At some point in all our guitar playing journeys, we’ve been inspired by an artist more famous than ourselves, which in turn can affect the gear that we buy. The best signature guitars can represent the easiest and most logical way of sounding like your axe-slinging hero, though it can also just be a great way of obtaining an instrument with some fairly unique specs.
Just because you’re looking at a signature guitar doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to sound exactly like them. You might just be after a guitar that differs slightly from the regular production models. Not all signature guitars have their namesake splattered all over the instrument either – many are subtle and don’t really look like signature models at all.
So, from rockabilly hollowbodies to heavy metal shredders, what are the best signature guitars you can buy right now? We’ve put together our pick of our favorites out there right now covering all budgets and playing styles.
We've included some in-depth buying advice at the very end of this guide, so if you'd like to read that first, click the link. If you'd rather get straight to the products, then keep scrolling.
Best signature guitars: Our top picks
It’s hard to pick the best signature guitar as they all offer something unique and will cater for different players. That said, the Gretsch Brian Setzer model is very, very special. It’s built beautifully, it’s probably one of the best looking guitars around and those pickups are incredible – warm, bright, dynamic and more versatile than you might think.
For very different reasons we also love the PRS SE Tremonti Standard. Whilst it has been designed alongside the Alter Bridge axe man himself, it’s by no means a purely metal guitar. Yes, it can chug, but it works great for blues, rock - even jazz or pop. It’s also subtle, so if you’re not that big a fan of Tremonti, this is still a viable option if you’re after a quality, affordable guitar.
Best signature guitars: Product guide
Styled on Brian’s ’59 hollowbody Nashville, the signature Gretsch G6120-BSSMK is a colossal guitar for all fans of rock n roll styles and archtops in general. The classic Gretsch sound is helped in no small part to the TV Jones Ray Butts pickups, said to have been developed specially by TV Jones but unbeknown by Brian, giving more bass and low-mid power.
It comes with a pinned Adjusto-Matic bridge and Bigsby vibrato, kept in tune with Gotoh locking machineheads. Homage to the original '59 design includes the wonderful smoke orange finish, plus the headstock style. Coupled with that unique Gretsch sound, the rolled fingerboard even gives that aged playing feel of a vintage model.
Being the lead guitarist of a band where Myles Kennedy is the rhythm player is no easy feat, but then again, Mark Tremonti isn’t your average player. He’s an incredibly talented musician and has been a long endorser of PRS guitars.
The SE Tremonti Standard is the most affordable version of his signature model and represents incredible bang for buck, making it one of the best signature guitars that money can buy. The build quality is great, it plays really nicely out of the box, and it sounds amazing. Fitted with a pair of Tremonti ’S’ humbuckers, it’s perfect for chunky rock and metal tones, as well as more subtle styles, plus they were designed alongside the man himself, so you’ve got that seal of approval.
Notably introduced during his 2007/8 world tour, the EVH Wolfgang USA Edward Van Halen Signature faithfully recreates Eddie’s own designed axe. A basswood body is adorned by a pair of punching yet shrill Wolfgang AL2 and 3 humbuckers.
The neck is quartersawn maple, intended to be more robust for shredding technique. Its compound-radius fretboard flattens from 12" to 16" radius on high frets and enables faster note changes. Meanwhile, a Floyd Rose tremolo provides the tonal dives Eddie would enjoy – also with D-Tuna for instant drop D tuning.
The Van Halen Signature also comes with a kill switch for trademark stutter effect, plus low friction volume pots for rapid control.
ESP knows what’s up when it comes to artist guitars, with their Signature Series roster bearing the names of rock and metal royalty, from Head to Hetfield.
This model, designed in collaboration with Dillinger Escape Plan/Suicidal Tendencies guitar maverick Ben Weinman, is one of our favorites right now. It’s a signature guitar that truly embodies the personality and stylistic range of the player who helped design it.
