10 Signature Guitars from Black Artists To Check Out for International Guitar Month
By Ian Freeman
April 30, 2022
As far back as the 19th century, guitar brands have been slapping the name of guitarists on models to increase sales or the price. The practice makes sense rather than watching someone’s eyes glaze over as you try to describe how the specifications impact the sound; it’s much easier to say, “you can sound like this person”. In the 70’s advances in guitar making made it easier for players to personalize their sound and the look of their guitar by modding or Hot Rodding them. These signature guitars were no longer just a base model with a name thrown on it but often it was brands reproducing the specs of famous players guitars or making alterations the artists asked for and then selling those alongside their base models.
Ironically, despite their impact on the guitar scene, black guitarists with signature guitars are far and few between. Even though the practice goes back as far as the 19th century, the earliest known would be European brand Zenith who in 1957 made the Josh White model for the well known gospel artist. Since then, brands have been working with artists like Benson, Diddley, B.B. King, Slash and others to design guitars and sell them to their fans.
So why would a person pay a premium price for a signature guitar? Aficionados can get rarer models, players can get models with upgraded specs not found on production models, and fans can get the same type of guitar their hero plays or designed by them. If #internationalguitarmonth has you iin the market for a new addition to the collection, here are 10 signature guitars by black guitarists worth grabbing.
H.E.R. Fender Stratocaster – In 2020, Grammy award-winning R&B songstress H.E.R. made history having the distinction of being the first black woman to have a signature guitar with Fender with the release of the H.E.R Stratocaster. A fan since childhood, she is rarely seen without one on stage including the acrylic guitar from her 2019 Grammy performance. Having such a history with Fender, it’s no surprise that she would work with the team to create a pretty amazing signature guitar. Customized to her specifications, the Strat comes in a unique chrome glow finish, with colorful abalone inlays, aluminum pickguard, vintage tuned noiseless pickups, and H.E.R. artwork on the neck. The desire to bring more women and young people in general to the guitar is evident in her choices like a modern “C” shape neck that feels comfortable in most hands and the uniqueness of the guitar. It made its debut during her Prince Tribute at the Grammys and put her stamp on a new generation of guitar players. You can pick up one at Fender.com.
B.B. King Gibson / Epiphone Lucille – Lucille, B.B. King’s custom ES – 355 is one of the most recognizable guitars in music. Be it the imposing size of the 355 or the unique specs, most notably the F-holes being removed to further reduce feedback, a quick glance and anyone who knows BB King can spot Lucille. Over the years Gibson has worked with B.B.to release a number of models of his signature guitar for fans looking for his unique sound. Recently Gibson and Epiphone have made modern variations of Lucille that can be picked up to tap into your blues fix.
Nile Rodgers Fender Hitmaker – Nile Rodgers and Hitmaker, his Olympic white Stratocaster, has generated more than $2 billion in music revenue over his 50-plus years in the industry. Their distinctive sound was the sound of funk music like Chic and Sister Sledge but can be heard on some of the biggest records in history from David Bowie and Diana Ross to Madonna and Daft Punk. In 2022, Fender worked with Rodgers to release his first signature guitar, The Nile Rodgers Hitmaker. Fender and Rodgers went through painstaking to tap into the uniqueness and thus make a worthy clone of the Hitmaker. A thinner alder body with custom contour and 9.5 radius fingerboard which mirror the original’s ‘59 neck on a ‘60 body. A hardtail bridge with bent saddles, mirrored pickguard, and locking tuners. They also tuned custom Nile Rodgers single-coil Strat pickups to capture the Hitmaker’s unique charm and voice. Check out one at Fender.com.
George Benson Ibanez GB Series -George Benson is one of the most renowned jazz guitarists in history and has the distinction of being one of the first black guitarists that worked a brand to design and release a signature guitar for purchase. In 1978 an Ibanez rep would meet with Benson during a studio session and they would agree to start working together. His signature line of guitars were built to solve some of Benson’s problems on the road like intonation, wear, and others. Their work, including Benson’s specifications, introduced the GB line, a hollow-body line built for jazz players. Starting with the GB20 and GB 10, this relationship would continue for over 40 years. It has gone through many iterations most recently as a hollow body electric with special voiced humbucker pickups. Ibanez
Jimi Hendrix Fender Stratocaster – Many a guitarist has tried to tap into the mysticism that Jimi Hendrix invoked on stage. A testament to his legendary skill, Hendrick’s licks are studied to this day and he has chords named after him. There are fans or tone chasers intent on summoning the spirit of Jimi in their playing and companies happy to oblige have created a number of products with his name on them. And while his reverse head Stratocaster is what he is known most for he has played a number of models and brands have released signature models to give players a chance to try to solve the Hendrix equation for their playing. In 2020 Gibson released a Jimi Hendrix Signature 1967 Flying V, a recreation of the one he custom ordered and played at the Isle of Wight Festival. Gibson also released a ‘67 Custom SG like the one he played on The Dick Cavett Show. Not to be outdone Fender has released a number of Strats based on Hendrix Strats, the most recent a more budget friendly model to make the Hendrix vibe more accessible. You can check Fender or Gibson or check Reverb if you want to sprinkle some voodoo on your tone.
