The Neo-Soul/R&B Guitar Players You Should All Know

the neo-soul/R&B guitar players you should all know

Hello everybody!

This article is dedicated to the most influential Neo-Soul/R&B guitar players.
Let’s understand together who are the people that helped to shape this modern, sophisticated, and groovy guitar style.

guitar player

Each and every one of these players is another piece of the Neo-Soul/R&B evolution, and their playing style is built on one another tricks, flicks, and character.
Each one influenced the youngsters that came after and added their own colors to the Neo-Soul/R&B pallet.

So, who are they?

We can pinpoint the beginning of modern R&B around the 80s, but its roots are much deeper, built on the sounds of blues, funk, disco, jazz, gospel, and soul.
The more sophisticated sound of the Neo-Soul that came a little later in the 90s.

 

#1 Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers funk disco R&B guitar player
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Nile Gregory Rodgers Jr. (1952) is an American guitarist, singer-songwriter, record producer, and arranger. 
Rodgers has written, produced and performed on some of the best-selling albums in the world. He is a three-time Grammy award winner, a member of the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame and the chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

📝 Career:

He started his career back in the 70s with The Big Apple Band, later known as Chic. The band produced numerous top ten disco hits that pushed disco to new levels of popularity.

In comparison to other famous guitar players, Rodgers is a rhythm guitarist, which makes his tremendous contribution to guitar world hidden from the average listener. We, guitar players, have a sharper ear for these things and you probably know these iconic and awesome funky guitars from. "Le Freak", or "Good Times" which became club/pop/R&B standards in the 80s.

The timeless and iconic guitar groove of "Le Freak" with that distinctive Nile Rodgers touch.

🤝 Collaborations:

During the 80s, Rodgers wrote and produced music for other artists, including the songs "We Are Family" for Sister Sledge and "Upside Down" for Diana Ross. 

Rodgers produced several major albums and singles for other artists, including David Bowie's Let's Dance, "Original Sin" by INXS, Duran Duran's "The Reflex" and "Notorious", and Madonna's "Like a Virgin". 

He later worked with artists including The B-52s, Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, The Vaughan Brothers, Bryan Ferry, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, and Daft Punk, winning three Grammy Awards in 2014 for his work on their album Random Access Memories.

The funky guitar you all know from "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk.

🎸 GEAR:

The Hitmaker Rodgers plays a 1960 Fender Stratocaster with a 1959 neck, nicknamed The Hitmaker, it has a maple fingerboard and a worn white finish. 

Rodgers claims it has a unique sound. After Rodgers purchased the guitar, Edwards (from Chic) taught him how to play it in a “chop chord” style, which he called "chucking". 

The Fender Custom Shop introduced a limited edition Nile Rodgers Hitmaker Stratocaster, a recreation of Rodgers' guitar, in January 2014.

nile rodgers

American 60s Stratocaster + 59' Strat Neck CHECK PRICE
Mexican Stratocaster
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Squier Stratocaster + UPGRADE
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HSS Stratocaster
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#2 Raphael Saadiq

Raphael Saadiq Telecaster
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Raphael Saadiq - An American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and one of the most dominant characters in the R&B music world. Aside from his solo career, he played and produced for artists such as Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, D’Angelo, John Legend, and many more.

📝 Career:

 He started his career way back in the late 80s with Tony! Toni! Toné!, and even then, he was already experimenting with the Neo-Soul guitar sound we all know today. 

Check out Whatever You Want that by Tony! Toni! Toné! that came out in 1990. It begins with a very interesting guitar intro that really sounds like a much modern "guitaristic" approach.

🤝 Collaborations:

During the 90s, Saadiq started collaborating with other artists, generating major hits one after the other. You can spot Raphael Saadiq’s Telecaster in “Lady” and “Untitled” by D’Angelo and “Soul Sista” by Bilal. He is also the co-writer (and won a Grammy for it) of “Love Of My Life” by Erykah Badu.

He was sought out by artists ranging from John Mellencamp to Snoop Dog and collaborated with countless others such as Angie Stone, A Tribe Called Quest, Anthony Hamilton, John Legend, Mary J.Blige, Kelis, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad

Some other beautiful Neo-Soul/R&B guitar songs that Saadiq took part in during the 90s are “What They Do” by The Roots and “Touch Me” by Solo.

🎤 Solo Career:

Saadiq is also a notable solo artist , in 2002, Saadiq finally released his first solo album “Instant Vintage”, “Ray Ray” in 2004, and in 2008, came out “The Way I See It” which had a more serious impact on the R&B world, and in 2011, he released “Stone Rollin”.

In 2016 he played a key position in Solange number one 2016 album “A Seat at The Table” co-producing and writing eight of the album’s songs, including “Cranes In The Sky”.

In the next years, Saadiq collaborated with Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo, the Midnight Hour (Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad), and John Legend each took a number for his services and in August 2019, Saadiq knocked out his fifth album, Jimmy Lee.

🎸 GEAR:

Raphael is a big fan of the Telecaster. In fact, I have never even seen a video in which he plays a different model. He certainly has more than one Telecaster, that’s for sure.

fender telecaster

American 50s Telecaster CHECK PRICE
Mexican Telecaster
Squier Telecaster + PICKUPS
HS Telecaster

 

In this live video, you can see Rob Bacon with his Stratocaster and Raphael Saadiq with his Telecaster (and an envelope filter).

#3 David Williams

David Wiliams guitar player

David Williams (1950) was an American session guitar player.

📝 Career:

He grew up in the southern state of Virginia and was mainly influenced by the jazz artists of the 60s such as Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell.

