Shelling out for a premium high-spec signature electric guitar is a price worth paying for some. Sure, the figures we're talking about for some of the best signature guitars here can be in the same ballpark as a decent secondhand car, but when you've got to get that sound, sometimes there's no other way.
And, even if emulating the sound of a particular guitarist isn’t crucial to you, being equipped with some of the most sought-after specs - chosen by some of the world's most accomplished performers - is never a bad thing. Let's take a look at some of the best signature guitars you can buy today.
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
Choosing a favorite is difficult, to be honest. All of these signature guitars are fantastic in their own right, but there's just something about the Gretsch G6120T-BSSMK Brian Setzer Signature (opens in new tab) which pips the others to the number one spot. It's got vibe, it's got bite, it's got brightness, it's got warmth - it's got pretty much everything you could want from a signature guitar, and it looks killer too. The TV Jones Ray Butts pickups give you a little extra bass and low-mid response too, making this guitar even more versatile.
In the number two spot, we have the (frankly mental) ESP LTD BW-1 Evertune (opens in new tab). Based off the already awesome LTD X-Tone, the BW-1 is another hollowbody but with a high-gain twist. The signature guitar of Dillinger Escape Plan guitarist Ben Weinman, the BW-1 features a set of active Fishman Fluence pickups and and an Evertune bridge, to keep your tone and your tuning sounding great. If it can handle the mania of a Dillinger set, then it should do everything you need it to.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 would I want a signature guitar?
Now, the most obvious reason you would want a signature guitar is to sound as close to the player you love the most. Ability aside, if you own the same guitar as your idol - or as close as to it - then you’re going to sound as close to them as you realistically can (not forgetting guitar amps, effects and technique, of course). This is especially true where special features distinct to the signature guitar come in, be it Eric Clapton’s noiseless pickups or the wholly custom Brian May Red Special.
Many of the signature guitar’s we’ve listed in this guide are essentially standard models that have been tweaked, customised and sometimes more heavily altered to fit a guitarist’s style (see Malcolm Young’s signature Gretsch as an example).
Customisation was the easiest way for the artists of yesteryear to access new tones and playing styles, and especially in the age of the shredder, modifications sometimes went far beyond new pickups, with fretboard scalloping and routing out bodies for locking tremolo systems proving to be popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s. As a result, shredders have always had a generous amount of signature guitars to choose from - but every style and genre has its own signature axe-worthy artists.
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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