The best guitars to buy in 2021: 15 best signature guitars
It seems like every guitarist has a signature model these days, but which are the best?
Signature guitars come in many guises. They offer fans of an artist to get closer to the sound and style that drew them to the instrument in the first place. But, far from being constrained to tribute band-style gear-matching, signature axes can be as versatile, unique and exciting as any other guitar.
What to look for when buying a signature guitar?
All of the things to look out for when buying any electric guitar apply here, too. Every aspect will have some impact on how a guitar plays, but the main features to consider are the pickups, tonewoods and scale length. While there aren’t any hard and fast rules, humbuckers generally fare better in modern high-gain situations than single-coils, while single-coils offer more clarity. A longer scale length means a slightly tougher resistance to bends, but there’s a snappier string feel and sound – especially when down-tuned.
And, of course, don’t let the genre or style of the signature artist colour your perception too much – just look at the Les Paul. Since its launch in 1952, the instrument has been on recordings in every genre under the sun, most which don’t sound anything like How High The Moon. Today’s signature instruments are no different – like any electric guitar, they’re a tool to make the music you want to make.
The best signature electrics at a glance
- Fender Ed O’Brien Sustainer Stratocaster
- Sterling By Music Man St Vincent HH
- Fender Tom Morello ‘Soul Power’ Stratocaster
- D’Angelico Bob Weir Premier Bedford
- Ibanez Steve Vai PIA
- Manson Matt Bellamy MBM-1
- Music Man John Petrucci Majesty Purple Nebula
- Ibanez Paul Gilbert Fireman
- Fender Jimmy Page Telecaster
- Gibson Slash Les Paul Standard
- Epiphone Jared James Nichols ‘Old Glory’ Les Paul
- Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster
- Reverend Robin Finck Signature
- Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster
- Gretsch Brian Setzer G6120T-BSSMK Nashville ’59
Fender EOB Sustainer Stratocaster
+ Unique electronics
+ Luxurious neck profile
– Traditional Stratocaster sounds are harder to obtain
Having released his debut solo record (under his EOB moniker) Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien recently had yet another chance to impress us with his musical experimentalism. This guitar is a wonderful analogue to that album – from a distance, understated and serene, but it’s in the details where things get exciting.
The main departure from your common Stratocaster here is in the pickups. The neck position is loaded with a Fernandes Sustainer Driver, allowing for infinite sustain chords or single notes. Combined with a soft pick attack, this kicks out some spacey reverse-style lead lines or some synthy pads. As we noted in our original review, it encourages you to think outside of both the proverbial and pentatonic box. And, if E-Bow style wizardry isn’t your thing, there’s a Seymour Duncan JB Jr in the bridge and a Fender single-coil in the middle position.
Price: £979 / $1,124 Build: Alder body, bolt-on 10/56 V-shaped maple neck, 9.5-inch fingerboard radius with 21 frets. Synthetic bone nut Hardware: 6-saddle vintage-style vibrato bridge, vintage-style tuners Electronics: Seymour Duncan JB Jr humbucker (bridge), Fender Texas Special single-coil (middle) and Fernandes Sustainer Driver (neck) pickups, 5-position blade selector switch, master volume, master tone, intensity control, Sustainer on/off mini-toggle switch, 3-way Sustainer mode mini-toggle switch (fundamental, harmonic, blend) Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm.
Read our full review here.
Sterling By Music Man St Vincent HH
+ Versatile electronics
+ Great aesthetics
– Build quality isn’t as premium as US-made models
Following its introduction in 2016, this eye-catching design has been admired by guitarists ever since. It combines angular modernity with the vintage flair of a classic car, especially when decked out in a finish like Fiesta Red. St Vincent’s original design ethos was a guitar more suited to the female form, but all guitarists should find its ergonomics well balanced and easy to adjust to.
This HH edition comes with two Sterling By Music Man-designed humbuckers, with a five-way blade switch for selecting either or both pickups, as well as the inner and outer coils. A two-point Sterling Vintage tremolo also belies any restrained ideas of what ‘vintage’ means, allowing for solid tuning throughout extreme bends and dives. In all, it’s a guitar that – unsurprisingly for fans of St Vincent’s avant-pop approach – encourages experimentation.
Price: £699 / $929 Build: Mahogany body, five-bolt hard maple neck with dual-action truss rod, 9.5” radius rosewood fingerboard with custom inlays, 22 medium-jumbo frets Hardware: Locking machine heads with pearloid buttons, 2-point vibrato bridge with bent steel saddles and push-in arm Electronics: 2x Sterling By Music Man-designed humbucking pickups, volume, tone, 5-way blade selector switch (neck, inner coils, both pickups together, outer coils, bridge) Scale Length: 25.5”/648mm.
