The Signature Models We Want to See

Left: Carol Kaye, 1970. Michael Orchs Archives, Getty Images.
Center: Frances Carroll & Her Coquettes Featuring Drummer Viola Smith Live 1939.
Right: Sister Rosetta Tharpe "Didn't It Rain?" Live 1964.

Some artists are so closely associated with their instruments of choice that the combination becomes iconic: Bob Marley and his Les Paul Special, Mary Kaye and her Blonde Stratocaster, or Thundercat and his 6-String Ibanez Bass. Often, brands from Fender to Ludwig will work with artists or artists' estates to turn these instantly identifiable instruments into signature models.

This signature gear honors a musician's artistry, gives fans a chance to own an instrument with the artist's own specs or modifications, and can even become so popular that it grows beyond the association with any one player and becomes part of the musical instruments lexicon. For example, say, the Gibson Les Paul.

Many influential women in music have collaborated on signature models, especially in recent years, like Ibanez's Yvette Young YY10, Blackstar's Carmen Vanderberg CV30, Ernie Ball Music Man's St. Vincent Signature, and Fender's H.E.R. Stratocaster and Billie Eilish Ukulele.

But there are many other influential women from music's past and present who have had close associations with particular instruments but so far have not received the signature model treatment. So we're thinking of some of our favorites, and imagining the signature models that could be.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe with the Gibson SG Custom
Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing "Didn't It Rain?," live 1964
Sister Rosetta Tharpe's
Gibson SG Custom

Think of a three-pickup SG Custom and there's a good chance you're picturing it in Rosetta Tharpe's hands. While she played numerous guitars throughout her career, pictures and videos of her early-'60s performances have created a strong bond between the godmother of rock 'n' roll and the devil-horned rock machine. A period-correct SG Custom with the sideways Vibrola and gold hardware in that regal white finish? That would be a great signature guitar.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe with the Gibson SG Custom
Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing "Didn't It Rain?," live 1964
Sister Rosetta Tharpe's
Gibson SG Custom

Think of a three-pickup SG Custom and there's a good chance you're picturing it in Rosetta Tharpe's hands. While she played numerous guitars throughout her career, pictures and videos of her early-'60s performances have created a strong bond between the godmother of rock 'n' roll and the devil-horned rock machine. A period-correct SG Custom with the sideways Vibrola and gold hardware in that regal white finish? That would be a great signature guitar.

Tina Weymouth's
Hofner 500/2 Club Bass

Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club could truly have several signature models: the racing stripe Fender Mustang Bass, Musicmaster Bass, or others in her arsenal. But the Hofner 500/2 Club Bass—which she first bought in 1977, used on many Talking Heads records, and played during some of the funkiest moments of the Stop Making Sense concert doc—is perhaps the top contender. Maybe Hofner could even include a strip of gaffers tape as case candy.

Tina Weymouth with the Hofner 500/2 Club Bass
Tina Weymouth, 1980. Michael Orchs Archives, Getty Images.
Tina Weymouth with the Hofner 500/2 Club Bass
Tina Weymouth, 1980. Michael Orchs Archives, Getty Images.
Tina Weymouth's
Hofner 500/2 Club Bass

Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club could truly have several signature models: the racing stripe Fender Mustang Bass, Musicmaster Bass, or others in her arsenal. But the Hofner 500/2 Club Bass—which she first bought in 1977, used on many Talking Heads records, and played during some of the funkiest moments of the Stop Making Sense concert doc—is perhaps the top contender. Maybe Hofner could even include a strip of gaffers tape as case candy.

Wendy Carlos with the Moog Minimoog
Wendy Carlos, 1979. Photo via Moog.
Wendy Carlos'
Moog Minimoog

Wendy Carlos' first Moog system was custom-built, "a gorgeous walnut cabinet with many additional adjunct devices and wiring," she later wrote. Carlos used this early Moog to create Switched-On Bach, the overnight sensation that propelled synthesizers—and Moog synths in particular—into the public eye. While it would be unwieldy to recreate Carlos' entire system from that time, maybe a new walnut-encased Minimoog reissue could come with some Carlos-inspired appointments, or a book of patches in the style of Carlos' classic works. In the same way Moog has recently released the Claravox theremin for Clara Rockmore, a Minimoog (or, truly, any Moog) for Carlos could honor one of the primary pioneers of electronic music.

