How to Get the Neo-Soul Guitar Tone

neo soul guitar tone

Being a good Neo-Soul guitarist is not so easy (but definitely possible), as this genre is the newborn of Jazz, Hip-Hop, R&B, Blues, and Soul. It incorporates sophisticated chord progression with colorful changes, and you have to be a skilled musician in order to really produce this type of guitar tone. The musical approach in this genre can be described as laid-back, jazzy, and, in a way, a live-playing attempt to emulate a “sampled” sound, like a cut-up guitar track, pasted in a new way.

Equipment is also a vital component in your neo-soul guitar soundscape. While some guitars and guitar pedals are much more common in this genre, it’s possible to achieve the Neo-Soul signature sound even with a budget-friendly electric guitar if you’re a talented and creative player. The key is to understand the nuances of the genre and know how to make the most of your equipment.

In this article, we’ll delve into the challenges and possibilities of achieving the Neo-Soul guitar tone. From the right equipment to playing techniques, we’ll provide a comprehensive guide to help you master this unique and evocative sound. So, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced musician, read on to learn how to get the Neo-Soul guitar tone that sets you apart from the rest.

Equipping Yourself for Neo-Soul

neo soul guitar tone

Neo-Soul Guitars

When it comes to the perfect guitar for Neo-Soul/R&B, there are options to choose from. These include the iconic Stratocaster or another similar ST-style guitar, guitars with a double (PAF) humbucker setup (like Gibson SG, Les Paul, and ES-355), or a Fender Telecaster. However, it’s important to keep in mind that guitar sound is a versatile thing, and many beautiful and creative results can be achieved using unexpected instruments. 

The Fender Stratocaster is the leading choice among many top-level Hip-Hop, R&B, and Neo-Soul guitar players, and for good reason. Its single-coil pickups deliver a clear, expressive sound with lower resistance compared to humbucker pickups. Additionally, the HSS Stratocaster model features two single-coil pickups and one Humbucker, providing a balance of warm shimmer and, cutting, robust sound.

Fender Stratocaster
Fender Telecaster
HH Fender Telecaster

Discover the best guitars for Neo-Soul in this comprehensive guide:

Neo-Soul Guitar Amplifiers

When it comes to finding the perfect neo-soul or R&B guitar amplifier, it’s important to consider the tone you’re looking for. While some amplifier brands are geared toward genres like metal or rock, others offer a more versatile sound. As a neo-soul or R&B guitarist, you’ll want to look for an amp that can produce warm, vintage tones that fit with your style. A natural-sounding amp with a classic vibe will likely be a better choice than a modern, “colder” sounding one. Take into account the specific tone you’re looking for, and you’ll be able to find an amp that will elevate your neo-soul or R&B playing. Here are a few recommendations:

  1. Marshall DSL40CR – offers a wealth of options for shaping your unique sound.
  2. Vox AC30 – built-in spring reverb and unique EQ system
  3. Fender Blues Deluxe – delivers a classic Fender tone with a slightly feistier sound in the mid and high range.
  4. Fender Hot Rod Deville – is known for its crystal clear and warm sound.
  5. Fender Twin Reverb – offers a vintage look and sound that is perfect for neo-soul music.
Marshall DSL40CR
Vox AC30
Fender Blues Deluxe
Fender Hot Rod Deville
Fender ’65 Twin Reverb

All these amplifiers have unique features that can help you achieve the desired neo-soul guitar tone, and they are also versatile enough to be used in different venues.

Discover the best guitar amplifiers for Neo-Soul in this comprehensive guide:

Neo-Soul Guitar Pedals

To capture the smooth and soulful sounds of Neo-Soul and R&B music on a guitar, having the right pedals is important. The Neo-Soul genre offers a playground for creative guitar players, and it’s important to take advantage of guitar pedals to add texture, depth, and personality to your playing. 

The Neo-Soul guitar tone is defined by its clean and smooth sound, so it’s best to use pedals that enhance and manipulate your clean guitar tone. Essential pedals for Neo-Soul and R&B guitar players include the Octaver pedal, Harmoniser, Envelope Filter, and Wah pedal. These pedals will be your go-to tools for crafting the signature sound of this genre.

TC Electronic SUB ‘N’ UP Octaver
Electro-Harmonix Micro Q-Tron Envelope Filter
Dunlop GCB95F CryBaby

Discover the best guitar pedals for Neo-Soul in this comprehensive guide:

Achieving the Neo-Soul Guitar Tone: Musical Skills and Techniques

study neo soul

Are you looking to master the neo-soul guitar sound? The key to achieving the signature tone of this genre is mastering the right musical skills and techniques. In this part, we’ll delve into the essential elements of neo-soul guitar playing, from understanding harmony and chords to developing a good rhythmic sense. We’ll also explore the unique melodic style of neo-soul and provide tips on how to build a training program that will help you take your playing to the next level. 

The Harmonic Elements of Neo-Soul

soul choir

When it comes to the harmony of Neo-Soul music, it’s important to understand the influence of jazz. The neo-soul genre incorporates harmonizing techniques commonly used in jazz music, such as modal interchange and the frequent use of tensions in chords. To truly master the Neo-Soul sound, it’s essential to have a solid understanding of these techniques and be able to incorporate them into your playing. Taking the time to study and learn from this genre can greatly enhance your musical abilities. By studying jazz, you will substantially upgrade your playing, giving you the tools you need to create a unique and interesting Neo-Soul sound.

Mastering Neo-Soul Chords

guitar chords

If you’re looking to play in the Neo-Soul style, one of the most important things to master is chords. As a Neo-Soul guitar player, you’ll be expected to play mainly rhythm, and that means you need to know your chords like the back of your hand. One of the key elements of Neo-Soul chords is the use of 7th chords, with tensions and all of their inversions. So, how do you get there?

Mastering the chords in the Neo-Soul genre starts with controlling the major (and minor) scale in every root, working on common chord progressions with tensions, and incorporating the Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor scales for an even more sophisticated sound.

The Unique Melodic Style of Neo-Soul

One of the key elements that set Neo-Soul apart is its melodic approach. The genre combines rapping with soulful grooves, and the melodic instruments, such as the guitar, play jazzy vamps, lines, and grooves.

While guitar solos may not be as common in Neo-Soul, they do exist, and the soloing style in this genre is surprisingly versatile. It can vary from screaming distorted pentatonic solos to smooth Bebop-like phrasing, depending on the musical preferences of the artist. 

The Importance of Time Feel in Neo-Soul Guitar

dancing lady

When it comes to playing Neo-Soul guitar, having a strong sense of timing is essential. As a guitarist, your strumming hand should be as accurate as a metronome, keeping the beat steady and in time. Without a solid grasp of timing, even the most complex chords and voicings will fall flat.

To improve your time feel when playing Neo-Soul, use a metronome or click track when practicing exercises to pinpoint areas of struggle. When playing music, focus on feeling the rhythm rather than counting, and experiment with different grooves and beats. Trust your inner sense of time and play with ease.

Gon Zadok

Gon Zadok is a Tel Aviv-based session player, recording artist, and independent producer for Simply and local artists. He plays various instruments, including guitar, bass, synths, and ukulele. Gon studied music at Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Israel and music production at SAE Institute in Berlin, Germany.

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