There’s a lot of ground to cover in the breadth of this article, today we are focusing on signature guitars, and we cannot wait to get into it! Are signature guitars worth their price tags? What signature guitars are the best sellers? What even is a signature guitar anyway? We will answer all of those questions right here, right now.
Players as well as non-players alike take a great interest in them to the point of being obsessive. Many a dream has started this way and for some the dream has come true.
So, let’s grab our top picks and dive in!
But first, what even is a signature guitar?
A signature guitar is an instrument made for a specific player in his own personal direction. Or, one that is made as a tribute by a manufacturer to reward the loyalty of an artist that has excelled using that very guitar.
Examples are too numerous to mention, but historically include Les Paul, Leo Fender, and Chet Atkins, to name just a few that have had guitars named after them. At the other end of the fretboard are icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Van Halen.
Forgive us if we’ve not mentioned your own guitar hero. The list is very long and cross-genre. Rest assured we salute them all. 6 string or 4 string players included. The impact these players have had on guitar design influenced not only the course of design and manufacture itself but the actual music that was made with them.
There is a mystique and a compelling appeal in seeing an artist using a particular guitar and hearing that player’s individual sound. The association between player and instrument is so strong, it’s almost impossible to imagine them using anything else.
Within the scope of this article, we’re going to focus on just 10 players and the companies that produced their unique signature guitars.
Stay tuned to find out if we included your favourite – let’s get started!
The original concept of the ‘Marvin’ guitar was that of Hank Marvin himself. After acquiring the very first US-made Fender Stratocaster to arrive in the UK in the Spring of 1959. It wasn’t long before Hank’s colleague and fellow guitarist Bruce Welch expressed a desire for matching guitars.
Not surprisingly, wishing to own a Fender Stratocaster himself, it was also felt that matching guitars would look very cool on stage. From 1961 to 1963, these extra guitars were provided courtesy of Vox-Jennings.
Then, to everyone’s disappointment, a series of frustrations and temper explosions followed. This was because their newly acquired instruments just wouldn’t stay in tune.
Following an introduction by Ike Isaacs, Hank Marvin made contact with James Burns at his home basement factory in Romford, London, and the two met to discuss the problem.
Obviously, any of the Hank Marvin signature models are highly coveted instruments. What I will give away here, is that Hank’s personal instruments differed in some details from the factory-produced facsimiles. But why worry?
They are incredibly beautiful instruments in their own right and there seems to be an endless demand. I can vouch for the Burns and Baldwins. Relative to their era, they are masterpieces of design, craftsmanship, and playability.
The incredible guitar shown above is handmade by Indonesian superstar luthier Ivan Mulia of iVee Guitars (Indonesia). It was made for Indonesian rock guitarist Vidi Rosen.
iVee guitars consist of custom orders by discerning players, or are original concepts by Ivan Mulia himself. iVee deserves to be in this review because of the infinite amount of work and care that goes into every guitar. Including the handbuilt custom cases that are made for each specific instrument.
The attention to design, quality, build and finish puts iVee guitars amongst the most desirable and indeed, most expensive in the world.
The pickups are supplied to special custom orders by Indonesia’s very own pickup designer Gani Harnomo. Who of which has been associated with iVee guitars since its inception in 2009.
There is no comparison that we know of to iVee guitars. which is uniquely absolutely a one-man operation. The ‘Vidi Rosen’ is made from aluminum, is completely hand-built and the pickups are hand-wired.
There is no component in this instrument that cannot be said to be anything but fastidiously superlative. For anyone who wishes to own individual works of art to his own specification, the purchase price will be worth the investment and the sheer pleasure. Some models also feature GLD plating. Wow, factor – total!
Slipknot rock/metal guitarist and guitar aficionado Jim Root have enjoyed a long relationship with Fender USA as an endorsed artiste responsible to date for 3 definitive signature models.
Together with Fender custom shop luthier Alex Perez, the latest addition to the growing line of Jim Root signature models has recently become available.
Based on the Fender Jazzmaster, Jim has worked closely as usual with Alex Perez to ensure that his requirements and ideas would translate well to the finished project.
As Slipknot devotees will surely know, Jim’s former favourite guitar was his all-black stealth Stratocaster. Similarly fitted with just one volume control and a 3-way p/u selector switch.
Jim’s seismic playing style doesn’t require the use of a whammy bar or even tone controls. He takes a studious minimalist approach to his playing. Which allows him to focus more on what his fingers are doing than on other esoteric moves.
