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What have John Mayer, Roy Smeck, Jimmy Page and Rob Chapman got in common? They’ve all played guitars with their name on them. Here, we chart the history of over a century of signature models, from guitars for vaudeville stars in grainy black and white, to YouTube phenoms with the machinery of a whole brand powering every streaming pixel…

Who was the first guitarist awarded a signature-model electric? Before we get into that question, we ought to decide what we mean by a signature guitar.

Sometimes known as an artist model, this is an instrument that bears the name of a well-known musician, usually alongside a popular brand name, offering some kind of connection to a guitar that this particular guitarist is known to play, manufactured as a production item and offered for sale to the public.

Which takes us back to that opening question. Who came first? There are 19th-century examples of what we might loosely call signature guitars, when some enterprising teachers had the commercial idea of buying in guitars, signing the labels, and selling them on to eager pupils who wanted an affordable axe with a hint of the teacher’s magic.

From the outset, guitar companies cottoned on to the fact that stars sell guitars – and none have proved more popular or enduring than that of Les Paul, whose first signature model debuted in 1952
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