Some of the best signature guitars get overlooked because some guitarists don’t want to play an axe with someone else’s name one it. But some of these are just too good to miss!
The Best Signature Guitars: What’s The Deal With Them?
A Signature guitar is usually made for a famous guitarist, to their exact specs. This is usually a deal made between the artist, and a guitar brand that is lucrative for both parties involved. The artist gets a guitar that is designed especially for them, and the company sells the guitar to the public. It works great for everyone involved.
Think about how many times you have seen a guitar being played by one of your favorite artists. You have probably seen it and thought it was really cool and unique. Maybe you have only heard the artist before on an album, and wondered what guitar they play on recordings. You in turn, buy the signature guitar and the artist and the brand make a profit, while you get a really cool guitar.
These signature guitars usually have the same specs as the artist models that are played on stage. So you get the same custom pickups, and other high end features that a touring guitarist needs to get the job done. These can be modifications to popular body shapes, different bridges, or custom paint jobs.
Signature guitars have an ugly stigma in the guitar community, sometimes. Most guitarists want to play a guitar that really speaks to them as an individual… a guitar that is unique to you. That is very understandable, as part of the fun of playing guitars is making everything “your own”. I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to carve your own path with your guitar, and your gear.
But some of the best signature guitars are not just good for the artists, as every guitarist is different. You might be able to do something totally unique with a signature guitar. The sky is the limit when it come to creativity!
So it seems like a lot of people automatically disregard signature guitars because these guitars are usually the ideas of another artist. Sometimes, it is very subtle when it comes to the features and designs, like with Solar Guitars. The Solar brand was designed by Ola Englund for himself, and a few other artists.
Then, there are some signature models that are so distinct, that there is now doubt about who plays that signature model. There are tons of them out there from every brand you can imagine. You may not think much about it, but technically the Gibson Les Paul is one of the best signature guitars ever made!
So today we are going to take a look at the best signature guitars, that be affordable for people on any kind of budget. As usual, we are going to be taking a look at the ones that are best for Rock/Metal, but remember that any guitar can be used for any purpose. It’s totally up to you as a player!
Ibanez Jem JR: Steve Vai Signature On A Budget!
In 1987, Steve Vai had a vision for what he thought was the perfect guitar for his style. He needed a double-locking trem system that could hold up to dive bombs and big bends. He also wanted a dual humbucker design, with a single coil pickup in the middle. The neck had to be fast and slim for shredding… Steve had a lot that he was asking for.
Steve had been trying out all kinds of different companies, looking for the perfect guitar for him. After going through tons of models for 10 years while playing solo, and with the legendary Frank Zappa, he finally found a company that was willing to build him his dream guitar. Ibanez and Steve worked together to create the Jem. The rest is history and one of the best signature guitars was born!
The problem for a lot of people, is the Ibanez Jem is usually a very expensive investment. Ibanez realized that not everyone had two or three grand laying around to buy a Jem. So the Jem JR was made, as a budget model. But just because it is “budget” priced doesn’t mean the quality took a dip. The Jem JR has tons of features:
- Wizard III Maple neck
- Meranti body
- Jatoba Fretboard
- Tree of Life Inlay
- Jumbo frets
- Double Locking tremolo bridge
- Quantum (H) neck pickupPassive/Ceramic
- Quantum (S) middle pickupPassive/Alnico
- Quantum (H) bridge pickupPassive/Ceramic
- Cosmo Black Hardware
- Monkey Grip Cutout
- 25.5 Scale
The Ibanez Jem JR is one of the best signature guitars you can buy on a budget. These are priced at only $499, and this is a lot of guitar for the money! I have spent a good amount of time with the Jem JR, as I am a huge fan of Vai and everything he does. This is not only one of the best signature guitars, but one of the least expensive ones ever made by Ibanez.
The Jem JR plays a lot like most of the Ibanez standard series of guitars, but it has the vibe and aesthetic of the real-deal Jem models. The neck is fast and slim, something Ibanez has always been famous for. The neck is flat and fast which makes it perfect for shredding, but versatile enough for just about anything else.
The Quantum Pickups are not as good as the custom Dimarzio pickups that the more expensive Jem comes with. But for the price, they sound very good. I would compare them to a Seymour Duncan JB pickup, as they can just about pull off any tone you can think of. They handle distortion really well, and have a pronounced midrange that stops them from sounding too muddy.
