Welcome to this article on the most influential neo-soul and R&B guitarists! This piece will highlight the guitar players who have significantly impacted the Neo-Soul/R&B evolution and its unique, modern, and groovy guitar sound. From their innovative playing techniques and styles to their influence on future generations of musicians, these guitarists have left a lasting mark on the world of neo-soul and R&B. We will explore their careers and contributions to the genre and discuss why they are worth checking out for any music lover.
The origins of modern R&B can be traced back to the 1980s, but the genre has deeper roots in blues, funk, disco, jazz, gospel, and soul music. The Neo-Soul movement, which emerged in the 1990s, added a more sophisticated sound to the mix. Together, these musicians have created a rich and diverse musical landscape that continues to evolve and inspire.
#1 Nile Rodgers:
Nile Rodgers is a renowned American guitarist, singer-songwriter, record producer, and arranger. He has achieved widespread success, producing and performing on some of the best-selling albums of all time, and has won three Grammy Awards. He is also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and one of the most important Neo-Soul/R&B guitar players.
Rodgers began his career in the 1970s as a member of The Big Apple Band, later known as Chic. The band had numerous top-ten disco hits that helped to increase the popularity of the genre.
As a rhythm guitarist, Rodgers’ contributions to the guitar world may not be as immediately recognizable to the average listener. However, guitar players with a trained ear will recognize his iconic and funky guitar work in hits like “Le Freak” and “Good Times,” which became popular in clubs, pop, and R&B circles in the 1980s.
The timeless and iconic guitar groove of “Le Freak” with that distinctive Nile Rodgers touch.
In the 1980s, Rodgers wrote and produced music for other artists, including Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and Diana Ross’s “Upside Down.” He also produced several major albums and singles for artists such as David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, and Madonna.
Rodgers has continued to collaborate with a wide range of artists throughout his career, including The B-52s, Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, The Vaughan Brothers, Bryan Ferry, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, and Daft Punk. In 2014, he won three Grammy Awards for his work on Daft Punk’s album Random Access Memories.
The funky guitar you all know from “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk.
Rodgers is known for playing a 1960 Fender Stratocaster with a 1959 neck, affectionately referred to as The Hitmaker. This guitar has a maple fingerboard and a worn white finish, and Rodgers believes it has a unique sound. Bernard Edwards, a fellow member of Chic, taught Rodgers how to play this guitar using a “chop chord” style known as “chucking.”
In January 2014, the Fender Custom Shop released a limited edition Nile Rodgers Hitmaker Stratocaster, a replica of Rodgers’ iconic instrument.
#2 Raphael Saadiq:
Raphael Saadiq is a renowned American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer who has significantly impacted the Neo-Soul/R&B music world. With a successful solo career and a long list of collaborations with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, D’Angelo, and John Legend, Saadiq has established himself as a dominant guitarist in the Neo-Soul/R&B genre. In addition to his impressive musical skills, he is also known for his production work on numerous hit songs and albums. Saadiq’s contributions to the world of R&B make him a must-know artist for any music lover.
If you’re searching for a standout guitar-driven song, check out Tony! Toni! Toné!’s track, “Whatever You Want,” was released in 1990. The song starts with a captivating guitar intro that showcases a fresh and innovative approach to guitar playing. Whether you’re a fan of R&B or just appreciate skilled guitar work, this song is sure to impress.
During the 1990s, Saadiq began collaborating with a range of artists and produced a string of successful hits. You can hear Saadiq’s Telecaster on tracks like D’Angelo’s “Lady” and “Untitled,” Bilal’s “Soul Sista,” and Erykah Badu’s “Love Of My Life,” which earned Saadiq a Grammy.
Saadiq’s talent was in high demand by artists such as John Mellencamp, Snoop Dog, Angie Stone, A Tribe Called Quest, Anthony Hamilton, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Kelis, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, among others. He also contributed to a number of other notable neo-soul and R&B songs in the 1990s, including “What They Do” by The Roots and “Touch Me” by Solo.
In addition to his work as a collaborator and producer, Saadiq has also established a successful solo career. He released his first solo album, “Instant Vintage,” in 2002, followed by “Ray Ray” in 2004 and “The Way I See It” in 2008. “The Way I See It” had a major impact on the R&B world and was followed by the release of “Stone Rollin” in 2011.
Saadiq played a key role in Solange’s number one 2016 album “A Seat at The Table,” co-producing and writing eight of the songs, including “Cranes In The Sky.” In the following years, he worked with artists such as Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo, the Midnight Hour (Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad), and John Legend, and released his fifth album, “Jimmy Lee,” in August 2019.
Raphael Saadiq is a devoted fan of the Telecaster guitar. He exclusively plays this model in his performances and recordings. Furthermore, he likely owns more than one Telecaster, as he frequently uses this guitar in his music.
#3 David Williams:
David Williams (1950) is a musician and guitarist who has made a name for himself in the music industry. He is known for his technical skill and versatility on the guitar and has a reputation as a highly sought-after session musician.
David Williams is a guitar player hailing from the southern state of Virginia. Influenced by jazz artists such as Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell, Williams began his career as a sideman for the R&B group The Dells. After serving in the military, he returned to Los Angeles and participated in sessions for The Temptations, eventually catching the attention of Quincy Jones. Jones recruited Williams to work with Michael Jackson, and he can be heard on some of the best-selling albums of all time, including Jackson’s “Thriller” and Whitney Houston’s debut album. Williams’ funky, spanking guitar work can be heard on hits such as “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” and “Smooth Criminal.” His guitar style has had a significant influence on modern groovy guitar music.
