Signature guitars are an important part of the guitar industry, and almost every brand works with endorsers to create special models to tempt fans of particular artists or bands. This compiles the 10 best signature electric guitars – with an important stipulation that they are all currently available. But rather than just base this list on personal taste, I’ve split it between the best-selling signature guitars and my personal favourites. Is this the perfect list? No! For that it needs your input in the comments below…
Top Ten Signature Guitars
So how have I arrived at these ten guitars? The first five are the best-selling signature guitars, as found on Thomann. As you all know, Thomann sells guitars worldwide, so we used their sales data as a starting point for this list. So the first half of our list is based on the buying habits of guitar players across the globe. So what about the second half? That’s where personal taste and experience come in. But first, here are the Top Selling Signature Guitars!
Gibson Les Paul Slash Standard
Number One on Thomann as of October 2020: the Gibson Les Paul Slash Standard. Surprising? Hardly. The ‘Cat in the Hat’ has a huge following among rock fans everywhere. And everyone loves a Les Paul! Gibson’s classic design has all the things you want from a vintage-flavoured single cut: a mahogany body and neck, a fancy maple top and a pair of Slash Bucker Zebra humbuckers. Enough said.
Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster
The number 2 top-selling signature guitars on Thomann is a Fender Stratocaster named after one Jimi Hendrix. Jimi’s contribution to the world of guitar can’t be understated, and the large sales volume of this model show that many players out there still agree. The Fender Jimi Hendrix Strat has a reverse headstock to simulate you playing it upside down and backwards, or whatever it was.
It has an alder body, a maple neck and a set of American Vintage 65 single coil pickups with a reversed bridge pickup angle to simulate Hendrix’s unorthodox playing position (as a left-handed player he famously flipped a right-handed guitar upside down).
EVH Frankie Striped Relic
Next up is the EVH Frankie Striped Relic. With the recent passing of Mr Van Halen it’s easy to see why this model is so popular at the moment. But another factor is the magnitude of Eddie’s influence on the electric guitar, including modern SuperStrats and Floyd Rose-loaded instruments.
One humbucker, a Volume control labelled Tone and a decked Floyd Rose changed the world of guitar forever in Eddie’s hands. This has certainly earned a place on this list in my opinion, regardless of sales.
ESP LTD Snakebyte
Number 4: the ESP LTD Snakebyte. That’s thanks to the association with Metallica‘s James Hetfield. This band is still huge in the guitar world. Sure, they’ll never top Ride The Lightning as an album, but Master Of Puppets was pretty damn special too. So now that I’ve upset all the Metallica fans around the world, let’s look at the specs.
Mahogany body, mahogany neck and ebony fretboard, a pair of Active EMG JH humbuckers: Yeah, that’ll do it for me, and I expect it will do it for you as well. That is, if you like tight rhythm playing and crushing riffs.
Fender Tom Morello Strat
The fifth bestselling signature guitar on Thomann is the Fender Tom Morello Stratocaster. While this Strat also has an alder body, it features a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails Strat SHR-1B humbucker and two Vintage Noiseless Strat single coils pickups. And a Floyd Rose (Eddie’s influence again). It could be argued that Morello’s unique style, with his DJ-esque scratching and pitch-bending Whammy pedal abuse, has heavily influenced many players. Hence the popularity of this signature guitar.
The rest (and the best?)
But sales are only part of the picture. To complete the list, I’ve added five signature models I either own or have played and rate extremely highly. Sure, you may argue with my choices, but I stand by each and every one of them.
Fender Kotzen Telecaster
I’ve owned this guitar for about 12 years now. I’ve gigged it everywhere and it has never failed me. It sounds amazing and plays like an absolute dream. Plus, it is a Telecaster and everyone knows that Telecasters rule!
The Richie Kotzen Signature Tele was originally available only on the Japanese market. But word got out and soon everyone wanted one. Ten years later Fender finally made it available worldwide.
The specifications are great, with a huge, smooth-finish maple neck and big frets, an ash body with a maple cap and a set of DiMarzio Twang King and DiMarzio Chopper T pickups. Personally, I love the neck on this guitar and I also enjoy the lack of a Tone control! It uses a rotary series/parallel switch instead, giving you extra tone choice in the middle pickup position.
If you like chunky necks and need a hot bridge output, this Telecaster is the one. Hand on heart, I adore this guitar; it is perfect.
PRS DGT Moons
Next up on my list is the PRS DGT with Moons. This guitar comes in many, many finish options. You can also get it with Bird inlays, but everyone knows Moons are way cooler!