He began his career as a sideman for the R&B group the Dells. After a few years in the U.S military, he came back to LA and took part in several Temptations sessions, and after picking the interest of non other than Quicy Jones, Williams was called to back the great Michael Jackson.

David was practically unknown to the public but his rhythmic guitar parts appears in some of the best-selling albums in the world, such as Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or Whitney Houston’s debut album. 

You probably heard David’s legendary funky, spanking guitars in Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Thriller, or Billie Jean from the Thriller album or in Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough and Smooth Criminal also by MJ. These famous guitar parts had a tremendous influence over the modern groovy guitar style.

🤝 Collaborations:

A few more of Williams’s session highlights include Madonna, Mariah Carey, Prince, Chakah Kahn, The Pointer Sisters, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock, Lionel Richie and many others.

In this MTV interview, Williams talks about the work with Michael Jackson.

🎸 GEAR:

Williams has been seen holding more than a few guitars along his career. In the 80s, while touring and recording with Michael Jackson, from what I've been able to see, he played a three-single-coil Ibanez Roadster. In later clips, I've seen him with an HSH Ibanez BL1025 and a Fender Stratocaster.

 

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Ibanez BL1025
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Ibanez Roadster
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#4 Paul Jackson Jr.

Paul Jackson Jr. R&B guitar player

Paul Milton Jackson Jr. (1959) is an American jazz/fusion guitar session player. 

From a young age Paul knew he wanted to be a professional musician and later on, attended the University of Southern California, majoring in music.

📝 Career:

Paul was one of the prolific R&B guitar players of the 70s and 80s. He played and recorded for musical giants such as 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 pinpoint Paul on the guitar in The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and in American Idol.

In 2013, it was revealed to the public that Paul took part in the recordings of the Random Access Memories album by Daft Punk alongside Nile Rodgers. 

🎸 GEAR:

Jackson like to play on double-humbucker guitars, solid-body or semi-hollow. His main guitar now is a double-humbucker semi-hollow PRS JA-15 and in later clips he is seen with a P90 Les Paul Florentine.

Most of them did not have P-90 pickups. This one was made for him by Mick McGuire who ran the Gibson Custom Shop in the 80’s and 90’s

P90 Les Paul CHECK PRICE
P90 Les Paul Florentine
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PRS JA-15
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#5 Jarius Mozzee

Jarius "J-Mo" Mozee R&B/Neo-Soul guitar player

Jarius Mozee is a Grammy-award winner, multi-instrumentalist, guitar virtuoso, producer, and artist.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana to two musical parents, Jairus grew up in church and experienced his father’s guitar-playing skills throughout his life.

📝 Career:

At the tender age of 15 after studying jazz guitar and bass in school, Jairus led recording sessions for RNB group “b2k” who released a certified Gold album, and at the age of 17, this youngster would share the stage with Prince.

Further demonstrating his respect throughout the industry, he earned a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Song as co-writer of Best of Me with Anthony Hamilton And Won 2 Grammy's For His Work With Anderson Paak on "Ventura".

🤝 Collaborations:

Jairus toured and wrote songs for artists including Anderson Paak, Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Anthony Hamilton, Cee Lo, Fantasia, Robin Thicke, and Boney James name a few. His songwriter/producer credits also include Eric Benet, Jill Scott, Redman, BJ the Chicago Kid, Deitrick Haddon, and Faith Evans.

JMO NAMM 2019 live at the Fender Booth

🎸 GEAR:

Seems like Jarius likes to use a few different guitars. After watching practically all of his online video material, I can say that he uses 3 main guitars - 3-single-coil Stratocastera double-humbucker PRS (with a Whammy bar), and a double-humbucker D’Angelico guitar.

#6 Captain Kirk Douglas

Captain Kirk Douglas R&B/Neo-Soul Guitar Player
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"Captain" Kirk Douglas (1973) is an American guitar player and singer. He joined The Roots in 2003. His first album with them was The Tipping Point, alongside guitarists Martin Luther and Anthony Tidd. In 2006’s Game Theory, he was already the sole guitarist in the band. As a vocalist, he serves as the band's primary melodic singer.

🎸 GEAR:

On The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Douglas mainly uses a Gibson CS-356, a black custom Gibson Les Paul, or a Custom Gibson SG

The Captain surely likes guitars, he owns a Gibson Goldtop, a Gibson Dusk Tiger, and his favorite: a '61 Epiphone Crestwood.

The Crestwood had its headstock broken in March 2013 when Prince threw it in the air following his performance of "Bambi" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Prince had admired the guitar and asked to borrow it for his performance.

Douglas said, "Right after this happened I went right into the control room and he was there and he apologized and he said he would take care of it.


#7 Isaiah Sharkey

Isaiah Sharkey R&B/Neo-Soul guitar player

Isaiah Sharkey is an American Grammy-awarded Neo-Soul/R&B guitar player. He was born in Chicago to a musical family, grew up in church and was first introduced to the guitar at a young age by his father.

Sharkey released his first jazz album at the age of fourteen(!) with his father and brothers where he examples great skill and musical maturity.

In 2009, isaiah started working with artist D'Angelo on his third album, “Black Messiah”, which won the 2015 grammy award for best R&B album.  

based on his work and contribution to the project, Isaiah received his first grammy.

🤝 Collaborations:

Isaiah also has worked, recorded, and toured with several world-renown and grammy award winning artists including 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, the Clark Sisters and many others. 

🎸 GEAR:

Isaiah certainly likes to fiddle with various different models. I've seen him holding at least a few Stratocasters, a semi-hollow P90 guitarand other weird creatures like a three-humbucker Stratocaster.

 

That's all for now fellas!

If you just love Neo-Soul music be sure to check out the other Neo-Soul articles on our website!

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