Your Signature, Please: Five Essential Pieces of Signature Gear
About 10 years ago, a home-furnishings company named a line of rugs after a gorgeous movie and TV actress.
It turns out that, aside from walking, sidling and sashaying on them for a few decades, she really didn't know a lot about rugs — or furniture or pretty much anything her name still graces today. But the company put her moniker on the stuff and continues to reap the benefits that a big name (and a pretty face) can provide.
Luckily, musicians in search of quality signature gear — from guitars to amps to effects to pickups — don't have to worry about that nonsense. Generally, gear manufacturers work closely with their signature artists, in some cases, right down to the tiniest of details (Some artists repeatedly send back their signature-model prototypes until they're absolutely perfect).
So, while acknowledging the plethora of fine signature gear that's available today, here's the cream of the crop: five items that simply get it right. This list was compiled by a group of Guitar World staffers including Gear Editor Paul Riario.
Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster
Maybe you've read it in forums or heard it from people in the know (maybe even from people whose job it is to try out Fender gear all day long), but Fender's Eric Johnson signature Strat has quietly earned a reputation as possibly one of the best instruments Fender produces on a regular basis.
At first glance, the EJ model looks a lot like other U.S.-made Strats. But once you study the details, you start to notice its refinement. In fact, EJ-model connoisseurs tend to agree that it's not one single feature that makes this guitar special — it's the way all the smaller features work together.
The guitar has a one-piece, vintage-tinted quartersawn plain maple neck (contours sanded very smooth) with a ’57-style V shape; a light, two-piece alder body with deep ’57-style body contours and cavities. It comes in 2-Color Sunburst, Black, Candy Apple Red and White Blonde. The frets are highly polished. The pickups are Eric Johnson single-coils (not over-wound at all) with countersunk screws and a five-way switch. Other features include a vintage tremolo with silver-painted block and ’57-style string recess. There's no paint between the base plate and the block.
Basically, if you're a fan of the Stratocaster in its purest form, you'll truly appreciate this model, which also packs in several practical updates for modern players.
MSRP: $2,599.99 | Check out this guitar at fender.com.
ESP LTD James Hetfield Snakebyte
When it comes to signature guitars made for the rigors of heavy metal, it's hard to beat the LTD James Hetfield Snakebyte from ESP.
The Snakebyte is a light-weight guitar that packs the heavyweight punch necessary for one of metal's marquee players. The neck is thin and comfortable, perfect for quick chord changes, and you'll find all of the high-end features of its more expensive Japanese-made cousin without sacrificing quality.
And, as an added bonus, the Snakebyte now comes stock with a set of EMG James Hetfield pickups, putting all of the Metallica guitarist's secret weapons — minus his fabled right hand — at your fingertips.
For a full test drive and review from Guitar World Gear Editor Paul Riaro, head here.
MSRP: $1,570 | Check out this guitar at esp.com.
Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro Slash APH-2 pickups
For the die-hard Slash enthusiast, there's a whole boatload of signature gear to choose from, from the "Appetite" Les Paul to a the custom octave fuzz from Jim Dunlop.
While you could buy your way to a pretty good replica of Slash's actual rig with enough money, the best place to start might just be the Alnico II Pro Slash APH-2 pickups from Seymour Duncan.
These moderate-output humbuckers will give you just the right amount of bite for those gritty riffs while still allowing for the searing sustain necessary to unleash ripping solos. Pop them in any humbucker-friendly guitar and you'll be well on your way to channeling your favorite top-hat-wearing guitar hero.
MSRP: $269 | Check out these pickups at seymourduncan.com.
Jim Dunlop DB01 Cry Baby From Hell
Take a quick poll of metal guitarists to find out their favorite wah pedal and Jim Dunlop's Cry Baby From Hell will undoubtedly come out on top.
Made to the specifications of the late, great Dimebag Darrell, the Cry Baby From Hell features an extended sweep range knob, 6-way range selector and kick-in volume boost to take your solos over the top.
Dime, like a number of other guitarists, would often use his wah as a high-end boost for solos, leaving it fully cocked while he tore up the fretboard. Either fully engaged or used as a high-pass filter, the Cry Baby From Hell should meet all your needs and then some.
Now start getting those squeals and pinch harmonics down!
MSRP: $286.44 | Check out this pedal at jimdunlop.com
EVH 5150 III 50-Watt Head
Perhaps no one's tone is as sought-after as that of Eddie Van Halen. And fortunately for all you finger-tapping maniacs out there, almost no other guitarist has more quality signature gear on the market.
And while his Wolfgang Special guitar is top-of-the-line and the MXR Phase 90 will have you rocking the cradle with the best of them, it's his line of signature amps from EVH that have really made a mark on the world of hard rock and metal.
Even if it is a scaled-down version of its 100-watt big brother, there's no denying the EVH III 5150 50-watt head packs a lot into a small package. This three-channel amp matches up nicely with any cabinet, but you definitely can't go wrong with any of the cabs in the EVH 5150 III line. Pair it up with either the 2x12 or 1x12 and you'll have 'em dancing in the streets in no time!
MSRP: $1,333.32 | Check out this amp at evhgear.com.