Guitar question: How to make that "classic" reggae sound?

You know that sound used on the off-beat chords of the classic reggae beat. Sounds almost like muted strings – maybe it is, but when I try it doesn’t sound right. They are definitely chords. Any tips on how to make that sound. Effects perhaps?

Here’s a little example. Ignore the piano chords.

The key - short, sharp upstrokes on the 1 and the 3, playing smaller chords up the neck.

For Underneath it All by No Doubt - okay, it ain’t much but pretend reggae, but it captures the beat and is easy - you play an E by doing an open D chord shape at the 4th fret - hit it with a short, sharp upstroke twice - on the 1 and one the 3. Shift to an A by playing an F chord shape at the 5th fret - again, two upstrokes. The move that chord up two frets to make a B - 2 strokes. Then back down to A again. I am hoping that by playing these shapes with the SS Upstrokes, the sound will be familiar enough that you can take it from there…

I do a little muting with my strum hand and of course lift up my chording fingers and mute with them right after the SSUpstroke.

It helps to have single coil pickups - preferable Gibson P-90’s like on Marley’s LP Special, but that is getting geeky fast…

Hope this helps,


In the example linked by the OP, the guitar strings sound muted because they are indeed muted except for the single strum at 00:04 of the strings XXXX54 with a pull-off to XXXX44 (guitar tablature notation) as the piano chords likewise switch from C#m to G#m.

Typically (from my own observation), reggae music features staccato guitar chords strummed upward.

What equipment are you using? Have you tried any light distortion?

Or perhaps use some light palm-mutting as well, with a little bit of reverb.

In the example track linked by the OP, I hear the strings to be moderately to heavily palm muted (but not completely muted) rather than lightly palm muted.

Jayrot, try this (play along to the example track) strumming only the top to strings with palm muting and use mild distortion and reverb (but no delay effects) as you see fit (if possible):

E-string 44–44–44–44–4-----44–44–44
B-string 55–55–55–55–5^4–44–44–44
stroke --DU_DU_DU_DU__D___DU_DU_DU

D = down stroke
U = upstroke
red font = no palm muting
black font = moderate palm muting

It’s tough to type tab

I wish I had something useful to add but I’ve been beat to it. Basically, what everyone else said. You play upstrokes on the off-beats and you play partial, high-end chord fingerings rather than full barre chords or power chords (a lot of F-shapes and D-shapes, like Wordman said). For minor chords you can play This shape:


Or this one:

Slightly off topic here, but I find it helps to use a fixed width font like courier when writting out tabs…

E-string 44–44–44–44–4----44–44–44
B-string 55–55–55–55–5^4–44–44–44
stroke DU__DU__DU__DU__D____DU__DU__DU