If you are looking for one of the best signature guitars without blowing a ton of money, the Ibanez Jem Jr is a great choice. I have seen people mod these guitars with new pickups and hardware, and do some really insane things to these Jems!
Cort MBM-1: Matt Bellamy From MUSE
We absolutely love Cort Guitars here at Electrikjam since they are a bargain brand that have amazing features for the money you are investing. If you haven’t heard of Matt Bellamy, then it’s time to go listen to his band, MUSE. Matt is a highly creative guitarist, and he uses crazy effects blended with mountains of heavy distortion to craft a massive tone. To do that, he uses one of the best signature guitars on the market.
These guitars are made specifically to Matt’s specs, and they have all of the features that he uses on stage. Manson Guitars usually makes Matt’s guitars, but those are one-off custom models. He wanted a model that everyone could have and afford. Cort makes these guitars loaded with features:
- Basswood body
- V-shape hard maple neck
- Indian laurel fretboard
- Dual Manson humbuckers
- 3-way switch
- Kill Switch for stutter effects
- Chrome hardware
- 25.5 Scale
- Dot Inlays
The MBM-1 by Cort looks like your standard offset body guitar, but it has some serious tricks up it’s sleeves. The first are the pickups made by Manson Guitars. These are versatile humbuckers that handle bass and mids with ease. The sound from the bridge pickup cuts into any mix, while the neck pickup can be dialed back to creamy lead tones. These are premium pickups, and they are the secret weapon of the MBM-1. For the price of this guitar, you would never expect name brand pickups to come installed.
You also get a cool kill switch, that cuts the guitar signal completely. This can be used to create some killer sounding stutter effects. But what makes the MBM-1 one of the best signature guitars is how unique it is. It doesn’t look anything like other guitars, and it certainly doesn’t sound like any conventional guitar. There is not any big branding on the guitar either, so it’s a “no-show” signature guitar.
So if you are looking for a guitar that can do a little bit of everything, the Cort MBM-1 is a great place to start. I am surprised that this guitar falls in the price bracket that it does, with all of the premium features it carries. Cort makes some of the best quality guitars on the planet, and this is no exception!
ESP/LTD KH-602: The Sound Of Metallica!
I don’t think anyone needs to be introduced to Metallica. Over the past 40 years, they have made their mark on the world, with countless tours and albums under their belts. Kirk Hammet has been playing some blistering solos for the band since 1984, and when he was approached by ESP guitars he knew exactly what he had in mind.
While it may look like your standard issue all-black “Metal guitar”, the ESP/LTD Kirk Hammet model is one of the best signature guitars around, when it comes to quality vs. budget. This is THE guitar that Kirk plays in the famous “Enter Sandman” video, but that’s not what you are paying for. You get all premium features on the KH-602:
- 3-piece maple neck-through construction
- Alder body
- Extra-thin U neck contour with Pau Ferro fingerboard
- Dual EMG Bone Breaker Signature active humbuckers
- Skull inlays
- Floyd Rose trem system
- Reverse headstock
- Blacked-out hardware
Look, there is really not a lot that I can say about this guitar. It is absolutely awesome, and has everything the intermediate shredder needs. The EMG pickups are great active pickups that are built for getting the best chugging tones. The neck is like most of ESP/LTD and Schecter guitars. It is thin, and super fast to play.
The KH-206 is not just one of the best signature guitars out there, it is just a great guitar in general. While we are going out of budget territory now with the KH-206, you get what you pay for. This is a flawless metal machine that doesn’t need any upgrades out of the box. It has all of the essential features you need to start kicking some serious ass.
Ibanez THBB10: Tim Henson Signature
If you haven’t heard of Tim Henson, or his band Polyphia….it is probably time to look them up on YouTube and have your mind blown. Tim might have started his career as a Metal guitar player, but these days he has one of the most unique styles on the planet. Tim has redefined what guitar can do, in a musical sense. He has always played Ibanez guitars, but he needed something very special to get the tone right for Polyphia’s special brand of Prog.
