Most players, new or old, realize that they are paying a premium when it comes to a signature guitar by their favorite artist. A lot of it has to do with the name; however, usually, there is a unique aesthetic about the guitar that makes it stand out from the rest. This article will discuss the aspects that make a signature guitar worth the money, as well as the features that aren’t so worth it.
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Key Features of A Signature Guitar
In order for a signature guitar to deserve its name, there has to be a least one kind of modification made. Technically, anyone can have a signature guitar, but really, it refers to artists who have been endorsed by a guitar company and customized a guitar for said artist.
Here are some of the most common things that you’ll probably see in high-end signature guitars (not all guitars will have these, but most will):
- Custom paint job
- Quality Construction
- Top-of-the-line Hardware
- Brand-name (non-stock) Pickups
Depending on the individual, these things can make or break his or her opinion of a signature guitar. Let’s look at each of them further:
Custom Paint Jobs
A unique design is usually one of easiest ways that you can tell that a guitar is a signature model. It sticks out like a sore thumb a lot of the time, and sometimes, they can really grab you in. Some of the most famous signature series guitars of all time have had a wild paint job on them:
- Randy Rhoad’s Pinstripe Jackson V (RR3) and his Polka-Dot Gibson V
- Zakk Wylde’s Bullseye Gibson Les Paul
- George Lynch’s ESP Tiger and Kamikaze designs
- Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat
Out of this group, I’d have to say George Lynch’s ESP with the sunburst tiger print is my favorite signature guitar for sale, but they’re all great. Luckily, if the paint job is the most important thing for you, there are cheap signature guitar versions of the top-shelf models.
They’re not made as well and might have fewer features, but otherwise, it pretty much looks the same. Take a look at this LTD George Lynch Sunburst Tiger which is a fraction of the cost of the original ESP signature guitars for sale. Overall, you’re still getting a great mid-tier guitar, with the paint job of a signature!
Construction can refer quite a few different things, and not just how well-made the guitar is. It is true that the best signature guitars are carefully handmade with quality, but sometimes they may also have additional quirks about them that make them distinct. Here are some examples:
- Steve Vai’s Ibanez Jem with the Tree of Life inlays and monkey handle carved into the body
- Yngwie Malmsteen’s Stratocaster with a fully-scalloped fretboard
- Kirk Hammet’s Skull and Crossbone inlays
- Dimebag Darrell’s Dean Razorback body design
The various ways that a guitar can be constructed not only affect how it looks, but it can also sometimes how it feels and plays, which is especially true of Yngwie’s scalloped fretboard. Steve Vai’s Jem is scalloped from the 21st to the 24th frets.
Speaking of the Jem, Vai’s most notable and longest-produced design is most likely his white one with the pearloid pickguard. If you like how this one looks, you can still get the Jem Jr. which is significantly less than the true Jem and one of the more affordable signature guitar models. It still has the tree of life inlays and monkey handle, so it still looks like the real deal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t retain the gold hardware and pearloid pickguard though.
One of the best things about an expensive signature guitar is that it usually comes with super high-quality hardware. This usually means a real Original (Schaller) Floyd Rose or an Edge Pro or a similar variant with Gotoh, Grover, or Schaller tuners.
To justify buying a great signature guitar, I think hardware should strongly be considered. On the other hand, if the hardware is the single most critical thing that you examine when trying to choose a guitar, you probably don’t need a signature model. There are plenty of nice guitars with solid equipment on them that isn’t a signature series guitar.
If you’re planning to shell out a lot of cash for a signature guitar, please take the time to look at the specs. Make sure that its hardware is up to snuff, and this includes tuning pegs and a locking nut (if applicable). Thankfully, most of the best signature guitars ever have great stuff on them, but it still helps to make comparisons.
On the other hand, if you buy a cheaper signature series guitar, you do the have the option of upgrading these things. For example, you can buy an Original Floyd Rose and have it put in. However, between the cost of parts and labor, it’ll probably run you a few hundred dollars. At that point, it’s up to you to decide if you can justify that.
Pickups are probably one of the least significant parts of a signature guitar, yet, it still potentially separates them from other guitars on the market.
For instance, a thousand-dollar signature series guitar will always have some sort of brand name pickups in them. Most of the Randy Rhoads models have Seymour Duncans, Zakk Wylde uses EMGs and is notable for coming up with the 81/85 combo set, and Steve Vai’s Jem uses DiMarzios. These are a few examples.
It’s crucial to keep in mind that if you go for the cheaper versions of these guitars, there’s a good chance that it will be a stock pickup by the manufacturer (i.e., Ibanez pickups). They might still sound passable, but are they the best? Nope.
This isn’t the end of the world though, because guitar pickups are one of the least complicated things to replace in the guitar, especially compared to stripping out a tremolo system and putting in new hardware.
The Verdict: Are They Worth It?
Putting the value on a guitar is totally individualistic; nonetheless, I can still provide some input on why I think certain aspects of a signature series guitar are worth it. To do so, we need to return to each of the features we just talked about.
Custom Paint Job: To me, this is one of the things that really make a signature guitar stand out. If you’re just in it for the looks, then it is 100% worth it. You can find a cheaper version of many custom models – they won’t be top quality, but they will still be very decent guitars most of the time.
Construction: In my opinion, if you’re going to buy an expensive signature guitar, it must be well-made, the other things like fretboard inlays are just a side bonus. However, similar to the paint job, the way a guitar is constructed can have a major impact on the guitar’s aesthetic design and even playability. If we use the Jem as an example, if you care more about the inlays and handle rather than the superior craftsmanship of the original, you may be better off with Jem Jr.
Hardware: This one is pretty easy to justify. As I said earlier, the best signature guitars typically have the best and most reliable equipment in them, and it’s something you won’t need to worry about. Though, if you’re just looking for a high-performance guitar, you’re better off looking elsewhere. You don’t need to buy a signature guitar for that.
Pickups: This is essentially the same response as the hardware section. I’d expect solid non-stock pickups in a pricey signature series guitar, and those are typically provided. But if you get a budget version of a guitar, and it only has stock pickups, you can replace them whenever you get the chance. You can definitely find guitars with good pickups outside of signature models though.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
Overall, by taking a look at all of these aspects I consider the most important when looking at signature guitars for sale, I believe that they are worth it only if the entire picture is involved, and only up to a certain point. I think paying $2,500 for a guitar is the limit before getting diminishing returns on your investment. However, an item’s worth is largely subjective, and people will pay for whatever they think is valuable.
Nonetheless, a great signature guitar will be sexy, be made with the finest quality and have nice hardware and pickups inside of it. These guitars should surely last an extremely long time, if not forever.
If you don’t care about the parts as much, you can still get the look of many popular signature series guitars by finding a budget model. It’s a win-win. You get the look at a reduced cost.
A signature guitar is NOT worth it if you’re only looking for a guitar that is built to last and performs nicely. You can find amazing non-signature guitars from many different brands. For example, Ibanez Prestige guitars, Charvel Pro-Mod, or American Fender Stratocasters will be sufficient, just to name a few.
Depending on these circumstances, I think signature models can absolutely be worth it. Realistically, yes, you are paying extra for the name and the look, but at the end of the day, it’s not up to me to decide if that is worth it or not. Only you can answer that for yourself – just make sure to do your research!