A signature guitar is one of the highest honours bestowed upon a guitarist, signifying they've finally "made it" and that their tone is iconic enough to replicate. While some see artist models as an excuse to slap a famous name on a headstock for a bit of extra promo, in reality, the best signature guitars can offer a refreshing new take on a routine instrument.
For some guitar players, chasing the tone of their idols is the name of the game, and there's no better way to capture the legendary sound of rock royalty than bagging the signature axe of your hero. These guitars are often spec'd to handle the high octane playing of the guitar elite, delivering top tier electronics, road-worthy hardware and stage-ready finishes.
Ahead, we've rounded up a selection of electric guitars that fully embody the signature guitar ethos at varying price points. We believe these killer guitars have the look, the spec and the playability to not only nail their namesakes' sounds but, in your hands, take it somewhere new.
Best signature guitars: Our top choice
Few signature models are more visually or sonically arresting than Eddie Van Halen’s legendary Frankenstein guitar, and now you can own your own slice of history with this nicely priced model from Eddie’s own EVH Gear company.
Based on Eddie’s original with some contemporary tweaks, the EVH Striped Series packs a single direct-mount Wolfgang humbucker, a compound-radius maple fingerboard on maple neck with hand-rubbed oil finish, and a Floyd Rose locking tremolo with D-Tuna for quick drop-D changes.
Given its price point and the way it combines heritage with modern functionality, the EVH Striped Series is a clear candidate for the best signature guitar.
Best signature guitars: Product guide
Hard-rockers the world over rejoiced when EVH Gear finally made Eddie’s iconic Frankenstein available to mere mortals, and the Striped Series more than delivers on its promise.
Besides that striped finish – available in yellow/black, red/black/white and black/white – the Striped Series offers a slick playing experience, owing to a graphite-reinforced quartersawn maple neck with a hand-rubbed oil finish and compound-radius maple fingerboard.
As per Eddie’s original, there’s just a single humbucker onboard – controlled via a solitary volume, marked ‘tone’ – but a neat modern touch is the D-Tuna fitted to the Floyd Rose locking tremolo, enabling you to go from Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love to Unchained at the flick of a saddle.
Read our full EVH Striped Series review
For Muse fans, this cut-price version of Matt Bellamy’s tricked-out Manson signature model is a must-buy, but its well-spec’d feature set ensures its appeal extends far wider. For starters, it boasts a tonesome Manson-designed humbucker/single coil pairing, which is complemented by a built-in killswitch for Tom Morello-style stutter effects.
Elsewhere, comfortable playability is ensured by a soft V-shaped neck and rosewood fingerboard, while the combination of a tune-o-matic bridge and staggered height locking machineheads makes for great tuning stability. With killer features, tones and an affordable price tag, there’s no excuse not to plug in, baby.
Read our full Cort Manson MBC-1 Matthew Bellamy Signature review
Much was made of Annie Clark’s off-the-wall design, primarily as a guitar with ergonomics designed for women, but its ‘bow-tie’ outline is comfortable for guitarists of all genders, and Ernie Ball’s peerless build quality ensures it delivers feel and tones to match.
A figured roasted maple fretboard is matched by a rosewood or ebony fingerboard, while an idiosyncratic set of sounds comes courtesy of three DiMarzio custom mini-humbuckers, which boast a switching system that ekes out every drop of tone. A dual-humbucker version is also available, but either way, this is a daring electric guitar for those seeking to stand out.
Read our full Ernie Ball Music Man St Vincent
Arguably there’s no bigger name associated with the glorious Gibson Les Paul than Slash - well, apart from Les himself, we suppose. The top hat connoisseur has used a Les Paul - and LP copy - to devastating effect on countless records and at this point, it’s part of his DNA. It will come as no surprise then that the guitar hero has had a steady stream of signature axes from both Gibson and its sister company Epiphone, with the newest being the Epiphone Slash Collection Les Paul Standard.
Based on Slash’s number one, this drop-dead gorgeous LP features a AAA flame maple veneer, which sits atop a mahogany body, a mahogany neck with a Slash approved C profile neck, and the model we checked out was dressed in the stunning Appetite Burst finish.
At the heart of this model is a set of Epiphone Custom ProBucker Alnico 2 pickups, which are designed to replicate the sound of Gibson’s Custom BurstBuckers. As you’d expect, these pickups produce the filthy, harmonically rich tone Slash is famous for while also being able to cover a wide range of different sounds.
It’s worth noting that the Epiphone Slash Les Paul comes in a multitude of finish options, from the moody Vermillion Burst, the verdant Anaconda Burst and the legendary November Burst.
Read our full Epiphone Slash Collection Les Paul Standard
As a Metallica-fronting metal icon and the man with the most precise picking hand in the biz, James Hetfield has had numerous LTD signature models over the years, but none are quite so distinctive as this modified Explorer-style.
Based on Papa Het’s original design and featuring his signature EMG active pickups, the Snakebyte is tailor-built for thick metal tones, courtesy of a mahogany body and three-piece, set mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard, plus 22 extra-jumbo frets and that arresting snake 12th-fret snake inlay. A TonePros locking TOM bridge and tailpiece keep the tuning in check. And signature models for all!
Read our full ESP LTD Snakebite review
One of the most eagerly anticipated signature models of all time is this recreation of the Queen legend’s Red Special, a guitar assembled with his father, and one that’s not quite like any other.