Read our full review here. More information at music-man.com.
Fender Tom Morello ‘Soul Power’ Stratocaster
+ Modern playability
+ Application of the decal is optional
– Aesthetics are not for everyone
“No samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this record.” You’ll find those words in the liner notes of Rage Against The Machine’s self-titled debut – not because the band had anything against them, but because Tom Morello’s whammy wizardry doesn’t sound like he’s playing a guitar at all. And now he’s teamed up with Fender to produce a Stratocaster that stands up to some of the same extended approaches he uses regularly – most notably, a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails humbucker in the bridge, a locking vibrato and a killswitch toggle on the lower horn.
Price: £1,199 / $ 1,299 Build: Alder body with a bolt-on maple neck with rosewood fingerboard Hardware: Floyd Rose Double-Locking tremolo, locking nut, Fender Deluxe tuners Electronics: 2x Fender Vintage Noiseless Single Coil Strat pickups (neck and middle), Seymour Duncan Hot Rails SHR (bridge) Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm
D’Angelico Bob Weir Premier Bedford
+ Extremely versatile
+ Eye-catching look
– Focus on high-end not ideal for every genre
Building on the success of the Bob Weir Deluxe Signature series released in 2019, the Premier Bob Weir Bedford embodies Weir’s – and the Grateful Dead at large – concept of tonal versatility. “The more sounds the instrument has, the more colours you have on your palette,” said Weir of the guitar, and to that end, there’s a unique pickup combination of two P-90s and one single-coil.
A pair of Seymour Duncan Designed P-90s are positioned in the neck and bridge, while a SC-101 single-coil occupies the middle position. Weir and D’Angelico also included a blender knob in the final design, which allows users to introduce signals from the neck and bridge pickup (or all three pickups in the notch positions) for endless sonic variety. Weir also noted that the guitar was voiced to cut through “high-traffic” situations, with a clang to its voice that won’t get buried in a mix.
Price: £899 / $999 Build: Basswood body with set maple neck, 22-fret ovangkol fretboard Hardware: 6-point tremolo, Rotomatic Stairstep tuners Electronics: 2 Seymour Duncan Stacked P90s, 1 Seymour Duncan SC-101 Single Coil, master volume, master tone, blend control, 5-way toggle Scale Length: 24.75” / 628.6mm
Ibanez Steve Vai PIA
+ Fitted to the brim with premium appointments
+ Truly-eye catching looks
– For hardcore Vai fans only
Shortly before NAMM 2020, rumours starting circulating that Ibanez would be launching a new signature – and it wouldn’t be a JEM. These came to fruition with the introduction of the PIA (Paradise In Art), a new shred-focused S-type from the brand and guitarist.
If you want to purchase a guitar based on the understated simplicity of its design – perhaps move on to the next entry in this list. The PIA sports a new ‘petal grip,’ a sleek yin-yang pair of holes that replace the Monkey grip. Alongside this, there’s a new set of electronics in the form of the DiMarzio UtoPIA HSH pickup set – the humbuckers are ceramic-based while the single-coil is alnico-based. It comes in four finishes, all of which are vivid enough to presumably be visible from space: Panther Pink, Sun Dew Gold, Stallion White and Envy Green.
Price: £3,099 / $3,499.99 Build: 5-piece maple/walnut neck bolted into an alder body, 24 fret rosewood fretboard with ‘blossom’ inlay Hardware: Edge Tremolo, Ibanez tuners Electronics: 2x DiMarzio UtoPIA Humbucker (neck and bridge), DiMarzio UtoPIA single coil (middle), 5-way selector switch Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm
Manson Matt Bellamy Meta Series MBM-1
+ Unrestrained rock fun
+ Affordable price point
– Sacrifices versatility
Updating the Muse frontman’s previous affordable signature model, this collaboration with Cort borrows elements from Fender and Gibson, resulting in something of a hybrid playing experience. Of particular note are the humbuckers, which are voiced for a huge level of output, with tight lows and a punchy, throaty midrange that will bring out the best from your high-gain pedals. It perhaps isn’t as versatile as models with less aggressive pickups, but if it’s supermassive riffs that power your playing, this might be for you.
Read our review here.
