Over the half-century in which reggae has been popularized all over the world, the guitar has been a key instrument in its development and continued proliferation. More than any instrument, the guitar is what gives life to reggae’s trademark syncopation: that infectious emphasis on the downbeat, which gives true reggae music such a hypnotic pulse. If you’re a guitarist who wants to make great, uplifting reggae music, what are the most essential effects you need in your roster? Let’s explore.
The Wah Pedal
While there’s nothing better than a fully in sync reggae band creating tunes together, there’s no doubt that a lone rhythm guitarist with a wah pedal is enough to create the genre’s essential syncopation. A wah pedal takes your electric guitar’s tone knob and transfers the control of that switch to your foot. It can be used either to achieve the traditional syncopation associated with reggae or as a static tone control, at which point, the rhythm will depend on finger technique. Either way, this versatile pedal is a must for any reggae guitarist.
The Reverb Pedal
Reverb is short for acoustic reverberation, which is what happens when a sound or signal builds up by reflecting off various objects in an enclosed space and then decays naturally. In short, the reverb pedal can make your electric guitar sound like it’s being played inside a large cathedral. In reggae, it’s what adds that deep, dreamy effect to either rhythm or lead guitars. This thickness contributes to the syncopation or how the weak beat is stressed to create that characteristic reggae rhythm.
The Delay Pedal
Often confused for reverb, the delay pedal is simply a device for making echoes out of the last notes you’ve played. With the right timing, it can be used to create echoes that consistently fall on the 16th note of the song. This means that instead of settings that allow the delay pedal to continuously regenerate or repeat echoes, using a delay pedal for reggae entails settings that allow just that first echo to be heard right where you need it. While the perfect use of this pedal in the genre requires a lot of practice, getting the timing right is just a matter of letting yourself get enslaved by the rhythm.
The Compressor Pedal
Although arguably not essential to the genre, any veteran reggae guitarist can attest to how a compressor pedal can enhance your playing in different ways. The compressor pedal basically tightens the entire audio signal of your guitar, which puts the highest and lowest notes at par with each other in terms of volume. This allows even the highest, tiniest string dynamics to cut through the rest of the signal. In reggae, the compressor pedal gives lead guitarists great solo power while rhythm guitarists can use it to play with less orthodox, syncopated notes.
The Loop Pedal
This pedal allows you to record and repeat sounds at will. In reggae, the loop pedal can be used in lieu of a delay pedal to achieve the desired syncopation or even on top of it for more complex post-reggae rhythms. Some musicians also use it to sound like they’re backed by an army of instruments onstage, even though there is actually just one or two musicians playing the song. Out of the different pedals listed here, the looper is perhaps the hardest to master.
These are the effects pedals that are most commonly associated with reggae music. However, this doesn’t mean that you should stop here. There are tons of other pedals with different effects, capabilities and effect combinations that can help you on your journey to contributing to the uplifting tradition of Jamaican reggae music.
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