Captain Kirk Douglas (The Roots) – Gibson Custom SG – Standing out in a band like The Roots with Questlove’s drums and Black Thought’s rhymes should earn you a signature guitar and Captain Kirk Douglas’ skills has earned him two with Gibson. Throughout his career the captain has played extensively Gibsons including a Les Paul Gold Top, an ES-356, a Custom Shop Les Paul with P-90s, a Byrdland archtop, and a vintage Epiphone Crestwood that had an infamous run-in with Prince. In 2013, they first approached him to create a signature SG and he chose to work with the brand to update his 69 Custom SG that is more versatile than an all around gymnast, with three pickups that through an array of switches and knobs you’re able to achieve a dazzling array of tones. In 2021 Gibson and Douglas teamed up again to update the signature guitar with some new color options, re-voiced pickups as well as a volume swell knob and independent volume controls for the pickups to add even more tonal dexterity. You can check one out here.
Chuck Berry Gibson ES 355 – Rock & Roll wouldn’t be as exciting without guitarists like Chuck Berry. Not only a tremendous player but his style, energy and flair laid the template for the players who command the stage. While the most iconic might be the Gibson ES 350T, he dubbed Maybelline, he was rarely seen without his Cherry Red Gibson 1970s ES 355 which became his favorite guitar. So much so from the 70s and beyond it was synonymous with him, including it being the instrument of his last projects Chuck and live from Blueberry Hill. Gibson Custom Shop recently released a limited edition run based on it guitar.
Slash The Les Paul – Amongst the many accolades heaped on Guns and Roses’ guitarist Slash, he is also possibly the reason why Gibson’s are even still a thing. Despite the fact that the Les Paul he started his career with wasn’t a Gibson. Through his career he and Gibson have formed a long running relationship releasing a number of Slash-inspired signature models up and down their product line from Custom shop to Epiphone models. Most recently Gibson released the Slash Les Paul Standard Limited 4 Album edition to commemorate his album 4 release under Gibson’s newly formed record label. The guitar features a translucent Cherry AAA flamed maple to and a solid mahogany body, a 50’s neck profile, Gibson Custom BurstBucker™ Alnico 2 pickups, color-coordinated hardware appointments, and hand-wired electronics with Orange Drop® capacitors.
Lenny Kravitz Gibson Flying V – Ageless rocker Lenny Kravitz stamped his place in music history with his debut album Let Love Rule in 1989. Since then, he has continued to entertain and inspire with unforgettable songs like “ Are you gonna go my way” and has branched out to acting landing roles in films like The Hunger Games. And while he plays a number of instruments, he is most associated with the guitar, of course for his own songs, but also for playing on tracks for Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, David Bowie and Jay -Z. A lover of vintage guitars his collection numbers over 300 but it is the Flying V that people most know him for. In 2002, he worked with Gibson’s historic division to release a limited-run signature reissue of his personal 1967 Flying V with some personal touches. The model had a 50’s V neck, was available in black fleck and had gold hardware, a mirrored pickguard and only 125 were made. You can see it in the American Woman video. If you’re looking for one in the wild Reverb might be the right place for you.
Eric Gales “Raw Dog” Magneto Guitars – Blues-rock guitarist Eric Gales has music in his veins. Many in his family are in music, including his older brother blues guitarist Little Jimmie King. Playing guitar since his childhood, Gales has released 20 albums and shared the stage with the greats from Bonamassa to Santana and has lent his vocals to Three 6 Mafia. He plays guitar southpaw, despite being naturally right-handed, so he plays guitars upside down. This unorthodox style and skill has earned him fans regardless of borders or genre. And while this might have caught the eyes of the bigger brands it was Magneto Guitars who worked with Eric Gales on his first signature guitar the Raw Dog. The relationship has lasted a decade and they have recently released the RD3, Eric’s newest signature with the brand. Building off of the success of the previous models, the RD3 is a S-style featuring a basswood body, 3-piece maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard and Gotoh tremolo and tuners. They will feature new Magneto Metro-Poles EG1 pickups, single coils voiced to emphasize dynamics and midrange response. The first models will be available in Sunset Gold with a gold mirror pickguard and backplate. If you fancy yourself an Eric Gales devotee or just want something unique you can check them out at the Magneto site.
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