What are the best guitar pedals for R&B? Are there some specific effects that guitar players need to acquire in order to play the genre?
Being one of the most popular styles of music, the R&B discography is an expansive library of hits from various decades. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced guitarist, learning how to play R&B songs has a lot of benefits for musicians of any style or level.
From the surface, R&B may not seem too complex, but the genre actually has a lot of depth. Especially if you consider the jazz origins of R&B, as well as the skill level of the personnel involved in creating the tunes that comprise the colorful world of rhythm and blues.
Aside from the musical knowledge that is ingrained into R&B songs, there is a lot of freedom to experiment within the genre because of its malleable nature. Guitar players can employ a host of techniques and gadgets to go along with the rich chords and smooth riffs that are a commonplace in R&B.
R&B heavily exchanges inspiration with its groove music contemporaries, so it is not unusual for the genre to be included in neo-soul, funk or smooth jazz playlists. Overall, present-day R&B offers a little bit more flexibility to guitarists when it comes to sonic exploration, compared to ‘60s Motown soul or ‘20s boogie-woogie.
Guitar players in rhythm and blues can actually utilize most of the guitar pedals in the market to make their sound more interesting. From chunky wah-wahs to heavenly choruses, to wild fuzz and mind-bending delays, the opportunity to trip out on gadgets as an R&B guitar player is almost limitless.
The evolution of R&B and guitar pedals
Before we discuss some of the best guitar pedals for R&B, it is important to know first how the genre evolved and where it originated. Although R&B is often associated with pop music, there is still a lot to discover about one of the most well-established styles of music in recent history.
Rhythm and blues, also known as R&B or R’n’B, is a genre that has its roots deeply planted in African-American culture. Although the intersection between jazz and blues had already transpired in the 1920s and 1930s, the combination of both styles would only be consolidated into a more cohesive genre in the 1940s.
The term “Rhythm and Blues” was coined in 1949 and subsequently replaced the Billboard “Harlem Hit Parade.” The specific chart category featured the “most popular records in Harlem,” which had a strong African-American population. For the next few decades, artists such as Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Ruth Brown (dubbed the “Queen of R&B”), churned out several R&B classics, all garnering significant mainstream attention.
In the ‘80s and the ‘90s, a new brand of modern-sounding R&B emerged. As hip-hop started to grow bigger, R&B merged with rap music, giving birth to the beat-heavy, soulful rhythms of the likes of Janet Jackson, Aaliyah and Mary J. Blige. During the peak of R&B, girl bands such as Destiny’s Child, Kut Klose, SWV and TLC, also made a huge impact in the music scene with their masterful singing and crowd-pleasing abilities.
Critics may say that R&B has died down in recent decades, but the truth is, the genre is just evolving continuously. Today the rhythm and blues is still in command of the airwaves through the songs of Beyonce, Daniel Caesar, H.E.R., Ne-Yo, Rihanna and Tinashe.
Best guitar pedals for R&B
Whether you are backing a Tina Turner-type singer, performing your original compositions live ala-D’Angelo, or producing a new song inside the studio like Raphael Saddiq, guitar pedals are definitely a great addition to your arsenal.
While guitar effect models that are exclusively designed for R&B aren’t too necessary, here are some pedals that are favored by some of the best ax-slingers in the industry:
Boss CE-2w Chorus
Whether you are into Earth, Wind and Fire or Mint Condition, you need to have a chorus pedal in your rig. The chorus is a great guitar pedal for R&B due to the rich, ethereal doubling effect that it creates.
While there are countless amazing chorus stompboxes out there, you can’t go wrong with a good old Boss CE-2w, which is crowned by some experts as the best analog chorus pedal of all time.
Phasers are – in a subtle way – very essential tools in making booty-shaking music. The Boss PH-3 combines vintage and modern sounds that will make Barry White and Chaka Khan smile.
Cry Baby Wah
Given the right repertoire and skills, the Dunlop’s legendary guitar wah can help you fill a lot of dance floors. Although it is one of the best guitar pedals for R&B, be reminded that the Cry Baby Wah is best-known for its aggressive sound. If you are seeking a more nuanced, old school wah-wah, a ‘60s Vox wah pedal would be a better alternative.
So you wanna get funky? Electro-Harmonix’s Q-Tron might just be what you need to make the crowd get up and dance. An ultimate funk machine and an apt guitar pedal for R&B, the Q-Tron is actually an envelope filter that sounds a bit similar to an auto-wah.
Ibanez Tube Screamer
Although R&B is best-remembered for the suave and sexy mood that it evokes, that doesn’t mean you can’t rock out and use distortion in your solos. In fact, it is not uncommon for R&B artists like Prince, to use harsh-sounding fuzz pedals on some of his pop hits.
However, if you wish to stay on the safer side of the overdrive spectrum, the Ibanez Tube Screamer would do great in milder situations. The Tube Screamer is also a favorite among blues players for its responsive dynamics, which allows guitarists to produce more gain by exerting heavier pressure on their picking.
Strymon TimeLine Multidimensional Delay
Because R&B covers various eras, having a versatile delay pedal on your rig will provide you the flexibility to go hopping between different generations. The Strymon TimeLine Multidimensional delay pedal has twelve unique delay machines that can dial in warm analog tones akin to tape delay, as well as crisp, sparkling modern-sounding delays.
TC Electronic Sub ‘N’ Up
The TC Electronic Sub ‘N’ Up is basically the type of octave pedal that Mark Lettieri of Snarky Puppy loves using for his guitar solos, making him sound as if he’s playing in unison with the bass player. Although perfect for any genre from metal to neo-soul, the Sub ‘N’ Up is a tasty ingredient that guitar players need in order to cook up some luscious R&B tunes.
Vertex Nyle Compressor
The Vertex Nyle is a purely analog stompbox that works as a preamp and a compressor. Inspired by legendary soul/R&B guitarist Nile Rodgers of the band Chic, the Nyle Compressor delivers some of the punchiest tones in funkland. The ‘70s and ‘80s comes alive with the Vertex Nyle Compressor, which is easily one of the best guitar pedals for R&B today.