Ibanez managed to not only meet all of Tim’s requirements for tone, but also create a classy looking piece of art, in my opinion. The features and specs are modern, classic, and high quality:
- Gloss-finished solid basswood body
- 25.5″-scale roasted maple neck
- 24-fret fingerboard
- DiMarzio THBB pickups in HSS configuration
- 5-way switch
- Gotoh Tremolo bridge
- Gotoh locking tuners
- Gold Hardware
- Mother of Pearl block inlays
Ibanez really knocked it out of the park with this new version of “Super Strat” guitars. You have a hot Dimarzio humbucker in the bridge that is perfect for palm-muted chords and chugging. But, you also get two hot single coil pickups that create a highly unique clean tone that rivals anything Fender makes these days. The Ibanez THBB10 is one of the best signature guitars to be released in the past two years, feature-wise.
The Gotoh hardware is also something you rarely see on a production guitar. The trem system can be used a lot like a Floyd Rose system, without having a locking nut. The locking tuners help you change guitar strings with ease, as well as keep you in tune for the long haul. Gotoh hardware usually is only an aftermarket option, and here we have it on one of the best signature guitars Ibanez makes.
The Ibanez THBB10 certainly is not something that I would usually play, but there is no denying that it is different, and wholly unique as it’s namesake. Tim needed a guitar that can do it all, and this guitar can do it all and more. Once again, we have a step up in budget. But this is a high quality guitar, made by the highest talent at Ibanez. This is one of the best signature guitars for people that don’t particularly like the signature branding.
My Personal Pick: The Ibanez PIA
Steve Vai still plays his famous Jem guitars all of the time. Last year, he surprised us with a new model named after his wife, Pia. This is one of the best signature guitars Ibanez has ever made, and it is also one of the most complex. All of the usual features of the Jem series are here, but they are softer and more delicate. This is a guitar that has a lot of beauty and class, made for a master of the instrument. It may look like a Jem a little bit, but the Ibanez PIA is a whole different beast.
Steve Vai wanted some upgrades and redesigns for this new model, and he got them! The features and specs on this guitar are insane. This is not just one of the best signature guitars, it is one of the best guitars for Rock and Metal ever created.
- Alder body
- PIA 5-piece maple/walnut neck
- Rosewood fingerboard with PIA Blossom inlay
- Jumbo stainless steel frets with Prestige fret edge treatment
- DiMarzio UtoPIA pickups in the neck, middle, and bridge
- Edge tremolo
- Gold hardware
- Luminlay side dots
I saved my dream guitar for last, because this has every feature I could ever want in a guitar. The new UtoPIA pickup system still gets all of the high gain tones you would look for in a Vai signature, but these have more pronounced mid-range that just sing. The pickup covers have a laser-engraved design that really takes the look of this beauty over the top.
There are a few minor details that I love, and I have never seen them on another guitar. The whammy bar is a grippy carbon material that is easy to use. The stainless steel frets will never need crowning or polishing. The Ibanez PIA is built in the Japanese Prestige factory by the best luthiers, and no detail goes unnoticed. The back plate is magnetic, making adjustments easy on the fly. Bells and whistles galore!
Now, the reason I currently do not own one… is the price tag. The PIA goes for a pretty high price, but you are getting the absolute best of the best Ibanez can create, here. This is not only an amazing guitar to play, but it is also a collector’s item.
The Best Signature Guitars: Wrapping Up…
I know that buying a signature guitar is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people want to blaze their own path with style. I get that. But there is nothing wrong with buying a signature guitar, and making it your own! At the end of the day, it’s all about how you play and your tone. The guitar is just the tool that you utilize.
The best signature guitars are versatile, and can be used for a variety of styles. While I have stuck mostly to guitars for heavier music, that doesn’t mean these bad-ass axes cant do just about anything. The guitars on this list don’t have the artists’ name plastered all over them. Not to mention, 90% of the audience probably has no idea what kind of guitar you’re playing anyway.
So let’s forget about the stigma around playing signature guitars. There is nothing wrong with playing someone else’s sig. What matters is what inspires you to play. If Steve Vai already created the perfect guitar for you, then why wouldn’t you play it? I know I definitely would!
Are Signature Guitars Worth it?
Most signature guitars have features that you would never find on standard models. You usually get some nice custom options, like pickups and hardware.
Are The Best Signature Guitars Expensive?
Not all of them! There are plenty of great signature guitars that fall well into the budget range. Some are more expensive, but offer a lot of custom shop features that you will never find anywhere else.