The Red Special is most notable for its three Tri-Sonic style, series-wired single-coil pickups, which are adjusted via individual pickup on/off switches and a phase switching system, for maximum possible tonal options.
Its idiosyncratic feature set is further exemplified by a chambered mahogany body and 24” ebony fingerboard on set-in mahogany neck, topped off by Grover locking Rotomatic tuners and a Wilkinson WVP Knife Edge tremolo. Rest assured, this signature guitar will rock you.
The Smiths’ indie rock icon gave Fender’s eccentric offset a comprehensive overhaul that transformed it into an altogether more usable beast. A pair of Bare Knuckle single coils are tweaked using a four-position blade pickup switch mounted to the lower-horn plate, while a pair of upper-horn slide switches provide a choice of ‘bright’ options.
Besides the increased tonal versatility, there’s also the addition of a more reliable Mustang-saddle Jaguar bridge with nylon post inserts, plus the tremolo arm is taller and comes with a nylon sleeve insert to prevent the arm from swinging around too much. Marr’s updates are so well-thought-out, it makes his signature model just about the best Jaguar you can buy today.
Read our full Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar review
The Silver Sky proved rather controversial upon its launch, owing to its similarity to a fairly famous Fender electric guitar. A number of smart design and tone choices set this model apart from its inspiration, however.
Mayer has combined aspects of his favourite instruments here, with a ’63/’64-derived neck shape, 7.25” radius and a trio of vintage-voiced single-coil pickups. The whole thing is brought bang up to date by PRS’s trademark lower horn ‘scoop’, vintage-style locking tuners and a PRS tremolo system with Gen III knife-edge screws.
The guitar’s striking finishes are even derived from Tesla car colours, which is a nod to Fender’s use of DuPont automotive colours back in the day.
Read our full PRS John Mayer Silver Sky review
Dream Theater speed demon John Petrucci has dubbed his latest incarnation of the Majesty “the perfect guitar”, and for players of a prog-metal persuasion, he may well be right.
Everything about this model is precision-engineered to deliver a high-octane playing experience, with hand-selected tonewoods, a neck-through-body design and digital pickup switching capabilities.
There are magnetic and piezo offerings to cop acoustic sounds, as well as coil-tapping and a 20dB boost for extra gain. You can even output in stereo for the ultimate widescreen guitar tone.
Although the model is technically ‘designed with’ Radiohead’s sonic architect Ed O’Brien, its versatile feature set makes it one of the most imaginative takes on the Strat yet.
The model’s USP is a Fernandes Sustainer neck pickup, which provides infinite sustain for otherworldly textures, but the guitar also packs a Texas Special Strat middle pickup and Seymour Duncan JB Jr humbucker, offering a seriously flexible switching arrangement.
Elsewhere, O’Brien has made a number of other practical tweaks, including shifting the output jack to the side, as well as spec’ing a palm-filling 10/56 neck profile. This killer guitar has everything in its right place.
Read our full Fender EOB Sustainer Stratocaster review
We’d go as far as to say that Tim Henson is a modern-day guitar hero. As the main axeman in the fiercely progressive outfit, Polyphia, Henson took the internet by storm with his unique blend of rhythmic and melodic playing.
The Ibanez THBB10 is designed to be a conduit for Henson’s dynamic and mind-boggling technique and is perfect for those seeking a high-performance instrument that doesn’t scrimp on features. Adorned with a roasted maple neck, which is heat-treated to provide a more balanced attack and rich sustain, this guitar feels silky smooth to play.
Loaded with Henson’s custom made DiMarzio Notorious pickups, this guitar certainly sounds as good as it looks. The twin single-coils do a fantastic job of replicating the dynamics of true vintage pickups. At the same time, the Notorious minibucker in the bridge position is a moderate output pickup with bags of character and style.
Best signature guitars: Buying advice
Choosing the best signature guitar for you
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As you’d expect, signature guitars come in a huge variety of shapes ’n’ specs. After all, guitar players from every genre of music, from jazz guitar players to blues guitar players to rock, metal and beyond have created their own models. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re confined to creating music like these guitars’ namesakes. We’d encourage you to look at what each electric guitar is kitted out with, and figure out how that would suit your style.
This is especially true of pickups; where off-the-shelf stock models may opt for the standard dual-humbucker or triple-single coil arrangement, signature guitars allow artists to really run wild.
You need only look to Ernie Ball’s Music Man St Vincent as an example, which boasts a trio of mini-humbuckers. Or Brian May’s expansive Red Special replicas, which are fitted with a staggering array of switches to tweak its trio of Tri-Sonic pickups to the nth degree.
Then there are the neck shapes and the feel of the models. Increasingly, artists play the exact same signature models that you can buy in stores, and that means they want to get every detail right before the guitars hit the production line.
So, you might find necks that are beefier or skinnier than what you might expect from similar guitars. Fender’s EOB Sustainer Stratocaster is a case in point, boasting a far chunkier feel than the majority of Strats.
When it comes to the best signature guitars, you’re likely to find some sweet upgrades in the hardware department, too. Most of our picks feature locking tuners for quick string changes, while the likes of Johnny Marr’s Jaguar give the hardware and switching a complete overhaul in comparison to its inspiration.
And, of course, for those seeking meticulous vintage replicas, there’s the Jimmy Page Telecaster, which eschews contemporary upgrades to stay true to the iconic original. So whether you’re a fan or a guitarist seeking something different to the norm, we have the signature guitar for you right here…
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