Price: £569 / $899 Build: Basswood body, bolt-on maple neck, 12-16” compound radius Indian laurel fingerboard with 22 medium-jumbo frets and synthetic nut Hardware: Staggered locking tuners, tune-o-matic bridge and stoptail Electronics: 2x Manson humbuckers, master volume and tone, 3-way pickup selector switch, kill button Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm
Music Man John Petrucci Majesty Purple Nebula
+ Neck-through construction
+ Digital pickup switching
John Petrucci is one of Music Man’s longest serving artists, and he has a whole collection of signature models with the brand. The newest and most unique of these is the Majesty model, which features through-neck construction and Petrucci’s own floating tremolo. Especially if you want to explore the wild reaches of guitar playing that Petrucci does, the through-neck and optional seventh string provide both extremes of the instrument’s range.
And, far from being resigned to the archival web pages of time, this signature model is updated regularly, seeing another update with this beautiful new finish at NAMM 2020. While it carries a hefty price tag, for the premium attention to detail, it’s certainly the right amount of bang for the buck.
Price: £5,699 / $5,299 Build: Alder wings, mahogany through neck Hardware: Custom John Petrucci Music Man floating tremolo of chrome plated, hardened steel with solid steel saddles Electronics: HH – 1 DiMarzio Rainmaker – neck; 1 DiMarzio Dreamcatcher – bridge; Piezo bridge pickup, 3-way toggle pickup selector, with custom center position configuration; 3-way toggle piezo/magnetic selector, momentary mono/stereo output knob Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm
+ Unique jagged look
+ Maple neck adds some top-end sparkle
– Mini-humbuckers aren’t for everyone
Like John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert has also shown some extended brand loyalty over the years, having played a variety of shred-tastic Ibanez guitars over his three-decade-plus association with the brand. The Fireman – essentially a flipped version of the company’s 70s Iceman design – is perhaps the most fun and eye-catching. It’s loaded with two mini-humbuckers and an all-access neck join so you can shred to your heart’s content.
Price: £839 / $999 Build: 3-piece mahogany/maple set neck, mahogany body, 22-fret ebony fretboard Hardware: Tight Tune bridge and stoptail Electronics: 2 DiMarzio PG-13 mini humbuckers, master volume and tone controls, 3-way pickup toggle switch Scale Length: 24.75” / 628.6mm
Fender Jimmy Page Telecaster
+ Classic Telecaster look, feel and sound
+ A big saving compared to the Custom Shop version
– Three-saddle bridge can be tricky to intonate
As anyone who was sitting in a small Danish radio studio in 1969 will tell you, Jimmy Page could coax some seriously insane sounds out of a Tele. This USA-made reproduction of Page’s ‘Dragon’ Telecaster brings some of the iconic feel and vibe of the extremely limited Custom Shop version at a more reasonable price point. With the same iconic paint job, it’s a ticket to classic rock nirvana, with all of the same appointments that have made Telecasters one of the most enduring guitar models of all time. Violin bow not included.
Price: $1,399 / £1,223 Build: Ash body with bolt-on maple neck, 21-fret rosewood fretboard Hardware: Through or top-mount hardtail bridge, Synthetic Bone nut Electronics: Two custom-wound Jimmy Page Telecaster single-coil pickups, 3-way switch Scale Length: 25.5″ (648 mm).
For more on Jimmy Page’s gear, take a look at our look back at the legend here.
Gibson Slash Les Paul Standard
+ Great neck
+ No-nonsense pickups
– Heavy and slightly cumbersome
While scientists are presumably hard at work on time travel, Gibson and Slash have teamed up for a Les Paul-shaped portal back to the era of mildly unergonomic, unapologetic rock axes that cry out to be plugged into a wall of Marshall stacks. With no weight relief, no belly carves, and loud-but-tameable humbuckers, this is a deliberately regressive approach to the Les Paul, and it’s all the better for it.
Price: £2,599 / $2,999 Build: Mahogany body, AAA maple cap and 50s vintage-carve set mahogany neck. Rosewood fretboard with 12-inch radius, Graph Tech nut, 22 medium-jumbo frets. Hardware: Tune-O-Matic bridge, aluminium stop bar tailpiece, vintage-style keystone tuners, straplocks. Electronics: Custom Slashbucker humbucking pickups, 2x volume, 2x tone with Orange Drop capacitors, 3-way selector switch. Scale Length: 24.75”/628.6mm
Read our full review here.
Epiphone Jared James Nichols ‘Old Glory’ Les Paul
+ As fun and raucous as JJN’s playing
– One pickup means less versatility
The blues-rocker’s signature Les Paul is certainly unique. With an all-black bound finish, a single black P-90, a wraparound bridge and ‘Blues Power’ plaque, it fuses some of the best elements of a Les Paul Custom and a Les Paul Junior. This isn’t a guitar designed to offer up too much versatility, but if you know you like the sound of a P-90 in the bridge position, what’s wrong with that? Read more about Jared James Nichols here.
