 10 reggae instruments. There are many others such as the harpsichord, violin, cello, flute, xylophone, melodica which is a toy by the way, but Agustus Pablo uses it like a master.  The only reason I have not put it in the top 10, is simply because not a lot of musicians use it live, well these days at least (to see it being used live check out Agustus Pablo on Youtube). There are many more but, I have deliberately missed many instruments as time and space would not permit me to list all of them.

If you deem any reggae instrument that I have missed significant, do drop me a line and I will be more than happy to add it. Peace and love

Click the link to learn how to play reggae instruments starting with the reggae guitar


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