Best Guitars for R&B, Soul, and Neo-Soul
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Best Guitars for R&B, Soul, and Neo-Soul

Regardless of where you fall in the genre spectrum, a musically spicy proposition only comes to life when you find the best guitar for the job. Three genres in question – RnB, Soul, and Neo-Soul – are distinct, but there is a lot of overlap in the genre-defining tones.

A perfect guitar for the genre moves with the mood – from vulnerable chord passages embellished with confessional melodies to stomping its foot assertively in solos. It gives you power, tone, and contemporary features to create, perform, and record music effortlessly.

These genres, especially R&B, are centered around the vocals. Guitars are often clean, laidback and modulated, and/or tempered with tasty phrases. It is crucial to get a guitar with a tone that can bind like glue to the rhythm and shine through in spurts and spaces.

Soul can range from primal riffs to sensual oomph from the disco era. Similarly, R&B has seen the work of many blues and jazz guitar players expand the boundaries of the genre. Lastly, there is a lasting imprint of funky guitar work reminiscent of the disco era.

After meticulous research, I have rounded up eight killer guitars that can do justice to these genres. As ever, they span a wide range of sound, styles, electronics, and price points. So, without further delay, let’s look at our top picks before we get into the detailed review.

Quick Summary - Best Guitar for R&B and Soul

  1. Best Single-coil: Fender American Pro II Stratocaster Guitar on Amazon
  2. Best Budget: Epiphone DOT Deluxe Electric Guitar on Sweetwater
  3. Best Semi-Hollow: Ibanez Artcore AM93 Electric Guitar on Sweetwater
  4. Best Tele: Fender Vintera ‘60s Modified Telecaster on Amazon
  5. Best Contemporary: G&L Tribute Legacy Electric Guitar on Amazon
  6. Best Hollow Body: PRS SE Hollowbody Standard Electric Guitar on Amazon
  7. Best P-90: Fender Noventa Jazzmaster Electric Guitar on Sweetwater
  8. Best Premium: Gibson ES-335 Semi-hollow Body Electric Guitar on Sweetwater

Among these, the Fender Start is my top guitar for RnB, Soul, and Neo-Soul. It is powerful, stylish, and adds to your playing feel. The guitar makes it easy to navigate the sounds of the genres. The audience will find it familiar, the engineer will be thankful, and you will appreciate the iconic tone and versatile sounds.

1. Fender American Professional II Stratocaster Guitar

Fender American Professional II Stratocaster Electric Guitar, Rosewood Fingerboard, 3-Color Sunburst

The Fender Am Pro II Electric Guitar features three V-Mod II single coils, a 2-point trem, and treble bleed circuits for retaining top-end zing when reducing the volume. It's an inspiring take on traditional designs. The guitar ships with a deluxe hardshell case and is available in 9 color options ranging from Miami Blue to Roasted Pine.

Product Highlights:

  • Alder body with a maple neck
  • Maple or Rosewood fretboard with 22 narrow-tall frets
  • V-Mod II single-coil pickups – SSS configuration
  • Treble-bleed circuit and 2-point tremolo
  • Deluxe hardshell case included

REVIEW:

There is hardly any genre where the Fender Stratocaster isn't a 'dream guitar.' But something about it just sits right in Neo-Soul. Tune into Anderson Pak or Raphael Saadiq's NPR session, and you can hear the Fender electric guitars work their magic into their compositions

That’s not all though. Whether you have some Curtis Mayfield flair or a modern Tom Misch-like sound, the Stratocaster is a one-and-done choice – the safest horse to bet on. Ah, but there are dozens of them with all sorts of pickup configurations and other bells and whistles.

For Rnb and Neo-Soul, I recommend the American Professional II Strat, although any SSS iteration of the Stratocaster will work if you are on a limited budget. SSS refers to the three single-coil pickups as opposed to HSS, which has one humbucker and two single-coils.

The latter allows you to switch between top-end shimmer and thick/fat humbucker tones when needed. Of course, if you are fully committed to these genres, you can skip the humbucker. But having that robust humbucker tone at the flick of a switch is desirable if you need versatility.

VERDICT:

No matter what sonic equation you are chasing, a USA-made Fender Strat makes it easy to find the right tone. The American Pro II could be that axe. It is supremely comfortable, versatile, and features all the hallmarks of a professional workhorse.  The treble bleed circuit and new V-mod single-coils, and other hardware upgrades make it a worthy instrument for RnB and Soul.