The JR Jazzmaster guitars are manufactured under license by Fender Mexico. If your idea of guitar ‘Valhalla’ is a Jim Root-inspired instrument, then this new Jazzmaster tone bomber might well be your ‘go-to’ choice.
To the humungous of the global metal devotees, the name Kirk Hammett is synonymous with the genre.
Hammett the great has been an enormous influence, if not the greatest influencer in the metal camp. He’s been very active in the area of signature models with a 30-year preference for ESP Guitars. Truly a guitar icon and a remarkably gifted and fluid player.
Kirk has inspired not 1, 2, 3, or even 4 signature models, but – gulp! – 13 at last count. By any standards of endorsement, that is going some!
Kirk seems to have more guitars than he can shake a stick or even a string cutter at. So what’s with the new ESP KH-3 Spyder Eclipse? Slated to be available as of February 2021, the guitar is based on the earlier KH-3 Custom Eclipse ‘Spyder 13’ guitar. He used this during the band’s 1992 Black Album tour.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame displayed Kirk’s original KH-3 for 30 years. Following when it was handed back to ESP as a blueprint for the creation of the new 30th Anniversary Edition.
The revamped 30th Anniversary KH-3 Spyder is basically a reissue of the first KH-3 model. Although, it has been upgraded to include a thinner ‘U’ shaped neck, a Macassar ebony fingerboard, 24 extra-jumbo frets, spider-shaped inlays, and the skull and bones motifs. A Floyd-Rose 1000 bridge has also been added and a scalloped fingerboard from frets 17 to 24.
Pickups are a pair of KH signature Bonebreaker EMGs. The reissue also features neck-thru-body construction at a 24.75” scale. With an alder body and three-piece maple neck. I predict this will be one of the biggest selling signature guitars in the ESP range.
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain made a meteoric impact with his band that catapulted him to the top of the flame tree.
His guitar work was idiosyncratic and made the unexpected sound like it was the only place, as well as the best place to be.
Fender is known for its Artiste series of guitars. There’s no doubt that turning their hand to a Kurt Cobain signature model would not only hit the spot as far as incentivizing guitar players around the world, but would immortalise Kurt’s name within the growing Fender stable of its legendary users.
The Fender reissue with the Cobain quirks is available in either left or right-handed versions. It comes with a lot of clout, making this one of the best Fender Artiste signature guitars.
Stove-hatted lead guitarist ‘Slash’ of Guns n’ Roses fame needs no formal introduction. He is an established Gibson endorsed artist with his own series of electric and acoustic guitars. Seen above is one of the most famous Les Paul models. Straight away this instrument is immediately striking together with the depth and red glow in its deep luster finish.
The association between Slash and Gibson began with signature guitars back in 1990. So far, Slash has collaborated with Gibson on 29 signature Les Paul models. 15 from the Gibson Custom Shop, 7 models from Gibson USA, and 8 made by the Gibson subsidiary Epiphone.
The guitar pictured above is the limited edition ‘Vermillion’ model. Each guitar features an AAA flamed maple top, a solid mahogany body, and Slash’s personal touches. Including a C-shape neck profile, signature Gibson ‘SlashBucker’ pickups, and colour-coordinated hardware appointment.
So friends of the guitar, just what is so special about the Slash/Gibson line-up? There are too many to individually list specifications for. But, if we consider the ‘Vermillion’ model, it’s safe to assume that the basic characteristics are not wildly different from any of the other Les Paul models that Slash has become identified with.
Andy Wood is a breed apart and draws on a long history of adept award-winning bluegrass flat-picking mastery before becoming consumed with the rock genre. He was a late starter and was the ripe old age of 18 before applying his considerable expertise on mandolin to the guitar.
To add to his well-deserved reputation, Andy is also becoming known for his association with Wildwood guitars. Who of which has gone to some lengths to produce the Andy Wood signature guitar. It’s more than likely that further refinements and additions to the line will be introduced over time.
So, if your interest is in country licking and crossover blues/rock, then the take on the Telecaster formula by the Suhr range design team will probably be worth a much closer look.
For devotees of USA rock metal band ‘Tool’, the focus naturally enough is the sound the band makes as a whole. An integral element is the frequent use of time signatures such as 6/4,3/2, 5/8, 5/4, and just about anything else that they feel adds to the element of surprise.
