By Damian Fanelli and Josh Hart
About 10 years ago, a home-furnishings company named a line of rugs after a gorgeous movie and TV actress.
It turns out that, aside from walking, sidling and sashaying on them for a few decades, she really didn't know a lot about rugs — or furniture or pretty much anything her name still graces today. But the company put her moniker on the stuff and continues to reap the benefits that a big name (and a pretty face) can provide.
Luckily, musicians in search of quality signature gear — from guitars to amps to effects to pickups — don't have to worry about that nonsense. Generally, gear manufacturers work closely with their signature artists, in some cases, right down to the tiniest of details (Some artists repeatedly send back their signature-model prototypes until they're absolutely perfect).
So, while acknowledging the plethora of fine signature gear that's available today, here's the cream of the crop: five items that simply get it right. This list was compiled by a group of Guitar Aficionado staffers plus Guitar World Gear Editor Paul Riario.
Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster
Maybe you've read it in forums or heard it from people in the know (maybe even from people whose job it is to try out Fender gear all day long), but Fender's Eric Johnson signature Strat has quietly earned a reputation as possibly one of the best instruments Fender produces on a regular basis.
At first glance, the EJ model looks a lot like other U.S.-made Strats. But once you study the details, you start to notice its refinement. In fact, EJ-model connoisseurs tend to agree that it's not one single feature that makes this guitar special — it's the way all the smaller features work together.
The guitar has a one-piece, vintage-tinted quartersawn plain maple neck (contours sanded very smooth) with a ’57-style V shape; a light, two-piece alder body with deep ’57-style body contours and cavities. It comes in 2-Color Sunburst, Black, Candy Apple Red and White Blonde. The frets are highly polished. The pickups are Eric Johnson single-coils (not over-wound at all) with countersunk screws and a five-way switch. Other features include a vintage tremolo with silver-painted block and ’57-style string recess. There's no paint between the base plate and the block.
Basically, if you're a fan of the Stratocaster in its purest form, you'll truly appreciate this model, which also packs in several practical updates for modern players.
MSRP: $2,599.99 | Check out this guitar at fender.com.
ESP LTD James Hetfield Snakebyte
When it comes to signature guitars made for the rigors of heavy metal, it's hard to beat the LTD James Hetfield Snakebyte from ESP.
The Snakebyte is a light-weight guitar that packs the heavyweight punch necessary for one of metal's marquee players. The neck is thin and comfortable, perfect for quick chord changes, and you'll find all of the high-end features of its more expensive Japanese-made cousin without sacrificing quality.
And, as an added bonus, the Snakebyte now comes stock with a set of EMG James Hetfield pickups, putting all of the Metallica guitarist's secret weapons — minus his fabled right hand — at your fingertips.
For a full test drive and review from Guitar World Gear Editor Paul Riaro, head here.
MSRP: $1,570 | Check out this guitar at esp.com.
Can't get enough gear? Check out the 2013 Guitar World Buyer's Guide. It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store.