Posted by: kubiakl | February 17, 2009

Signature Guitars

Generally I don’t seriously look at signature guitars.  They’re fun to pick up and fool around with but the idea of dropping extra money because it looks kinda like the guitar somebody played seems a little ricockulous.  I can think of two exceptions to this rule: Eric Johnson’s signature Strat, and John Lennon’s signature Epiphone, the EJ-160E.

I’ll start with the one I encountered this weekend, the EJ-160E:


The first thing that should leap out at you are the two golden knobs near the bottom of the guitar.  Most acoustic-electric guitars have a hidden equalizer panel on the top side of the guitar with slider controls for volume, bass, treble, mids, etc..  On the John Lennon model you have two knobs – volume and tone.  It’s similar to a single pickup electric guitar.  In fact the knobs on my semi-hollow body Epiphone Dot are the same style.  These control the mini-humbucker pickup that is sandwiched between the neck and the soundhole.

I didn’t get the chance to plug it in, so I can’t really comment on how the guitar sounds electrified.  But it sure does look cool.  I also like the stylish trapezoid inlays on the neck and Kluson style tuners with green buttons.

What really impressed me was the unplugged sound and the playability.  The action was consistent down the neck, and the neck profile fit very comfortably in my hands.  Notes didn’t fret out when bent and the intonation (tuning consistency down the neck) sounded right on.  It has a 25.5″ scale and the nut width is 1.725″, so string spacing is fairly close.  And the sound… the sound was just beautiful.  The guitar has a solid spruce top paired with mahogany back and sides which is a good combination.  The brightness of spruce is mellowed by the mahogany.  When strummed or fingerpicked, all the strings had a balanced tone and volume.  Single note lines also came across well.  I would say it’s less of a lead guitar though, and would recommend it for a rhythm guitarist or a solo musician who plays lead and rhythm.

I didn’t buy it because it’s fairly similar to my Epiphone Masterbilt (both are slope shouldered dreadnoughts with spruce tops and mahogany back and sides), but if I was shopping for a dreadnought I would give it some serious consideration.  Out of all the guitars I picked up that day (most were OMs, but there were a few other high end dreads) it held my attention the longest.  Even compared to expensive high-end guitars it held its own, and the model I found was right under $500.

The Eric Johnson signature Strat is one that I haven’t come across, but I’ve read quite a bit about.  Knowing how much control EJ takes over everything with his name on it and hearing about the specs makes me want to give it a test run:


It looks almost exactly like my Fender American Standard Strat – a sunburst body with a maple fingerboard.  The differences are what you can’t see.  The body is finished with a very thin nitrocellulose laquer to allow the wood to resonate more freely.  The neck has a V-shaped profile with a 12″ radius, so it is not as “squashed” as vintage Strats tend to be.  Most of the appointments are based on EJ’s ’57 Strat, like the tremelo recess and the 1-ply pickguard.

The two major components are the pickups and the headstock.  The pickups went through 19 different prototypes before Johnson was satisfied with the sound.  The tuning machines are staggered to eliminate the need for string trees (they’re the two little metal posts that most Strats have on the headstock, the top four strings run underneath them).

An impressive finishing touch is modesty – the only place you’ll find EJ’s signature is on the base plate of the neck, on the back of the guitar.  Even then all you see are the initials EJ.  Maybe this is just me being weird but it seems like this makes the guitar less of a vanity piece and more of a real player’s guitar.  You’re not paying for the name, you’re paying for the upgrades that the Tone King himself thought up.

And even with all these special appointments it’s still less than most Fender Custom Shop models.

If you’ve played either of these guitars and have an opinion I’d love to hear about it!


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