Why do signature guitars keep getting released if everyone hates them?
You can squarely place the blame on Fender for this one.
Above is the Premium Steve Vai Signature Series 7-String. What's so "premium" about it? I've no idea. But it has Vai's name on it. This guitar is obviously not the first signature series, and if you were to look back to where this all started, it began with Fender with their Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster. After Fender started doing it, everyone started doing it.
Do signature guitars sell?
This is the part that makes everyone cringe. Yes, they do. And in fact, they serve not one but several purposes.
First is star power. A known artist's name brings attention to the product, that being the guitar.
Second is brand power. Star power + known guitar maker = easy sell.
Third is brand awareness. People may know the artist but not the brand of guitar, but when they see their favorite artist on a specific brand of guitar, that makes the guitar more desirable and sells better. It also helps sell regular run models that look similar to the signature series guitar.
Fourth is an easy paycheck for the artist. You've seen signature guitars aplenty from artists who haven't released so much as a single song in years or possibly decades - yet there are still new guitars with their name on it. You're seeing the reverse of brand awareness at that point. Originally, the brand approached the artist so they could sell more guitars. Now, the brand actually supports the artist financially, so instead of artist bringing awareness to the brand, it's the brand bringing awareness to the artist. And as long as that artist's name continues to sell guitars, the brand will continue to use the name.
A really ugly side of the guitar business
If the guitar business had any respect for artists at all, they would cease producing guitars with that artist's name on them when that player dies. But there's no respect for the dead in the guitar biz. None at all.
What occurs is that when an artist shuffles off his mortal coil, it's usually true the family estate takes over. And since those running the estate appreciate being paid like anyone else, they will happily continue a licensing agreement with the guitar maker to keep getting paid.
The guitar maker could, if they wanted to, cease the agreement out of respect for the artist. Does that happen? Never. Gotta get paid!
As the old saying goes, nothing sells like a dead rock star.
Are signature guitars any good?
There are some signature guitars out there that actually are genuinely good. Here are a few of them.
Squier Simon Neil Stratocaster
This is a Classic Vibe '60s Squier Strat. The CV is already a great guitar on its own. What makes this one different is the one thing you can't get on a CV '60s, that being a Fiesta Red color option. This guitar has it, while the regular '60s has Candy Apple Red. And what's even better is that you don't have to pay extra for it, as it's the same price as a regular run CV '60s. So if you gotta have that Fiesta Red on a great Strat guitar, this is worth getting.
For Jag fans, this is "the Jaguar that should have been," except they don't have to dream about it, because it exists and you can buy it right now.
Basically put, this is a hot-rodded Jag. Gone are the toggle switches on the bottom horn and replaced with a blade selector, top horn switching redone and well as other goodies. Compared to most signature guitars which are name-only with very minor changes, this Jag absolutely has had some major mods done to it. These mods are not only tastefully done, but also benefit the player.
Ibanez NDM3 "Noodles" Wasserman
This guitar is dripping with cool. Very unique, wonderful look, tasteful design, packed with a pair of single-coil pickups and a genuine twang monster. Fixed bridge and straight strings after the nut means this this will stay in tune and you can wail on it all you want.
The NDM3 is just a great design. Stupidly easy to string up, stupidly easy to play, and the best part is that it's for anyone young or old. For what it is, the price isn't too bad, either.
Dean Michael Schenker Kaleidoscope
I know, I know... this guitar is not everyone's preferred look. But then again, that's the whole point of this guitar.
If you want the absolute easiest way to get noticed with whatever band you are in, this guitar will do it. Not only that, but nobody will be able to copy your guitar's look either unless they buy one of the exact same kind.
You will be known as "that guy with the crazy-looking guitar." And that's not a bad thing. Even if you're not in a band and just post videos on YouTube, you'll get noticed when playing this thing.
Basically, this is just your standard hardtail V-style guitar with a wild finish on it. It's an easy player and priced well.
Squier Avril Lavigne Telecaster
I'll end this with the cheapest signature guitar I know of that's worth owning, the Avril Lavigne Telecaster.
Yes, this is marketed as a "girl's guitar," although it is an adult-sized Tele. What makes this guitar worth owning is that it has mods in it that are actually pretty nice. This is a guitar with a single humbucker and one master volume knob. The output jack is actually mounted directly on the control plate, making it really easy to snake a guitar cable through a guitar strap compared to the typical bottom-mounted jack on a regular Tele. The 3-position blade switches the humbucker from rear-coil to full humbucker to front coil. The tuners are in fact die-cast and are pretty nice for what this sells for.
And last but not least, the checkerboard pick guard is sure to grab attention. You won't miss the fact this guitar doesn't have a neck-side pickup, because it's meant to just plug in, go and wail on it. This is a guitar you can play while literally jumping around and you don't have to care because there's nothing getting in the way of your playing.
Squier should, in all honesty, release a non-Avril version of this, such as one with a plain pick guard and neck with dot markers on the fret board (don't worry, there are markers at the top of the neck so you know where you are.) There are plenty of Tele players who would genuinely appreciate the factory mods done to this guitar.
One last thing about the Avril Tele. I guarantee that unless your friends very specifically know the Squier model lineup, they won't know it's an Avril signature model. But even if they do find out, who cares? It's cheap, it's got good usable mods in it, it's ready-to-play and you can beat the crap out of it without worry. Sounds like a winner to me.