For starters, this guitar is superbly built and looks the business, while the Evertune mechanical bridge system, designed to maintain tuning and intonation, is a welcome appointment. The BW-1 is capable of delivering a diverse but well-balanced range of tones and would find a welcome home in the hands of more than just metal players.
Not only the closest match to Slowhand’s guitar, but a supreme piece of equipment in its own right. The Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Signature Strat, Eric’s most familiar guitar post-Cream, comes with an alder body, noiseless pickups and synchronized tremolo.
Apparently to have a feel more akin to his acoustics, the neck profile is a smoothed V, which Eric personally specified. The neck also carries a satin finish to enable quicker movement. The pickups are the other main area of change, where a midrange boost gives the single coils an almost humbucking sound. Fender’s TBX tone control also offers a wide band, from shimmering to bass driven.
The Ibanez GGB30 is a look back towards George Benson's earlier playing days. Based on Gibson’s ES-175, it lends itself towards the neck pickup, though the bridge adds some versatility – you can even add some overdrive for a bit of extra warmth. Acoustically the LGB30 is extremely melodic.
Ibanez’s Super '58 Custom Pickups help you achieve George’s jazz tonality, though with more gain the LGB30 is equally at home with the blues. It’s also very easy playing with low action, straight from the box. Sure, you can spend an extra $2,000 on the LGB300 instead of the 30, but this signature provides great value.
With the monkey grip handle and the neck’s tree of life inlay, this guitar needs no introduction. The Ibanez JEM 77P goes much further though, firstly with two of Vai’s own designed humbuckers, the Gravity Storm by DiMarzio – plus an Evolution single coil in the middle position. The Gravity Storms maintain the humbucker depth, which really shines in the mids and treble.
The Edge Zero II bridge with Zero Point System is used by Vai for the speed of control and intonation stability. Whether fast tremolo or deep dives, it’s a tried and tested design used by the best. Of course the speed of Vai’s playing is aided by a wide, flat neck - the Jem Premium, topped with rosewood - and that tree of life certainly adds some panache.
Whilst it might just look like any old white Strat, it’s got more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Being the signature guitar of Radiohead rhythm player Ed O’Brien, it needs to be able to knock out a variety of sounds and with its three very different pickups, it can do just that.
In the bridge there’s a Seymour Duncan JB Jr which is a humbucker disguised as a single coil, then there’s a Texas Special in the middle, and a Sustainer Driver in the neck position. This does a very similar job to an Ebow and lets you get some really unique sounds, great for creating texture and ambience. With the 5-way pickup selector, you’re able to access an incredibly wide sonic palette suitable for a range of music.
One for the shredders and dive-bombers. Nita has been shredding stages around the globe with classic rock legend Alice Cooper and more recently, pop-turned-rock gargantuan, Demi Lovato. This guitar is a more affordable take on Strauss’ mainstay model and offers players blistering lead tones, chunky rhythms as well as some cool humbucker/single-coil combinations. The passive ceramic Quantum humbuckers are nice and hot, but still offer plenty of dynamics and clarity.
It’s just flashy enough without being too showy, and it’s not blatantly a signature model. The heartbeat fingerboard inlay is a really cool touch and, as you might expect from a guitar like this, it’s got a nice slim neck that allows for some seriously speedy playing. The Edge-Zero II tremolo system lets you go wild with your whammy action, but holds tuning pretty well.
Now for something a bit spikey. The seven-string Jackson Pro Series Dave Davidson Warrior WR7 features the Revocation man's own spec’d DiMarzio Imperium pickups, which are extremely dynamic and clear. Coil tap controls give greater sound versatility should you wish to deviate from pure humbucking metal sounds.
The classic Floyd Rose bridge enables dives from height and it plays superbly, with the additional seventh string fitting in easily to the same neck style as the custom shop version. This also means the necks flattens out as you travel up the frets to help emulate Davidson’s technical playing style.
The Red Special was said to have been designed to recreate Brian’s childhood dream of creating an orchestral sound but without the budget to buy a Strat. What developed was a very distinct tone, always teamed up with the iconic Vox AC30 amp.