This approach can be said to be a hallmark of the band as far back as 1995. The main choice of the guitar by Adam Jones is centered on the 1979 Gibson Les Paul Custom. The silver burst model to be exact, but with the unique modifications one would expect from a signature series guitar.
The stature of Tool in the rock metal fraternity is of the highest order and the guitar of choice for the desired sound is fundamental to the band. There was an incident of infamy during 1999 when 13 of the new Adam Jones signature guitars were stolen in transit to a dealership.
All were stamped with unique serial numbers. Priced at $10,000 each, this is a testament to Jones’ iconic status. As well as a considerable loss to Gibson, the dealers and intended customers.
The amazing thing is that even at this price point all the guitars were pre-sold. This fact required Gibson to remake and replace the stolen instruments with some cosmetic markings on the headstocks to distinguish them from the original heisted guitars.
The new limited edition run of 150 guitars is made in both regular and aged versions and carries Jones’ signature. If this rock miner is your tool of choice then look no further.
Dave Grohl of The Foo Fighters inspired Gibson to build the Dave Grohl model guitar, known as the DG-335. The first iteration of this guitar appeared in late 2007. Additionally, it is a throwback to Grohl’s much-loved Trini Lopez signature model.
Grohl is known to have admired the earlier Trini Lopez signature model that Gibson built between 1964 – 1971. The Trini Lopez 335 was a fresh interpretation of Gibson’s classic ES-335 semi-hollow body guitar. Which is a hybrid solid body and a hollow body.
In October 2007, the Gibson Custom Shop lovingly produced this limited-edition model based on that guitar in the uncommon Pelham Blue finish.
Then a second iteration appeared in 2014, known as the Gibson Memphis’ Dave Grohl ES-335 model. Similar to the DG-335 and the Trini Lopez, a total of 600 Dave Grohl ES-335s was made. 200 in Pelham Blue and 400 in Gold Metallic.
Grohl’s influence is evident in the choice of pickups. A Burstbucker 1 in the neck position and a Burstbucker 2 in the bridge position. These pickups hark back to the earlier “Patent Applied For’ humbucking specifications. Known for their ability to create a clean and articulate distortion. These classics are responsible for creating the Foo-tones that Grohl has become famous for delivering.
Having sold out quickly, the guitars were offered in Grohl’s favorite Pelham Blue and as a Goldtop. Each guitar was supplied with a fitted Custom Shop case. As well as a special certificate of authenticity signed personally by David Grohl.
Due to this rather large number, it’s not the easiest of tasks to choose one particular instrument as the definitive Hetfield signature guitar.
So, for the sake of convenience, the choice for this overview is the ESP LTD Iron Cross Snow White James Hetfield Signature. A truly magnificent piece of kit, just look at the specifications yourself!
How does anyone choose from 84 guitars? Perhaps someone could ask James and let us know in the comments section!
Well, it has to be said that unless there was a demand, there would be no requirement for any manufacturer to build a guitar for general release that is the favored instrument of someone else. But, demand there most certainly is.
It seems we all want to get into the shoes and the mojo of our idols and hopefully create something new. Or just enjoy rattling out the tunes we associate with them. This fact resonates very well with the manufacturers who see a marketing advantage in making signature guitars.
No self-respecting guitar maker is without a stable of its own endorsees. Naturally, these guitars are revamped personalised versions of the standard models. Tweaked to the star player’s suggestions and modifications. In the case of Hank Marvin, the basis was the Fender Stratocaster. His ideas and concepts led to the design of a radically different guitar altogether.
So, I think we can safely say that signature guitars are definitely a great idea. The makers listen to the players, and create better guitars in an ongoing open-ended improvement scenario.
Often, the prices are out of reach for many. But there are so many off-the-shelf standard models to choose from. There really is no limit to the choices on offer or the entry price.
Fenders are offering excellent Squire Stratocasters for ridiculously low prices under $150. At the other end of the scale, the sky’s the limit!
Guitarists are truly spoiled for choice and there’s no pressure on anyone to feel that they must own a signature model. They exist for those that can afford them or who have a particular zest for owning one.
Bang for buck or thang for twang, we can only say a big thank you to the artists that have inspired them. As well as the artists that have inspired us and who have given impetus to the manufacturers to produce such incredible instruments.
After all, is said and done, these are objects of art and great beauty. Let’s put the truth out there – you can never have enough guitars!
Thanks for reading and here’s to you, hoping that you find the guitar of your dreams.
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