2.Epiphone DOT Deluxe Semi-hollow Electric Guitar

The Epiphone DOT Deluxe has been around and revered long enough to need no introduction. It's a pocket-friendly option to the semi-hollow Gibson 335 guitar. It shares the iconic design and is capable of sublime tones for soul, jazz, and RnB sounds that are rooted in jazz/blues. It lacks the premium components and electronics of the flagship Gibson model, but it is versatile enough to support RnB and Soul guitar players.

Product Highlights:

  • Flame Maple Veneer body with a mahogany neck
  • 24.75-inch scale length
  • Pau Ferro fretboard with 22 medium jumbo frets
  • Epiphone Alnico Classic Humbuckers
  • Tune-o-Matic bridge with stop bar tailpiece

REVIEW

The 3-way toggle provides additional options to move along the mood palette. For Soul or mellow RnB, the neck position is a warm place to start, with the tone rolled off halfway. The overall tone is a little clangy (think Noel Gallagher) and the guitar sound has a bluesy hue when driven, which could be handy for emotive solos.

The pickups can do everything from smooth to screeching. They are not high-output pups by any means if that's your jam. However, the guitar sounds warm and big with chords and riffs and can throw its weight around in the bridge position and some dirt in the mix.

You could create beautiful clean tones or guitar sounds similar to Tom Misch or Paul Jackson Junior. A P90 guitar (Epiphone Casino, perhaps?) could also be handy if you adore Bruno Major, Grant Green, or other proponents of neo-soul meets jazz.

VERDICT

The Epiphone DOT Dexlue is a well-made instrument that takes a feather right out of Gibson's cap. Some guitarists call it the best instrument under $500, and others say it offers more "value" than the flagship model. While I don't endorse the hyperbole, it can be a no-brainer for Soul and RnB guitarists who want a versatile semi without breaking the bank.

3.Ibanez Artcore AM93 Semi-hollow Body Electric Guitar

Ibanez AM93QM Artcore Expressionist Electric Guitar, Jet Blue Burst

The Ibanez Artcore AM93 is the underdog of this list that punches way above its price tag. The semi-hollow body guitar features the Super 58s, making it articulate, warm, and highly playable. It delivers an elegant tone with equally classy aesthetics, something right up the alley of any jazz/soul or neo-soul guitar player or RnB musician rooted in jazz.

Product Highlights:

  • Semi-hollow guitar with quilted maple top
  • Ash body and Nyatoh/Maple neck
  • Ebony fretboard with 22 medium frets
  • 2 x Super 58 humbucking pickups
  • Ibanez ART-1 adjustable fixed bridge

REVIEW

The Ibanez AM93 is famed for its warmth, easy handling, and elegant looks. It features a scintillating quilted maple top with gold hardware to create a classy aesthetic appeal. The guitar has a center block, F-shaped sound holes, and a barrage of warm and fat tones to offer. 

The factory setup and intonation ensure that it is playable right out of the box. It goes to show how Ibanez continues to provide top-notch QA on modestly priced instruments. The patterning in the maple top is also jaw-dropping gorgeous, as is the fit and finish of the guitar.

The neck is chunky but easy to maneuver. The ebony fingerboard adds definition and clarity of single-note lines. Chords sound full but articulate, and the guitar responds well to dynamic playing. Over all, it sounds harmonically rich with a balanced tone across the fingerboard.

The Super 58 pickups are the highlight of the Artcore series. They sound incredible for the money. The pickups feature Alnico 3 magnets and have a middle-of-the-road power profile. The tone palette is within the jazz/blues realm with sweet cleans and a distinct fullness.

VERDICT

For a guitar made in Indonesia that costs less than $700, the Ibanez Artcore AM93 impresses on all counts. Compared to the Epiphone DOT Deluxe, it is decidedly better in terms of tone and workmanship. It could be the right guitar for a George Benson-like amalgam of RnB, jazz, and soul, especially with flat wound guitar strings.

4.Fender Vintera ‘60s Modified Telecaster

Fender Vintera '60s Telecaster Modified - Pau Ferro Fingerboard - Sea Foam Green

It is not easy for a Telecaster to cut the cord from country music. But in the past few decades, artists from every genre have taken this slab-bodied guitar to parade its versatility. Today, there are dozens of options to choose from, but I've picked the Fender Vintera '60s Modified Telecaster as the best electric guitar for RnB and Neo-Soul.

Product Highlights:

  • All-mahogany Hollowbody Guitar
  • 25-inch scale length
  • Ebony fretboard with 22 frets
  • PRS 58/15 “S” humbucking pickups
  • Adjustable Stoptail bridge
  • Hard case shell included

REVIEW

The Modified Vintera guitar features the familiar old-school looks with a single-cut Alder body and bolt-on Maple neck. It also has the traditional electronics with two single-coil pickups but adds some powerful tweaks under the hood to make the guitar unique and contemporary.

