All You Need to Know About Neo-Soul/R&B Guitars

all you need to know about Neo-Soul guitars

Hello everybody!

In this article, we will try to understand which guitars are the best guitars the Neo-Soul/R&B style.

We will examine the Neo-Soul soundscape from its origins until today, the albums, the artists, and most importantly, the Neo-Soul guitar players and their equipment.

A little disclaimer - Every guitar can work in Neo-Soul. It is a modern enough genre to be receptive to a broad soundscape. But… if we do want to frame somehow, we can break it down.

The Neo-Soul Soundscape

the neo-soul soundscape

The Neo-Soul/R&B genre is the newborn of older genres like blues, jazz, funk, hip-hop, and soul. These genres spread over decades of musical history, and in them, countless different guitar models were used.

This makes the Neo-Soul genre a good recipient for a wide variety of guitars, from the hollow-body 50’s guitars to the modern 2021 boutique guitar models.

Let’s break this down to actual guitar models. In the 30s and 40s, during the high times of Blues and Jazz, the electric guitars were big, hollow-bodied, and packed with a set of P90 pickups.

Later on, alongside the rise of Rock’n’Roll in the 50s and 60s, new models were introduced to the guitar market. The beloved Stratocaster and Telecaster from Fender and the famous Les Paul and SG models from Gibson.

⚙️ Important technical note:

The sound quality and character of an electric guitar comes mainly from the electronic components it’s made of. The other features of a guitar, like weight, shape, neck, etc, do affect your overall sound but mostly because it affects your feeling of the instrument. These features have some sonic influence over your guitar sound but the main components that determine your sound are the pickups, strings and electronics!

Why do I bother mentioning this?

Because after understanding what actually affects our guitar sound, we can break it down into categories and make a wiser decision while purchasing an instrument. 

In Neo-Soul/R&B, the most popular guitar models are:

    1. Three single-coil pickups setup - The most popular model is the Fender Stratocaster.

    2. A double-humbucker setup like on a Les Paul, SG, and many hollow and semi-body guitars, 

    3. A P90 guitar (semi/hollow), the classic setup will be a hollow-body guitar with high-gauge strings (012), but a Jazzmaster would work just as well for Neo-Soul in my opinion. 

    4. A Telecaster setup which is unique to this model, it is made out of two single coils.

    5. Mixed” guitars - like an HSS Stratocaster, a double humbucker Telecaster, and such.


    Guitars that I think won’t fit Neo-Soul/R&B as good as the “old-school” sounding models are modern guitars, active guitars and these kinds of sound concepts. But this is just my personal opinion.


    the neo-soul/R&B guitar players

    In order to establish my claims furthermore, I did a little research about actual R&B/Neo-Soul guitar players, or more importantly, their gear...

    guitar gear


    Raphael Saadiq

    Raphael Saadiq Telecaster
    credit, license

     Raphael Saadiq is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. 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.

    🎸 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

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

    Nile Rodgers

    Nile Rodgers funk disco R&B guitar player
    credit, license


    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
    Squier Stratocaster + UPGRADE
    HSS Stratocaster


    Jarius Mozzee

    Jarius Mozzee "J-Mo"

    Jarius Mozee is a Grammy-award winner, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and artist. Toured and wrote for artists such as Prince, Anderson Pack, Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Anthony Hamilton, Cee-Lo, Eric Benet, Jill Scott, and many others.

    As you can see, Jarius is definitely a busy guy. This hard-working guitar player has collaborated with so many artists from the groove department that it’s getting hard to count. He is definitely the right specimen to examine when searching for the right R&B/Neo-Soul groovy guitar.

    🎸 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 Stratocaster, a double-humbucker PRS (with a Whammy bar), and a double-humbucker D’Angelico guitar.

    Isaiah Sharkey

    Isaiah Sharkey guitar


    Isaiah Sharkey is a Grammy-awarded Neo-Soul/R&B guitar player. He worked, recorded, and toured with artists such as D’Angelo, Patti Labelle, Boyz II Men, Raphael Saadiq, and many more from within and outside the groove-based music scene.

