Top 3 Guitars for Neo-Soul and R&B

neo soul guitars

Welcome to all Neo-Soul guitarists! In this complete guide, we will dive into the world of Neo-Soul guitars, starting from its emergence in the mid-90s till the present day. We aim to help you make an informed decision while choosing the best guitar for Neo-Soul and R&B music. We will be comparing and contrasting some of the top guitar models in the market, catering to the specific needs of Neo-Soul musicians. Whether you’re a professional or a beginner, this article will provide you with the information you need to find the perfect electric guitar for Neo-Soul and R&B music.

When searching for the best guitar for Neo-Soul music, popular options include the Fender Stratocaster for its versatility, guitars with double-humbucker setup for their warm tone, and the Fender Telecaster for its unique character. Each offers different features and sounds that can be well-suited to Neo-Soul and R&B playing styles.

Discover more about Neo-Soul/R&B guitars by watching this video:

Exploring the Neo-Soul Soundscape

Neo-Soul is a modern genre that draws inspiration from various older styles such as Soul, Gospel, Jazz, Blues, and R&B. These genres emerged in the 1940s and 1950s and are known for their warm guitar tones, often produced by hollow-body (or semi-hollow) guitars packed with P90 pickups. However, the introduction of PAF (hum-bucking) pickups and the Stratocaster 3-single-coil pickups in the 1950s also played a significant role in shaping the Neo-Soul soundscape. Humbuckers, as their name suggests, eliminate the hum that can be present in single-coil pickups and provide a fuller, more robust sound. The Stratocaster’s 3-single-coil pickups offer a lighter sound concept which can be great for many things, such as funk strumming.

The Evolution of the Neo-Soul Guitar Sound

In the 1990s, the emergence of Neo-Soul music brought with it a fresh and modern guitar sound characterized by the use of the Stratocaster and new techniques such as the Whammy bar. This new sound inspired Neo-Soul guitar players to push the boundaries of their instruments and explore new possibilities. Incorporating the Whammy bar, in particular, has become a hallmark of the Neo-Soul sound, adding fluidity and expressive qualities to the guitar.

Choosing the Right Guitar for Neo-Soul Music

neo soul guitars

When it comes to the perfect guitar for Neo-Soul/R&B, you have a few options to choose from. These include the iconic Stratocaster or another similar ST-style guitar, a guitar with a double (PAF) humbucker setup, 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 Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster is a 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. This bright, glossy sound is well-suited for Neo-Soul and R&B music, and when paired with a Whammy bar, it becomes a versatile tool for soul guitarists. 

Another option is the HSS Stratocaster model that features two single-coil pickups and one Humbucker, providing a balance of bright shimmer and thick, full-bodied sound. However, it’s not as widespread among guitar players as a standard single-coil Stratocaster.

3 Single-Coil Stratocaster
HSH Stratocaster
HSS Stratocaster

Explore the incredible Stratocaster skills of Jarius Mozzee, a renowned Neo-Soul/R&B guitar player and producer who has performed alongside notable artists like Jill Scott, Raphael Saadiq, Anderson Paak, Nicki Minaj, and many others.

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Humbucker Guitars

The Humbucker is a remarkable pickup created by combining two single-coil pickups into one. It has a higher resistance and a stronger output than a single-coil pickup and produces a broad, warm, and strong tone.

When paired with a boost and drive pedals, the Humbucker’s performance is much cleaner than that of a single-coil pickup due to the hum-bucking effect of this technology. The Humbucker’s ability to eliminate electronic noise makes it a reliable tool for studio work and an ideal choice for live performances.

In this video, you can watch Kirk Douglas of The Roots, an incredibly influential band in the genre, showcase his skillful playing on a beautiful Les Paul.

The Connections between Jazz and Neo-Soul

Humbucker pickups are favored among Jazz players and are often found on hollow and semi-hollow guitars. These jazz guitars are also well-suited for Neo-Soul/R&B music, as Jazz is one of the genres that preceded it. 

In this video, Spanky Alford, who has played with D’Angelo, The Roots, and many others, showcases his skills on his hollow-body humbucker guitar. He was also the guitar teacher of Raphael Saadiq!

The Telecaster

The Fender Telecaster, with its unique two single-coil pickup setup (and three pickup modes), was first released in 1951. It has a sound that is similar to the Stratocaster but with a more “bluesy” tone. It is an excellent choice for classic R&B and Neo-Soul music.

Mexican Telecaster
Squier Telecaster
HH Telecaster

The Telecaster provides a warm and round tone in the neck pickup position, a glossy tone in the middle pickup position that is perfect for funk and groove strumming, and a screaming tone in the bridge pickup position, ideal for lead guitar playing.

What about P90 guitars? Can these fit Neo-Soul and R&B?

When discussing the modern Neo-Soul and R&B guitar sound, P90 pickups may not be the obvious choice. They usually offer a tone that falls in between a humbucker and a Strat-style single coil. The P90 tone is a little harder to define as it can vary depending on the design and materials used. For example, P90 pickups with alnico V magnets may have more output and a more modern sound, while P90 pickups with alnico II magnets may have a more classic sound.

Epiphone ES-339 P90

In this old James Brown performance, Phelps “Catfish” Collins and Hearlon “Cheese” Martin are playing a Telecaster and a semi-hollow P90 guitar!

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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