Wendy Carlos with the Moog Minimoog
Wendy Carlos, 1979. Photo via Moog.
Wendy Carlos'
Moog Minimoog

Wendy Carlos' first Moog system was custom-built, "a gorgeous walnut cabinet with many additional adjunct devices and wiring," she later wrote. Carlos used this early Moog to create Switched-On Bach, the overnight sensation that propelled synthesizers—and Moog synths in particular—into the public eye. While it would be unwieldy to recreate Carlos' entire system from that time, maybe a new walnut-encased Minimoog reissue could come with some Carlos-inspired appointments, or a book of patches in the style of Carlos' classic works. In the same way Moog has recently released the Claravox theremin for Clara Rockmore, a Minimoog (or, truly, any Moog) for Carlos could honor one of the primary pioneers of electronic music.

Viola Smith's
Elevated Toms

12 drums, 13 drums, 17 drums—Viola Smith had a penchant for multi-shell setups. The jazz drummer, who rose to fame in the 1930s with her swinging big band and passed away in 2020 at the age of 107, was the first female drumming star. As a longtime WFL and Ludwig artist, she stood out in a roster otherwise full of men. And with her trademark setup of two 16-inch floor toms decidedly not on the floor, she was bound to stand out on any stage. While there's not much of a market for super-sized drum kits these days, a pair of 16-inch floor toms—with expandable stands—would make a fitting tribute.

Viola Smith with the WFL/Ludwig Toms
Frances Carroll & Her Coquettes, featuring drummer Viola Smith, live 1939
Viola Smith with the WFL/Ludwig Toms
Frances Carroll & Her Coquettes, featuring drummer Viola Smith, live 1939
Viola Smith's
Elevated Toms

12 drums, 13 drums, 17 drums—Viola Smith had a penchant for multi-shell setups. The jazz drummer, who rose to fame in the 1930s with her swinging big band and passed away in 2020 at the age of 107, was the first female drumming star. As a longtime WFL and Ludwig artist, she stood out in a roster otherwise full of men. And with her trademark setup of 16-inch floor toms decidedly not on the floor, she was bound to stand out on any stage. While there's not much of a market for super-sized drum kits these days, a pair of 16-inch floor toms—with expandable stands—would make a fitting tribute.

Jlin with the Native Instruments Maschine
Jlin, 2019. Drew Gurian, Red Bull Content Pool.
Jlin's
Native Instruments Maschine

Back in 2016, Jlin selected percussion sounds for Native Instruments' Komplete Sketches series. Her ear for Cuban timbales, West African djembes, and other hits created an evocative collection that could be used in NI's software suite. The producer's imaginative sonics and elastic rhythms have resulted in a uniquely boundless discography, from footwork beats to her choreography score with Wayne McGregor. Which got us to thinking… Could Jlin and NI team up again, but this time with a full firmware takeover of the Maschine+, akin to Novation's Aphex Twin collaboration, the AFX Station?

Jlin with the Native Instruments Maschine
Jlin, 2019. Drew Gurian, Red Bull Content Pool.
Jlin's
Native Instruments Maschine

Back in 2016, Jlin selected percussion sounds for Native Instruments' Komplete Sketches series. Her ear for Cuban timbales, West African djembes, and other hits created an evocative collection that could be used in NI's software suite. The producer's imaginative sonics and elastic rhythms have resulted in a uniquely boundless discography, from footwork beats to her choreography score with Wayne McGregor. Which got us to thinking… Could Jlin and NI team up again, but this time with a full firmware takeover of the Maschine+, akin to Novation's Aphex Twin collaboration, the AFX Station?

Carol Kaye’s
Fender Precision Bass

No one besides Motown's James Jamerson has contributed more to how the electric bass is heard and played than Carol Kaye. The first-call session musician and "Wrecking Crew" member contributed basslines to an unbelievable amount of pop hits and film soundtracks. In the '60s, on sessions for The Beach Boys, Ike & Tina Turner, Simon & Garfunkel, and more, the muted and picked tone she got on her Fender Precision Bass filled the country's radio airwaves. Known for using a piece of felt at the bridge and placing her own shim under the neck, her P-Bass wasn't far from stock. But collaborating on a signature model that feels exactly right for her would surely feel right in other player's hands too.

