Playing a guitar that was designed specifically for another guitarist doesn’t sit well with every guitar player, but the very bbest signature guitars are much more than just a tweak to an existing design.
Where the signature guitar was once an excuse to slap an artist’s name on the headstock for a bit of extra promo, contemporary signature guitars offer refreshing new angles that take their based models far beyond their original remit.
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Ahead, we’ve rounded up a selection of electric guitars that embody the signature guitar ethos, whatever their price point: they’ve got the look, the spec and the playability to not only nail their namesakes’ sounds, but, in your hands, take it somewhere new too.
What is the best signature guitar?
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.
Choosing the best signature guitar for you
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.
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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…
The best signature guitars to buy now
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.
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.
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.
This production-line recreation costs 1/10th of the cost of the exhaustive Custom Shop version, but Page’s Dragon Telecaster is a late-’50s spec Telecaster par excellence.
Besides the oh-so-distinctive painted dragon finish, the guitar boasts a pair of Custom Shop single coils voiced especially to nail the sound of Jimmy’s Tele on Led Zeppelin I.
Other features include a ‘Thin D’-shaped maple neck with period-correct 7.25” radius, as well as a ‘top-loader’ bridge, which allows you to string up through-body or top-loading, offering additional tone and feel options. You also get a red coiled cable and vintage-style ‘stained glass’ strap thrown in.
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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!
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.
By far the cheapest signature guitar you’re likely to find, the ‘AFD’ (that’s Appetite For Destruction, acronym fans) Special-II deserves its place on this list as a killer beginner guitar that also goes some way to capturing the vibe of the guitar with which Slash is synonymous.
An AAA flame maple veneer provides a far more expensive look than the price tag would suggest, and while the Ceramic Plus Zebra-coil humbuckers aren’t going to compete with Gibson’s offerings, they certainly do the job for distorted rock tones.
This signature model has one thing going for it that Slash’s own Gibsons don’t, too: a built-in tuner on the bridge pickup mounting ring. Nifty.
Most Epiphone signature models are limited-editions and don’t hang around long, but the Slash AFD Les Paul has been around for many years now, and that’s testament to its supreme value for money.
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 favorite 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.
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.
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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.