April 19, 2019
It seems that a lot of solo guitarists or guitarists in bands of note have at least one signature model guitar associated with them. Off the top of my head I can think of players such as Eddie Van Halen, Peter Frampton, Tommy Thayer, Joe Bonamassa, Slash, Buckethead, Lzzy Hale and many more. After seeing several of these artists play live and noticing that some didn’t play their signature models I wondered: how many of them actually play the models they endorse? I’ll give a few examples:
Joe Bonamassa: Known for collecting vintage guitars and playing them live, he also has signature models from Gibson – a gold top Les Paul and ES-335. From Epiphone; he currently has a Les Paul, an ES-335 and ’58 Flying V but I don’t believe his Epi models have seen the light of day on the stage.
Slash: Slash has had several Gibson signature models – the Les Paul Anaconda, The Rosso Corsa, The AFD and several more. He also currently endorses Epiphone guitars – a few Les Paul models and a Firebird. While none of us begrudge him endorsing Gibsons and Epiphones, it is well known that at the start of his recording career, the Les Paul he recorded with wasn’t a Gibson at all. The guitar he played was custom made for him by California luthier Kris Derrig. It makes you wonder if the guitars he actually uses are indeed Gibsons. That being said, I’ve not seen Slash play any guitars other than Les Pauls live – real or not, except for a Guild double neck. As far as his signature models go, I haven’t seen him play his Epiphone models on stage.
Joe Satriani: Joe has endorsed Ibanez guitars since the eighties. It does appear that Joe plays his signature models – the JS30CR and JS2480 on stage for just about all of his songs. There are lower priced Satriani models that he does not play live, though. Still, he is true to his Ibanez partnership. You never see him play any other brand live.
Buckethead: The enigmatic guitarist plays his signature model Gibson Les Paul that features 24-frets, an ebony fingerboard, custom white Gibson 490R and 500T pickups, two kill switches and a chambered, slightly oversized body. This is the only guitar he played on stage at the time I saw him. Being that the scale length is 27 inches, that coupled with the custom features he requires, it is unlikely that he would play any other guitar other than his model.
Tommy Thayer (Kiss): Thayer has had a couple of Epiphone signature models; a Les Paul and currently his “White Lightning” Explorer. Having seen Kiss on their current “final” tour I can tell you; the only guitars I saw him play live on this tour were two Gibson Les Pauls – a white one he played during the majority of the show and a black one used to shoot fireworks at targets on the stage, that’s it.
Peter Frampton: Epiphone just recently announced a Frampton signature Les Paul model, duplicating his famous black Les Paul Custom that was lost in a plane crash in the seventies but had recently resurfaced. It has three pickups as the original did and is likewise finished in black. He is currently gearing up for a farewell tour so it remains to be seen as to whether he will actually use his Epi model. Honestly, I doubt it – being that he had a similar signature model from Gibson and even that may not get used on stage. I’ll let you know in September when I see him live.
Eddie Van Halen: Eddie currently has his own signature EVH Wolfgang – a version of the USA Stealth that first appeared in 2012. It comes complete with Eddie’s modifications: a kill switch, “eye-bolt” strap hooks and chrome Floyd Rose tremolo – features the Stealth didn’t have. He hasn’t played this model recently, however. On the 2015 Van Halen tour he played a Custom Wolfgang USA guitar built by Chip Ellis and finished in a relic’d white. Ed claimed in interviews that the white guitar sounded better than the Stealth. No word on whether Van Halen is going to tour again soon but chances are he will use the relic’d Wolfgang, not the signature model.
Ritchie Faulkner: The Judas Priest guitarist has a signature Epiphone “Ritchie Faulkner Flying V” and it appears he actually uses the guitar on stage in addition to the Gibson version it was modeled after along with Gibson Explorers and Les Pauls. His main guitar however, is the Gibson version of his Flying V.
Bret Hinds (Mastodon): Hinds also has a signature Epi Flying V. It appears he may have played it live on at least one occasion but seems to favor other guitars, including an SG and a custom-built Flying V rather than his Epi signature model.
George Lynch – The former Dokken guitarist has endorsed ESP guitars for over thirty years and regularly plays them, in addition to guitars that he builds himself and the occasional Strat or other guitar.
As you may have noticed, several of the signature guitars in this article are from Epiphone. Epiphones made these days are darn nice guitars – I own two of them. They are very close to Gibson in quality and workmanship in my opinion. The main differences these days are in the manufacturing process. A lot of the hardware is similar if not the same. For example, the Epi Les Pauls feature Grover tuners, the same as their USA cousins and their version of Gibson’s Burstbucker ™ pickup – the Probucker™ and feature coil splitting, as do the Gibsons. To me, it’s hard to tell the difference sonically. The Gibson may have a slightly brighter top end due to their use of a ¼ inch maple cap on the Les Paul whereas Epi uses a maple veneer but I personally prefer the warmth of mahogany anyway. Lately they have switched to pau ferro wood for their Les Paul fingerboards but so has Fender – not a big deal to me. I also own a Gibson and have owned several over the years. To me, the Epis made in the last five years look, feel, play and sound every bit as good as the Gibson. I am curious as to why then, is Epiphone getting these well-known players to endorse their products when it doesn’t appear that most aren’t being played by them? I don’t know whether the endorsements are in name only – meaning Epi aren’t paying the players to play the models they endorse or if the players get a residual on the number of guitars sold. At the price point Epis sell for (between $600 and $1000 depending on the model) I doubt that.
In contrast: It seems endorsees of guitar amplifiers tend to actually play the models they endorse. Marshall endorsees Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen and Slash – all seem to play Marshall amps although I believe Yngwie plays older model Marshalls live. Eddie Van Halen has his own EVH™ brand of amplifiers so of course he uses them both live and in the studio. Engl amp endorsees Ritchie Faulkner, Paul Stanley, Vivian Campbell and Glen Tipton don’t have their rigs on display live so the company will not get the exposure live that helps sell their equipment. This is not to say that all amp endorsees play their respective amps but the likelihood would seem to indicate that most do. Bonamassa recently introduced his ’59 Twin-Amp JB Edition signature Fender amp. I’ll update you on whether he actually uses it live in a future update.
There is an old saying in auto racing circles – “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” Fans seeing a brand or model win on the track often correlated to increased sales floor traffic, or so it was assumed. It seems that some big name guitarists actually play the guitars they endorse, but not all. It doesn’t appear that as an endorsee, they have an obligation to play their signature models, especially those with Epiphone. This would make little sense to me if I were a guitar manufacturer. If you are going to the time and expense of making a signature model for a player of note, wouldn’t you insist in the endorsement deal that they actually play the guitar, at least part of the time, especially live? Otherwise, you’d be throwing money away on an artist that doesn’t use your product(s), limiting your exposure and the return on your investment. With magazine readership and CD sales way down, the emphasis on live appearances as the way to make money in the music business has skyrocketed. If you were Epiphone, wouldn’t you want the player’s signature model to be seen played live by the fans in the audience? As a player, it would seem a little bit misleading to endorse a product and not be seen on stage using it. As a fan, I would see no reason to buy a signature guitar that the player who endorses it doesn’t use.
What guitarists have you seen live that play their signature guitars (or not?)