Price: £529 / $699 Build: Set mahogany neck, weight-relieved mahogany body, 22-fret ebony fretboard Hardware: Wraparound tailpiece, Grover tuners Electronics: Seymour Duncan P-90, master volume and tone controls. Scale Length: 24.75″ / 628.6mm.
Squier J. Mascis Jazzmaster
+ Sleek, timeless design
+ Loud, punchy pickups
– Bigger output sacrifices classic Jazzmaster character
The Dinosaur Jr man has made a career out of making Jazzmasters sound ear-bleedingly loud, and this Squier signature model makes that dream attainable for anyone. While the debate may rage on about the differences between Jazzmaster pickups and P-90s, those loaded in here are wound a fair amount hotter than in a traditional Jazzmaster – all the better to continue to ignore the ‘Jazz’ prefix with, and turn up the fuzz.
Price: $499 / £449 Build: Bolt-on maple neck, basswood body, 21-fret Indian laurel fretboard Hardware: Jazzmaster Tremolo, Vintage-Style tuners, two-piece hardtail bridge Electronics: 2x Jazzmaster Single-Coils, master volume and tone, jazzmaster rhythm circuit Scale Length: 25.5″ / 648 mm
Reverend Guitars Robin Finck Signature
+ Unique pickup design
+ Simple, elegant look
– No tone knob, only a ‘bass contour’ control
Robin Finck, best known for his work in industrial legends Nine Inch Nails (although the Finck rabbit-hole does go much deeper), got his first Reverend signature this year. It’s based on the brand’s Sensei model, and is loaded with two Railhammer Chisel humbuckers – these sport Hot Rails-esque poles for the wound strings, and round poles for the unwound strings, meaning tight low-end for palm-muted rhythm without having to sacrifice clarity in your lead playing.
The electronics are kept as no-nonsense as the visuals, too, with only volume and Reverend’s famous bass contour knobs to speak of.
Price: £949 / $1,439 Build: Korina body with Three-Piece Korina neck, synthetic bone nut Hardware: Pin-lock tuners, two-piece bridge and tailpiece Electronics: 2x Chisel Railhammer humbuckers, master volume, master bass contour control Scale Length: 24.75″ / 628.6mm
Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster V4
+ No-nonsense riff machine
+ A minimalist, sleek look
– Active pickups aren’t for everyone
Slipknot Axeman Jim Root loves Jazzmasters, as he told us in our recent interview. His latest signature one from Fender is loaded with two open-coil (but still active) EMG humbuckers, pushing the guitar even further away from the first four letters of its name into full-bore metal territory. There’s no tone control, there’s no tremolo, there’s nowhere to put Nespresso pods – as Fender puts it, it’s a “single-purpose weapon of mass destruction”, ready to throw out some downtuned mayhem. An ebony fingerboard offers smooth playing at high speeds, and a mahogany body keeps everything solid and grounded.
Price: £1,139 / $1,399.99 Build: Maple neck bolted to a mahogany body, 22-fret ebony fretboard Hardware: Hardtail string-through-body bridge, locking tuners Electronics: 2x EMG Jim Root Signature Daemonum open-coil active humbuckes, one volume knob and 3-way blade pickup Scale Length: 25.5″ / 648 mm
Gretsch Brian Setzer ’59 6120
+ Authentic vintage feel
+ Fantastic pickups
At the other end of the spectrum, this signature model was made to provide a giggable alternative to Brian Setzer’s vintage ’59 Gretsch 6120. This interpretation retains most of the idiosyncrasies of the modded model Setzer worked on over the years with his techs, and has the same look as the original model in his possession. It all adds up to a guitar with bags of character, down to the authentically-voiced TV Jones Ray Butts Ful-Fidelity pickups and aged binding.
Price: £3,199 / $3,299 Build: Laminated maple body with trestle bracing, maple set neck with ‘Vintage V’ profile, 9.5-12” compound radius ebony fingerboard with pearloid neo-classic inlays, aged white binding with black purfling and 22 frets Hardware: Bigsby B6CGH, Adjusto-Matic bridge with pinned rosewood base, Gotoh locking tuners, gold plexi pickguard Electronics: 2x TV Jones Ray Butts Ful-Fidelity pickups, master volume, individual pickup volumes, 3-way tone switch, 3-way pickup selector switch Scale Length: 24.6” / 625 mm.
Read our full review here.
Learn more about the history of signature guitars here.
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