How to create a classic ska sound?


I've been recording reggae/ska in GarageBand, using a combination of:

  • Voice through a condenser mic
  • Electric guitar and bass using GarageBand's own amp simulators and effects
  • Drum patterns programmed using GarageBand's kits
  • Software organ

I play all the parts live, and avoid quantising.

It sounds OK, but a bit sterile. Listening to classic ska tracks that influence me (say, anything from the Trojan Ska boxed set) what seems to characterise the sound most is a benign fuzziness, presumably distortion that engineers tried and failed to avoid using what equipment a 1960s Jamaican studio could afford.

Question one is: how can I replicate that sound using the equipment I have

Question two is: how can I achieve that feel without going so extremely lo-fi.


Posted 2012-01-10T15:20:30.023

Reputation: 356

You use programmed drum patterns and then ask about feel? – leftaroundabout – 2012-01-11T00:59:26.593

Drums are a whole 'nother problem; but let's put them aside for the purposes of this question. – None – 2012-01-11T10:12:33.220



Part of the vintage feel of those old records is in (1) the kind of mastering that was done for cheaply produced vinyl records, and (2) the wear-and-tear that they have sustained over the years. Even if you have only heard "remastered" digital versions, if the original was on a fly-by-night Caribbean indy it may have been remastered from the best available vinyl rather than the master tapes.

Mastering for vinyl rolled off a lot of low frequencies and compressed/limited the dynamic range. Age and multiple plays of a record start rolling off the highs and adding noise.

So a mix buss comp/limiter, roll off lows below 100 Hz (experiment), highs above 5k (experiment), and add a "vinyl noise crackle" plugin if you feel like it. It ain't "vibe in a bottle" but it might be interesting.

Bill Gribble

Posted 2012-01-10T15:20:30.023


Thanks. I hear some fuzzy resonance on the higher horns and vocals. My synaesthetic side wants to say it "blooms", like a bloom filter on a photograph. Any idea where that comes from / how to replicate? – None – 2012-01-12T11:13:16.320

tubes and tape. – datageist – 2012-01-13T21:18:35.540


Garage Band has a couple of Fuzz Pedals. They're intended to be used as guitar effects, but you might be able to tweak them to get the sound you're after.


Posted 2012-01-10T15:20:30.023

Reputation: 3 595

1A Fuzz Pedal is a particular type of extreme distortion, usually used as a guitar effect. Not likely to be useful to apply to an overall mix in this context. – None – 2012-01-11T21:48:15.383