The instruments used in reggaeton are a direct result of the combination of the styles that spurred the genre. The mix of Latin American traditional songwriting and modern day club music involves the contrast of centuries-old instruments, such as palos and cuatros, along with some of the most modern electronic equipment, such as bass synthesizers and samplers.
Like all club music, reggaeton thrives on dense, sustaining bass lines. These are best achieved through bass synthesizers. With sine wave and low-pass filter synth-settings, laser-tight, yet heavy bass sounds can be created that would be impossible with any traditional instrument. This is the key to making reggaeton so energetic and powerful.
The timbale is a single-headed kettledrum originally invented in Cuba. It is usually tuned quite high to create a bell-like tone when struck. In many songs, the timbale is used simply for rim shots. It has been a popular Latin American instrument for decades, used most famously by Tito Puente. In reggaeton, most of the traditional instruments, such as the timbale, are used to add layers to the percussion section.
The guiras is a percussive instrument from the Dominican Republic. It is a hand-held metal cylinder covered in evenly perforated holes, similar to a cheese grater. The instrument is played with a stiff brush, which the player strums up and down, according to the beat of the song. The guiras can be heard in various types of street music throughout Central America and in the backgrounds of many reggaeton songs.
The cuatro is one of the few stringed instruments used in reggaeton. It belongs to the lute/acoustic guitar family and usually has no more than four strings, hence the name "cuatro." This instrument is often used in reggaeton to enhance a melodic line and strummed in the background because of its acoustic textures. Different variations of the cuatro are popular in Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Samplers are essential to reggaeton. They are the primary source of sounds for live performances, since traditional instruments or players are not always available for performance. Since reggaeton is generally an art form created on a budget, many instruments are not even available for recordings. The sampler can also be programmed with the bass synthesizer, which helps the traditional sounds blend so well with the club beats.