David Williams has had an impressive career as a session musician, working with a variety of notable artists in the world of R&B. Some of his standout sessions include work with Madonna, Mariah Carey, Prince, Chaka Khan, The Pointer Sisters, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock, and Lionel Richie, among others. Williams’ versatility as a guitar player has made him a go-to choice for many top musicians, and you can hear his contributions on a wide range of hit songs and albums. If you’re a fan of R&B music, you’ve likely heard Williams’ guitar work on some of your favorite tracks.
David Williams has had the opportunity to play a variety of guitars throughout his career as an R&B guitar player. In the 1980s, while touring and recording with Michael Jackson, Williams was often seen playing a three-single-coil Ibanez Roadster. Later in his career, he has also been spotted with an HSH Ibanez BL1025 and a Fender Stratocaster.
#4 Paul Jackson Jr.
Paul Milton Jackson Jr. is an American R&B guitar player known for his work as a session musician. Born in 1959, Jackson developed a passion for music at a young age and later pursued his dreams by attending the University of Southern California and earning a degree in music. With a career spanning over several decades, Jackson has made a name for himself as a skilled and versatile guitar player, working with various artists in the R&B and jazz genres.
Throughout his career, Jackson has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, The Temptations, Bobby Womack, Luther Vandross, The Pointer Sisters, Marcus Miller, and even rockers like Elton John. You can also hear Jackson’s guitar work on popular TV shows such as “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “American Idol.” In 2013, it was revealed that Jackson had contributed to the recordings of Daft Punk’s album “Random Access Memories” alongside Nile Rodgers.
Paul is known for his preference for double-humbucker guitars, both solid-body, and semi-hollow. His current main guitar is a double-humbucker semi-hollow PRS JA-15, but he has also been seen playing a P90 Les Paul Florentine in later clips. This guitar, which features P-90 pickups, was custom-made for Jackson by Mick McGuire of the Gibson Custom Shop in the 1980s and 1990s.
#5 Jarius Mozzee
Jarius Mozee is a multi-talented musician known for his skills as a guitar player, producer, and artist. A Grammy award winner, Mozee was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he was exposed to his father’s guitar playing from an early age. As a result, Mozee developed a deep understanding of the guitar and is known for his virtuosity on the instrument.
At just 15 years old, Mozee began leading recording sessions for the R&B group “b2k,” who released a gold-certified album. By the age of 17, he had already shared the stage with the legendary Prince. Mozee’s talent and dedication to his craft have earned him numerous accolades, including a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Song as co-writer of “Best of Me” with Anthony Hamilton and two Grammy wins for his work with Anderson Paak on “Ventura.” Throughout his career, Mozee has toured and written songs for a variety of artists, including Anderson Paak, Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Anthony Hamilton, Cee Lo, Fantasia, Robin Thicke, and Boney James, to name a few. He has also worked as a songwriter and producer for other musicians, such as Eric Benet, Jill Scott, Redman, BJ the Chicago Kid, Deitrick Haddon, and Faith Evans.
JMO NAMM 2019 live at the Fender Booth
Regarding his guitar setup, Jarius Mozee seems to have a few go-to instruments. Based on his online video material, Mozee frequently uses a Stratocaster with three single-coil pickups, a PRS guitar with double humbuckers and a whammy bar, and a D’Angelico guitar with dual humbuckers.
#6 Captain Kirk Douglas
Kirk Douglas, also known as “Captain” Kirk Douglas, is an American guitar player and singer who has made a name for himself as a member of The Roots. He joined the band in 2003 and played on their album “The Tipping Point” alongside guitarists Martin Luther and Anthony Tidd. By 2006’s “Game Theory,” he had become the sole guitarist in the band. In addition to his guitar skills, Douglas is also known for his vocal abilities, serving as the band’s primary melodic singer.
If you’ve ever watched “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” you’ve likely seen Kirk Douglas performing with a range of guitar models. Some of his go-to instruments include the Gibson CS-356, a black custom Gibson Les Paul, and a custom Gibson SG. However, Douglas isn’t just limited to these models – he also owns a Gibson Goldtop, a Gibson Dusk Tiger, and his favorite guitar: a 1961 Epiphone Crestwood.
Storytime: In March 2013, Prince borrowed Kirk Douglas’s beloved 1961 Epiphone Crestwood guitar for a performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. However, in the excitement of the moment, Prince accidentally broke the headstock by tossing the guitar into the air. Douglas, who was understandably upset about the incident, later recalled Prince apologizing and offering to cover the repair costs. Despite the mishap, Douglas and Prince continued to work together and create music.
#7 Isaiah Sharkey
Isaiah Sharkey is a highly respected and talented Neo-Soul/R&B guitar player. Hailing from a musical family in Chicago, Sharkey began playing the guitar at a young age, influenced by his father. His talent and musical maturity were evident early on, as he released his first jazz album at the age of 14 with his father and brothers. In 2009, Sharkey began working with artist D’Angelo on the album “Black Messiah,” which won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. This work earned Sharkey his first Grammy. Throughout his career, Sharkey has collaborated with numerous acclaimed artists such as John Mayer, Patti Labelle, Christopher Martin of Coldplay, Paul Simon, Corrine Bailey Rae, Mike Posner, Keith Urban, Brian Mcknight, Boyz II Men, Lalah Hathaway, Raphael Saadiq, Chris Dave, and the Drumhedz, Regina Bell, Ruben Studdard, Lupe Fiasco, Kelly Price, Faith Evans, Rance Allen, the Winans, and the Clark Sisters.
Sharkey has been spotted playing a range of guitars in performances and recordings, including Stratocasters, a semi-hollow P90 guitar, and even a unique three-humbucker Stratocaster.