    🎸 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.


    There are quite a few models you can use in Neo-Soul/R&B music.

     🥇 The most popular guitar is, by far, the three-single-coil Stratocaster.
    🥈 In 2nd place, you can find the double-humbucker PRS (with a whammy bar) and the double-humbucker semi-hollow guitars.
    🥉 In 3rd place, I would nominate the Telecaster.


    * Besides these guitars, you can use many other models that fit this type of musical spectrum, like HSS Stratocaster, double-humbucker Telecaster, P90 hollow or semi-hollow guitars, and many more. 

    Let’s understand the difference between the four most popular guitars in R&B/Neo-Soul...

    The Stratocaster

    The Stratocaster (came out in 54) is one of the most popular electric guitar models in almost every musical genre. The classic Strat setup is made out of 3 single-coil pickups with five pickup modes.

    👂🏼 Sound:

    The sound of a Stratocaster guitar can be described as glossy, shimmery, soothing, and bright, and many guitar legends spend their entire career holding one. 

    In comparison to a humbucker, a single-coil pickup carries less output. In my opinion, this makes the player put more into creating the sound he wants. Therefore, it is one of the most expressive guitars out there.

    It also has a whammy-bar (!) which is very useful in gospel, soul, R&B, neo-soul, etc.


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

    Getting a guitar under a budget...

    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!


    The Humbucker

    The Humbucker pickups (PAF pickups) came out to the world in 55. These were mounted on hollow-body 50s jazz guitars as well as on the more “rockish” models like the Gibson Les Paul and SG that came out a little later.

    👂🏼 Sound:

    The sound of a humbucker can be described as big, strong, round, and warm. It is popular in every musical genre, from soft jazz to thrash metal, and has been the choice of countless guitar legends.

    In comparison to the Strat single-coil, P90, or Telecaster single-coil pickup, the humbucker usually carries more force (DC resistance) than the other models. Moving to a humbucker guitar after playing on a Stratocaster is like getting a car with a bigger engine, and the player would need to put less effort into creating a “big” sound.

    Solid-Body Guitar VS Semi-Hollow Guitar (w/ humbuckers)

    The semi-hollow guitar model, packed with humbuckers, is a popular choice for many Neo-Soul/R&B players, and for a good reason. It has an added acoustic quality that the solid-body guitars don't have, and it is also the “mid-way” guitar choice between the hollow-body jazz guitars to the solid-body models. 

    It goes well with higher gauge strings if you want to have a more jazzy, foggy sound, and it will work just fine with thinner gauges if you are looking for a more modern signature. 

    Another advantage that the semi-hollow guitars have over the hollow ones is that they go much better with guitar pedals and effects. You might experience some feedback issues with a hollow-body guitar if you try to overload your guitar signal with pedals.

    High Budget Guitars: 

    🎸 Gibson SG
    🎸 PRS CE 24

    Low Budget Guitars:

    🎸 Epiphone Les Paul
    🎸 Epiphone SG
    🎸 PRS SE

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

    plus sign

    Boutique Guitar Pickups:

    Humbuckers (ES-335, LP, SG and PRS)


    equal sign

    thinking about guitars


    The Telecaster


    The Fender Telecaster, released to the market in 51, is (usually) packed with a set of 2 single-coil pickups, allowing three pickup modes. This pickup design is unique to the Telecaster model, and it has a rather distinctive sound.

    👂🏼 Sound:

    The Telecaster is definitely the most “bluesy” model out of the four most popular we mentioned above, so naturally, it will fit perfectly in classic R&B, with harmonies that rely more on the dominants rather than the maj7 and m7 colors.

    A good example of this type of music would be Raphael Saadiq’s music. He uses harmonies and grooves that explore the dominant 7 and affected by 60s blues and soul music. He always holds a Telecaster in his hands and his accompanying guitar player will usually have one as well. Try comparing his sound to Erykah Badu’s sound, she is more on the jazzy side, and her accompanying guitar players are usually Strat players.

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


    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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