We often say that the best signature guitars are those that anyone can pick up and play. The appointments are practical, the finish appropriate for players of all temperaments... A guitar that's all things to all players.
That's a decent rule, but there are always exceptions – especially this year. And that is reflected by your voting in our end of year poll, in which the clear winner was and still is one of the most radical designs and finishes every put on an electric guitar.
The loss of Eddie Van Halen has yet to be fully processed by guitar culture at large, and it feels only right that his creation – reissued at a production line price for 2020 – would be your number one signature guitar of the year.
It feels fitting that this guitar should break the rules as it broke so many of them when it was first made as Van Halen MacGyver'd a new future for the instrument, making a Strat sound more like a Les Paul, making a Strat perform in ways in which it never had before.
Elsewhere, the rule mostly applies. Your picks reflect the innovation that comes from an artist-manufacturer collaboration, and how this translates as something more than an instrument for the sole preserve of the artist and their fans.
1. EVH Frankie Striped Relic
For the second year running, we have an EVH model at number one. But on this of all years, it feels only right that the EVH Frankie Striped Relic tops the poll. It is the most affordable aged replica of the Frankenstein Strat you will find. Heads were turned at NAMM 2020 when it was launched. The detail, and for the money ($1,699 / £1,199 street) this relic'd Frankie is incredible.
The Frankenstein might be a striking looking guitar, but pragmatism is behind much of its design. Here we have got a 25.5" scale, a three-piece quartersawn maple neck with a very tactile oil finish bolted on to a basswood body, with the HSS pickup configuration, with a direct-mount EVH Wolfgang humbucker in the bridge position, no pickup in the middle, and a dummy Strat pickup in the neck.
There's a dummy five-way blade selector, too, with only a single volume knob for swells and cleaning up your tone as you are playing. A double-locking EVH-branded Floyd Rose vibrato unit with a HipShot D-Tune completes the picture.
If you are an Eddie Van Halen super fan this has to be on the Christmas list. You can take a closer look at it here.
2. Gibson Slash Les Paul Standard
Gibson's Slash Collection was the signature guitar event of 2020. We have seen Slash signature models before, some from the Custom Shop, others on the Epiphone line, but this year we had five Les Pauls to choose from, each fitted with Gibson Custom Burstbucker Alnico II pickups, and priced just a little north of your regular Gibson Les Paul Standard.
The 2020 Gibson Slash Les Paul Standard arrived in Appetite Burst, Vermillion Burst, November Burst and Anaconda Burst, with a stunning dark-backed Goldtop named "Victoria" unveiled at the start of December. The neck carves are incredible, the weight considerable. But what struck us was how they would appeal to anyone in the market for a vintage-voiced Les Paul.
The signature touches are mostly in the spec, with a signature truss rod cover and graphic on the rear of the headstock the only real signature flourish. And you get a even blank truss rod cover in the case. Pretty cool.
Play your blues turnarounds during the week, and when Friday comes, live and let die as you crack open the Jack and get the top hat on for some Welcome To The Jungle.
3. Charvel Joe Duplantier Pro Mod Sand Dimas Style 2
For a guitar player who engineered a vast evolutionary leap for heavy metal, stretching its sinews so it could occupy more protean rhythms, Joe Duplantier is kind of a traditionalist when it comes to his guitars..
The latest in his long-standing collaboration with Charvel, the Joe Duplantier Pro Mod Sand Dimas Style 2, assumes a T-style format, a nice slab of mahogany with a mahogany neck and block inlays on an ebony board giving it a certain custom shop je ne sais quoi.
The natural finish is exquisite. As with all Charvel's output, the build is incredible for the money, and as far as pickup combinations go, we love the DiMarzio PAF and Duplantier's Fortitude signature 'bucker in the neck and bridge respectively. It makes for some crushing tones at the bridge, and a wide open array of classic rock and blues tones at the neck.
4. Ernie Ball Music Man Luke III
The Ernie Ball Music Man Luke III is another triumph of design and build. A solidbody doublecut with a pair of Custom Wound humbuckers and a super-smooth vibrato, it will cover almost any style, and flatter your abilities as a player.
There's an element of automatic playing that you might have to get over. The Luke III just feels too good to go slow. From the roasted figured maple neck with gunstock oil and hand-rubbed wax finish to the Schaller locking tuners and a control circuit that offers an abundance of tonal options, it is total quality.
Furthermore, there's a push-push 20dB of boost available, should you want to go nuclear for a solo. Wonderful stuff.
5. Ernie Ball Music Man Mariposa Standard
The best-looking signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitar since St Vincent's, the Mariposa was designed in collaboration with Omar Rodríquez-López of At The Drive In/Mars Volta fame.
The finish options are exquisite, and that angular offset body wears them well. If you like the idea of an offset but find a Jazzmaster type a little too cumbersome, the Mariposa might be a good fit.
Like the Luke III, it is total quality – Schaller locking tuners, the Music Man Modern vibrato with vintage bent steel saddles, stainless steel frets... It's a beauty.
6. Yamaha Pacifica 1611MS
The Yamaha Pacifica 1611MS is the greatest signature guitar that no one seems to talk about. Created for Grammy-nominated jazz guitarist Mike Stern, it is Yamaha's only singlecut, an impeccably built Japanese T-style with a heap of charm.
There's a lot going on with the 1611MS. Despite appearances, it is a dual-humbucker electric, with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails single coil-sized humbucker at the bridge and a zebra ’59 standard-sized humbucker at the neck.
Obviously, the 1611MS is a great jazz guitar, but it handles gain very nicely, and is every inch the workhorse guitar that the bolt-on maple neck and ash body format might suggest.
7. Cort/Manson META MBM-1
The Manson META MBM-1 takes a more future-forward approach to the age-old T-style format, which is just as you'd want it if you are, say, Matt Bellamy, boss of the company and mastermind behind contemporary progressive rock's charge on the mainstream.
The META MBM-1 comes with a Manson humbuckers, a very quick and comfortable soft V maple neck, which is bolted on to a basswood body and seats a very modern 12-16" compound radius fingerboard that makes light work of chords and lead passages alike.
The hardware is quality, with locking tuners from Cort and a tune-o-matic style bridge. It's an electric guitar of understated power that makes perfect sense when you pick it up and play.