The Best Guitars for Neo-Soul and R&B

How to choose the right guitar for Neo-Soul!

Neo-Soul guitar player

Hello Neo-Soul lovers!

In this article, we will explore the sound of the Neo-Soul guitar, from its arrival in the mid-’90s until today's Neo-Soul guitar tone.

We will compare a few distinctive Neo-Soul guitar models, and hopefully, after that, you will make a more educated purchase that will fit exactly to your needs!

Check out this brand new video on Neo-Soul/R&B guitars:

First, let's understand the Neo-Soul soundscape!

The Neo-Soul Sound

The Neo-Soul is the new-born child of many older genres such as Soul, Gospel, Jazz, Blues, and R&B. These genres immerged around the ’40s and the ’50s and characterized by warm (mostly hollow-body) guitar tones.

The PAF pickups (humbuckers) that came out in the ‘50s were a big game-changer. These pickups were much easier to handle in live performances and provided a bigger and more robust sound. This clean humbucker guitar sound became a standard among guitar players in these genres and is essential in creating these soundscapes until today.

The Neo-Soul New Wave

Erykah Badu Band

When the first Neo-Soul albums started to immerge in the ’90s, a new and more modern guitar sound formed with them - the Stratocaster, cleaner, brighter, and it seems like it pushed the Neo-Soul guitar players to explore the guitar even more.

The Whammy bar use has become a signature move of many Neo-Soul guitar players and introduced a much more relaxed and wavey guitar sound.

So… Which guitar is best for Neo-Soul?

You pretty much have two options; it’s either a Stratocaster (or another type of single-coil guitar) or a Humbucker guitar, which can be quite a few models.

Disclaimer: guitar sound is a versatile thing! You can achieve many beautiful and creative results using unexpected instruments, but in this article, we are trying to break down this sound concept and somehow frame it.

The Stratocaster

Fender Stratocaster Guitar

The Fender Stratocaster is an excellent guitar for Neo-Soul, and there’s undoubtedly enough evidence for that.

It is the first choice for many top-level Hip-Hop, R&B, and Neo-Soul guitar players.

The Stratocaster features single-coil pickups (pickups are the component that shapes our guitar sound). The single-coil pickup is clear sounding, expressive, and has relatively lower resistance (less power) than a Humbucker pickup.

This clear glossy Stratocaster sound fits Neo-Soul perfectly, and with the added Whammy-bar, this guitar is the Soul guitarist’s best friend.

HSS Stratocaster - The HSS Stratocaster model features two single-coil pickups and one Humbucker! A great design that enables the player to enjoy both worlds, the glossy bright shimmer of a single-coil and the thick and robust sound of a humbucker pickup. Important to mention that even though this combination might make your guitar more versatile, it is not as popular among guitar players as a standard single-coil Stratocaster.

Ok, let's talk about models and prices!

American Stratocaster CHECK PRICE
Mexican Stratocaster
Squier Stratocaster + UPGRADE
HSS Stratocaster

🌟 The Pro Trick

If you are trying to save money, or looking for a guitar for touring or maybe you just want more guitars, GET A SQUIER AND UPGRADE IT!

The electric guitar sound comes directly from the pickups, that means that you can upgrade cheap guitars to sound amazing! Check out Coils Boutique Pickups for a handmade Stratocaster pickup!

Check out Jarius Mozzee and his beautiful Stratocaster:

Jarius is a well-known Neo-Soul guitar player and played with artist such as Jill Scott, Raphael Saadiq, Anderson Paak, Nicki Minaj and plety more...

Humbucker Guitars

The Humbucker is a different creature, built out of two single-coil pickups packed in one package.

It is more powerful (in resistance) than the single-coil pickup and will provide a broad, warm, and clean sound.

Humbucker Guitars, Neo Soul guitars

When combined with a distortion pedal, it functions better than the single-coil pickup, and there’s a reason for that. The humbucker pickup (hum-bucker) phases out electronic noise, making it a great work tool and an excellent choice for live players.

To put it in basic terms - The humbucker will give you a “bigger” and more robust sound ideal for distortions and live performances. On the other hand, the single-coil pickup will provide you with a polished, shimmering beautiful sound.

At the end of the day, both are excellent choices and will serve you well in the studio, and on stage, the choice between them is a matter of taste! 

In this video, you can see Kirk Douglas (The Roots) and his beautiful Les Paul. The Roots is one of the most influential bands in this genre!

The Jazz in Neo-Soul

The humbucker pickups are also popular among Jazz players, and you will often find them on hollow and semi-hollow guitars. These jazz guitars will fit Neo-Soul perfectly (as Jazz is one of the genres preceding Neo-Soul).

In this video, you can listen to Spanky Alford and his hollow-body humbucker guitar (played with D’Angelo, The Roots, Roy Hargrove, and many more, and was Raphael Saadiq’s guitar teacher!)

Recommended Neo-Soul Humbucker Guitars

High Budget Guitars: 

🎸 Gibson SG
🎸 PRS CE 24

Low Budget Guitars:

🎸 Epiphone Les Paul
🎸 Epiphone SG

* adding locking tuners is highly recommended, especially on an Epiphone or Gibson!

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Boutique Guitar Pickups:

Humbuckers (ES-335, LP, SG and PRS)


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thinking about guitars

What about other guitars like Telecaster or P90 guitars? Can these models fit Neo-Soul? 

Telecaster P90 Guitars

The answer to this question is YES AND NO!

Yes, because in the hands of a skilful guitar player, everything is possible! The Neo-Soul genre developed on top of many older genres, making it more receptive to creative sound ideas.

Another reason that these models will fit Neo-Soul is their color and character. Eventually, these guitars are still on the same sound spectrum as the single-coil Stratocaster and the Humbucker guitars.

Of course, these models are different from each other but not as different as an EMG guitar with amplified (active) pickups, which is a different kind of guitar sound concept.

No, because if you know what you are looking for and want to have the “classic” Neo-Soul tone, you need to have a Stratocaster or a Humbucker guitar (or both...) in your rig. 

In this video, check out Martin Luther McCoy and his Telecaster from the "Chapelle's Block Party" documentary (a MUST SEE for every Neo-Soul lover).


The P90 Guitars

When speaking about modern Neo-Soul guitar sound, the P90 guitars aren’t the first pickups of choice. That model is crunchier, compressed, and features a strong mid-range and an aggressive attitude.

It is used also in another kind of setup - on a hollow body guitar! This setup (P90 and hollow-body guitar) is the same as the first electric guitars of the 50’, and will be an excellent work-tool for old school R&B and James Brown style Funk!

In this old James Brown show, you can see both Phelps "Catfish" Collins and Hearlon "Cheese" Martin, one plays a Telecaster and the other plays a semi-hollow P90 guitar!

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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