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Such is the vibe of electric guitars that daubing them in cool graphics is almost a no-brainer. Whether it’s a simple sticker modestly affixed to your Strat’s vibrato cavity cover, or a gorgeous photorealistic image of your spouse painstakingly applied by an airbrush artist, this type of customisation can really help you stand out from the crowd.
Naturally, the whole hot-rodding concept has a certain general appeal, but it’s the rock and metal fraternity who’ve taken custom livery to their dark hearts, and these days there’s no need to shell out for unique graphics when it’s never been simpler to get hold of models from familiar names that have bespoke designs ready to go.
Fender’s earliest years saw several of the brand’s pioneers happily paint their names on brand new Stratocasters - Johnny Meeks from Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps is a good example - and even Gretsch featured the classic G-brand design as early as 1955.
However, arguably the most revered and best-known one-off graphic guitar has got to be Eric Clapton’s ‘Fool’ Gibson SG. In 1967 Slowhand commissioned two Dutch artists, Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger, to paint the guitar - it went on to raise $150,000 at auction in 2000 for its then-owner Todd Rundgren. It’s not all about classic hand-painted and air-brushed designs, though.
The clever application of a transfer, or decal as our US friends prefer, gives the appearance of an expensive paint job at a fraction of the cost and, back in the nineties, Fender even brought out the short-lived Foto Flame series, which saw a piece of photographic film shrink-wrapped around a guitar’s top to simulate the look of flamed maple - an innovative idea that worked very well indeed, though it failed to catch on.
Most guitarists will have visited the websites of the best known custom shops to look at and pore over the results of what months of design and artwork by those companies can produce, but if you were hoping to get hold of a genuine one-off for anything less than a five-figure sum, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Just visit the gallery section of both Fender and ESP’s custom shop sites for a real feast for the eyes, but we daren’t even tell you how much the Fender ‘Rack ’Em Up’ Telecaster costs…
These four models on review, however, are all available for well under that sort of price, yet each offers eye-catching graphics as well as a decent spec and performance. A one-off design can take many months from you placing your order to you receiving your guitar. That’s understandable, but these four are all available off the peg, right now.