The neck profile has also been modernized for fast passages and nifty chord work. The guitar has a silky smooth Pau Ferro fingerboard with a 9.5" fingerboard radius. Sound-wise, the guitar is responsive and rounded. It's not as crisp or bright as a Strat, but it can grunt with immediacy fuelled by the right effects and overdrive settings.

The tone has bags of midrange warmth and clarity, which will lend well to laidback expressions of Rnb and Soul. The pickups are sweet-sounding on clean settings and drive the amp well due to their high-output design. The Modified model also has a unique 4-way S-1 switch to configure the pickups in parallel or series. Plus, the phase reverse option is a whole new realm of sounds.

VERDICT

The Fender Vintage Modified Electric Guitar can sit in the pocket or cut through the mix. It has the signature Fender twang with more oomph and versatility under the hood than an average telecaster. If that isn't reason enough, observe how Raphael Saadiq or Gabriella Wilson (H.E.R) uses a Telecaster to create a unique blend of RnB, neo-soul, and funk.

5.G&L Tribute Legacy Electric Guitar

G&L Tribute Legacy Electric Guitar - Fullerton Red

The G&L Legacy may remind you of a classic double-cut Strat with three single-coil pickups. The Legacy is not a Fender replica, it is one of Leo Fender’s early designs. One hard look and you notice differences that make the G&L a commendable single-coil guitar in its own right.

Product Highlights:

  • All-mahogany Hollowbody Guitar
  • 25-inch scale length
  • Ebony fretboard with 22 frets
  • PRS 58/15 “S” humbucking pickups
  • Adjustable Stoptail bridge
  • Hard case shell included

REVIEW

The G&L Legacy has an alder body with a C-shape maple neck that houses 22 medium jumbo frets. It uses the Strat template and refines it with some purposeful design tweaks. The most apparent of them is the dual-fulcrum vibrato that has a fatter-than-usual sound.

The neck is comfortable, fast, and perfectly finished. The ergonomic design feels comfortable despite long sessions of use. The sound is neither meaty nor feathery. It leans towards contemporary, especially when you roll off the bass with the Bass System knob.

The Alnico V single-coil pickups sound crisp, bright, and harmonically rich. It has more kick than the Strat and sounds almost as well-defined and balanced.  For those reasons, the G&L Legacy is a player-friendly guitar with an accessible price tag. It lacks the brand-name cachet of an American Strat, but the sound refined and contemporary.

VERDICT

The G&L Tribute Legacy is a SSS alternative to the Fender Strat. It’s is as versatile as a Strat, but with a more modern palette. The build and electronics are superb for the price. There is a good chance it will grows on you to a point where you might start sniffing at upmarket Fender Strat players on online forums.

6. Fender Noventa Jazzmaster Electric Guitar

Fender Noventa Jazzmaster, Maple Fingerbaord, Walnut

The Jazzmaster has always been the little guy in the Fender catalog. It has served for many decades as the go-to axe for indie and folk guitarists due to its offset design, simple electronics, and deep sustain. Now, the new Noventa Series offers a JM guitar that is right up the alley of P-90 loving RnB and Soul players. 

Product Highlights:

  • Alder body with a maple neck
  • Maple or Pau Ferro fretboard with 21 medium jumbo frets
  • Three M-90 pickups
  • Adjusto-Matic bridge with floating tremolo
  • Deluxe gig bag included

REVIEW:

The Jazzmaster with P-90 magic is nothing to sniff at. It's a loveable hybrid that packs an exciting array of tones and equally renegade outfits. The Noventa model features offset contours, a different trem, a ‘Deep C’ neck profile that is ultra-comfy to play all over the neck. It also sports a bone nut, narrow-tall frets, and a treble bleed control to keep the sparkle intact when you lower the volume.

You can dial in a Strat sound in the neck position for cleans and soulful rhythms. In addition, the guitar is capable of grit, twang, and fat warmth when the occasion calls for it. This is due to the M-90 p’ups, which have overlap with single-coil sounds but are a thing of their own.

The Noventa JM is ideal for those who seek sonic versatility and touch sensitivity. The M-90s excel at responding to touch and sound gloriously thick and wide with generous modulation. They are red-hot pickups that can be tamed or unleashed to inject energy into the music.