The Brian May Signature features the Tri-Sonic pickups, controlled by individual on/off phasing switches, along with a chambered mahogany body and ebony fingerboard. The result is the closest you’re going to get to Brian’s sound without having The Red Special yourself. And at under $850, it’s a lot of guitar for the money and one of the cheapest in this guide.
The signature model of Texas-based rock and roller Emily Wolfe is essentially just a really cool take on the classic Epiphone Sheraton. With its sleek matte black finish and gold hardware, it’s one of the more subtle signature models and that’s one of the reasons we love it. It’s considered, yet understated looks allow you to rock one of the best signature guitars out there, without wearing your influences on your sleeve for all the world to see.
The pair of Alnico Pro humbuckers take care of everything from jazz and blues to full-on rock. They’re dynamic and responsive, and the semi-hollow construction means you get lots of resonance, without the feedback worries of a fully hollow body.
It’s fairly big and heavy, so that’s a consideration to make, but this has to be one of the coolest signature models on the market – those Trini Lopez style diamond holes really finish it off!
Read the full Epiphone Emily Wolfe Sheraton review
Starting with the most striking feature, what is going on with the pickups? Closely resembling Malcolm’s unwillingness to play by the rules, the G6131 MY has just a single TV Jones Power’Tron, a humbucker with shimmering treble with punchy bass. You only get the one pickup, plus a nice gap where two others should be.
The holes reveal a chambered mahogany body, made for resonance, while the body is also faux aged, adding to the striking look. Indeed, this recreation of Young’s ’63 Jet Firebird - ‘The Beast’ - is as faithful a signature you’ll find.
Best signature guitars: Buying advice
Why choose a signature guitar?
Many of the best signature guitars are based on a regular production model that’s had a few tweaks as per the artist. If a guitarist that’s worthy of a signature model has found reason to make these modifications, then there’s every chance that other players will find them useful – hotter pickups, different neck profile, radical body shape etc.
Some have a very distinctive look – it might not have Steve Vai written all over it, but there’s no mistaking the Ibanez JEM. Also, when we see a Gretsch fitted with just a bridge pickup – there’s only one Aussie rhythm guitar player that comes to mind.
Buying signature gear is also the best way to sound and look like your idol. Yes, there’s more to tone than just the guitar, but it’s a pretty big part of it. If you’re a huge fan of Mark Tremonti, Brian Setzer, Eric Clapton etc, then what better way to follow in their footsteps than buying their officially endorsed gear? However, you don’t have to be a super fan to appreciate a signature guitar – many of them are just really well thought out instruments in their own right.
Does a signature guitar mean you’ll sound just like them?
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A signature guitar doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to sound just like that player. Yes, it’s a great starting point, but there’s more to the sound that you hear out of your speakers than just the guitar – the main factor being you. However, if the model you’re going for is endorsed by a metal player, then chances are, it’s going to make a great metal guitar.
For example, buying the Tremonti PRS doesn’t mean you can only play Alter Bridge riffs, but it does mean that it’s great for chunky riffs and blistering solos, alongside many other things. If the player whose name is on the instrument needs to be able to tackle a range of sounds, then you can bet that their signature guitar is equipped to do just that.
What makes a signature guitar better than any other?
Buying a premium signature guitar not only means accessing some of the best hardware and tones available, but usually means standout features specific to the design and specification of the famous player who designed the instrument. Combining aspects of highly specific, unique guitars with commonly available aftermarket components, from pickups to body, took off in the early '80s among famed players like Eddie Van Halen.
As these guitars reside at the expensive end of most budgets, they tend to also represent excellent quality. Paying top-dollar means you gain access to some of the best components and materials money can buy. Even if emulating the sound of a famous player isn’t your top priority, a signature model results in a quality guitar which can be versatile across a range of styles. A signature guitar also carries the kudos and cool which not only you can appreciate, but others too in the resale market should you ever decide to part company.
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