This is an epic modern-day signature model. Thank you Dave Grissom for giving the world this great guitar. The PRS trem and DGT humbuckers, along with the DGT neck profile carve, add up to an amazing modern instrument. The split coil on the humbuckers give you a fantastic single coil tone as well. The dual Volume and single Tone control are also very useful. The ex-factory setup is for 11 gauge strings but it feels so slinky that you don’t need to change the gauge down to enjoy this guitar.
Mine is all white, with natural edge binding and Moons. This guitar looks great whichever finish you opt for. I know I’m restating the obvious, but Moon inlays are better…
Fender Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster
The J Mascis Jazzmaster is produced under the Squier brand, rather than Fender. I owned one and it was amazing. For the money, this guitar offers a lot of great features. In 2018, they changed the rosewood fretboard to Indian laurel – which makes no difference at all. Don’t believe the hype about older models being superior, they are all incredible.
All models have the typical Jazzmaster hardware. But Squier moved the trem position forwards, closer to the Tune-o-Matic bridge. This makes for a better break angle for the strings. The pickups are more like a P90 than traditional Jazzmaster single coils. The Tune-o-Matic-style bridge works well and doesn’t rock backwards and forwards.
If you can live without a traditional Jazzmaster setup, but want a great all-round offset guitar that handles everything you can throw at it, I highly recommend this. It’s relatively cheap compared to every other guitar on this list. I think Mr Mascis and Fender created an epic guitar here. If you haven’t played one, you really are missing out.
PRS SE Mark Tremonti Standard
Another PRS, but this time a much more affordable SE model. The PRS SE Mark Tremonti Standard is the trem version of this guitar and packs a lot of punch. There have been various iterations of this guitar from the SE line, but this is the current one that’s available to buy.
A mahogany body is paired with a maple neck and a rosewood fretboard, adding up to a guitar that’s perfect for rock and hard rock tones. But this is not a one trick pony. I own a variation on this model, which was a limited run for Ace of Skunk Anansie fame. It is up there with my Core USA PRS models, so I stand by it 100%.
The guitar is loaded with a pair of PRS SE Tremonti “S”humbuckers. The PRS trem has an up route carved into the body, so it pulls up way more than a regular PRS single cut. All in all, it’s a great guitar with very, very solid build quality.
Cort MBM-1 Manson Meta Silver
I reviewed this guitar recently and I was, simply put, blown away. The Cort MBM-1 Manson Meta Silver is a collaboration between Manson Guitar Works, Matt Bellamy and Cort Guitars. This guitar is epic; if you’ve never played this model, go try one. It’s got a lot to offer the modern guitar player and the build quality is top notch.
The Manson-designed humbuckers sound great. They’re way more versatile than I’d assumed. The body shape is super ergonomic, with insane upper fret access. It just feels right. Overall, this guitar performs way above its price bracket. It should give the bigger brands something to worry about.
If you’re looking for a modern-feeling instrument with great hardware choices, try this. The Muse frontman has done a really great job on this guitar. The MBM-1 is designed to give us a taste of Matt Bellamy’s heavily customised bespoke guitars. It’s also got a lot of room for incorporating your own modifications. At this price, the MBM-1 is an amazing deal.
I’d have liked to have added more, but some of my favourite signature models are no longer in production. However, if you can find one I would also recommend the Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Amos and, if you like Vs, the Richie Faulker Flying V and the Brent Hinds Flying V. Epiphone has made some great signature model Vs in the last four or five years. Also, the Eddie Van Halen EVH Wolfgang models are also great guitars, and are super versatile.
Another favourite of mine is the Fender Troy Van Leeuwen Jazzmaster, I own an oxblood model and the vintage frets and neck profile are great. The rhythm circuit activated by a toggle switch is a nice update to a classic design. The pickups on these are awesome. If you can find one, then the Gibson USA signature Lukas Nelson ’56 Les Paul Junior offers a hell of a lot of guitar for the money, but it is a limited run and they are getting hard to find. It has a great vintage specification that you would be hard pressed to find outside of the Gibson Custom Shop line.
Okay, I know I didn’t include the PRS John Mayer Silver Sky, or the Fender Eric Clapton Strat (arguably the guitar that reinvigorated the Signature guitar market, back in the ’80s). Yes, the original signature model – the Gibson ‘Les Paul’ – is missing too (well, its kind of there, but bearing Slash’s name). Another omission is the Ibanez Steve Vai JEM, as I think EVH wins the Signature SuperStrat wars anyway and I’m sure Mr Vai would agree as his old Green Meanie was a homage to Eddie’s Frankie in many ways. However, I think all of these signature models are great and offer players a good quality instrument.
What are your favourite signature guitars and why? As ever, leave your comments below and be sure to let me know which ones I missed out.
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