VERDICT:

There is a rebellious allure to the alternate outfit of the Noventa Jazzmaster. It beckons you away from the instant familiarity of the Strat with its switching system, distinctive trem, and alternate aesthetic. From red-hot tones to sophisticated chords, the Noventa guitar would make a wonderful primary instrument or gigging workhorse.

7.PRS SE Hollowbody Standard Electric Guitar

PRS Guitars 6 String SE Hollowbody Standard Fire Red Burst with Case, Right (105534:FR)

If your sonic destination is clean, balanced, and resonant, nothing can get you there quicker than the PRS SE Hollowbody. It's a studio-ready instrument with all the shimmer and snap for Neo-Soul and RnB.

Product Highlights:

  • All-mahogany Hollowbody Guitar
  • 25-inch scale length
  • Ebony fretboard with 22 frets
  • PRS 58/15 “S” humbucking pickups
  • Adjustable Stoptail bridge
  • Hard case shell included

REVIEW

The all-mahogany PRS hollow body guitar features all the PRS hallmarks like the wide-fat neck, 58/15 double buckers, mahogany body, and bird inlays. The controls feature a simple two-knob operation - volume and tone - with a 3-way toggle switch to access different combinations.

From open-sounding suspended chords to a light chorus-infused shimmer, the PRS Hollowbody is often overlooked, despite its twenty-year stint in the brand's lineup. True, it seems like a more apt candidate for jazz players. Yet, it can fit like a glove in Neo Soul or RnB rigs.

Tone-wise, it’s one of those guitars that artfully reciprocate your in-the-feel playing. At the same time, the PRS 58/15 humbuckers are ready to chop up the rhythm when you crank the treble. From jazzy rhythm to ear-melting tube-amp lead tones, the guitar tone sits well in many settings.

If you enjoy the PRS tone and wide-fat neck, consider the recently launched PRS SE Hollowbody II Piezo. No question, these are serious instruments, but a hollow-body may not appeal to many guitarists unless they seek a niche tone or a second guitar for their collection.

VERDICT

The PRS Hollowbody Standard looks luxurious, sounds premium, and costs half of what you would expect at first glance. It’s great for jazz-infused neo-soul guitar work and gritty RnB riffs. Top that with excellent clarity and a well-balanced sound, and we’ve got an unlikely but highly capable instrument for RnB & Soul! The only thing you might miss is a coil-split switch.

8.Best Premium: Gibson ES-335 Electric Guitar

From Chuck Berry tunes to the soulful work of Amy Winehouse, the Gibson ES-335 enjoys enduring fame in the soul-jazz side colors of the RnB spectrum. Like the Fender Strat, it is omnipresent in every genre, albeit with a wildly different tone and playing feel. It commands a daunting price but delivers on every imaginable level.

Product Highlights:

  • Maple/Poplar Semi-Hollowbody Guitar
  • 24.75-inch scale length
  • Rosewood fingerboard with 22 Plek’d frets
  • Calibrated T-Type humbucking pickups
  • Hard case shell included

REVIEW:

Far from the fast neck and bright single-coil sound of the Fender, the thick-necked ES-335 stands in stark contrast with its chunky profile and fat humbucking tone. From bluesy breakup to lightly chorused shell chord voicings, this semi-hollow guitar is a snapshot of glory.

While the ES-335 has been used resplendently in every genre, it is also a perfect proposition to sweeten the Neo-Soul mix or add some zing to an RnB ensemble. The guitar has tones right out of history, ones embedded in the greatest tracks of Soul, Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Hip-Hop.

Isaiah Sharkey, Lianna La Havas, Lindsay Ell, and other famous artists have been spotted with the Gibson ES-335 regularly. It works equally well for delicate fingerstyle playing to accompany a voice or chunky octave-up lines to ratchet up the intensity for a solo. To cut a long story short, it is a dream machine with optimized playability and top-dollar sounds.

VERDICT

The Gibson scores delightfully in playability, tone, and comfort. It may not be within the reach of a hobbyist or up-and-coming guitar player, but for every professional musician, it is a ticket to pure playing pleasure. If you are ready for the big league, this time-tested classic is a sure shot for silky smoothness and impeccable design.

In Conclusion

The right guitar – judicious or premium – will complement the phrase vocabulary of RnB, Soul, and other iterations of the genre. It will elevate your tone, playing feel, and bring you one step closer to achieving the sound of the style.

I have laid out some conventional and quirky choices for you to select your work-axe. Hopefully, you will find some insights with quick links to make the best purchase. Don’t forget to check our guides and reviews of guitar amps, cabinets, and other paraphernalia. As always, happy hunting.

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