Carol Kaye with the Fender Precision Bass
Carol Kaye, 1970. Michael Orchs Archives, Getty Images.
Carol Kaye with the Fender Precision Bass
Carol Kaye, 1970. Michael Orchs Archives, Getty Images.
Carol Kaye’s
Fender Precision Bass

No one besides Motown's James Jamerson has contributed more to how the electric bass is heard and played than Carol Kaye. The first-call session musician and "Wrecking Crew" member contributed basslines to an unbelievable amount of pop hits and film soundtracks. In the '60s, on sessions for The Beach Boys, Ike & Tina Turner, Simon & Garfunkel, and more, the muted and picked tone she got on her Fender Precision Bass filled the country's radio airwaves. Known for using a piece of felt at the bridge and placing her own shim under the neck, her P-Bass wasn't far from stock. But collaborating on a signature model that feels exactly right for her would surely feel right in other player's hands too.

Lianne La Havas with the Harmony Stratotone
Lianne La Havas, 2017. Rich Polk, Getty Images.
Lianne La Havas'
Harmony Stratotone

When Lianne La Havas was making her third, self-titled album, she gravitated toward a vintage Stratotone. She told Guitar.com, "I was immediately familiar with it when I bought it. It felt like it had been mine for a really long time, and I didn’t know that an instrument could feel like that." That feeling is all one can ask for when looking for an instrument, and her 1964 Harmony is just the type of vibey, vintage guitar you can still find for a steal. But recent years have seen a full relaunch of the Harmony brand, which is once again making new models of retro favorites like the Juno and the Stratotone-like Jupiter. A Lianne La Havas Signature Stratotone could re-introduce the guitar to a new generation of players.

Lianne La Havas with the Harmony Stratotone
Lianne La Havas, 2017. Rich Polk, Getty Images.
Lianne La Havas'
Harmony Stratotone

When Lianne La Havas was making her third, self-titled album, she gravitated toward a vintage Stratotone. She told Guitar.com, "I was immediately familiar with it when I bought it. It felt like it had been mine for a really long time, and I didn’t know that an instrument could feel like that." That feeling is all one can ask for when looking for an instrument, and her 1964 Harmony is just the type of vibey, vintage guitar you can still find for a steal. But recent years have seen a full relaunch of the Harmony brand, which is once again making new models of retro favorites like the Juno and the Stratotone-like Jupiter. A Lianne La Havas Signature Stratotone could re-introduce the guitar to a new generation of players.

Laura Jane Grace's
"Darth Vader" Rickenbacker 370

Laura Jane Grace is a Rickenbacker superfan. But in a collection of mean-looking Ricks, one in particular is the meanest-looking of them all. She calls this Rickenbacker 370 "Darth Vader," and it's easy to see why. Unlike other 370s, which sport the standard white pickguard and chrome-topped knobs, hers has a blackguard and black knobs on a fully black finish. One last modification—a Mastery bridge in place of the stock Rickenbacker—offers tuning stability, even amid Against Me's punk assault. A production-run signature model of Darth Vader would be sick, and its sleek, mean look could appeal to any number of other punks and aggressive players.

Laura Jane Grace with the Darth Vader Rickenbacker 370
Laura Jane Grace, 2012. Eddy BERTHIER, Wikimedia Commons.
Laura Jane Grace with the Darth Vader Rickenbacker 370
Laura Jane Grace, 2012. Eddy BERTHIER, Wikimedia Commons.
Laura Jane Grace's
"Darth Vader" Rickenbacker 370

Laura Jane Grace is a Rickenbacker superfan. But in a collection of mean-looking Ricks, one in particular is the meanest-looking of them all. She calls this Rickenbacker 370 "Darth Vader," and it's easy to see why. Unlike other 370s, which sport the standard white pickguard and chrome-topped knobs, hers has a blackguard and black knobs on a fully black finish. One last modification—a Mastery bridge in place of the stock Rickenbacker—offers tuning stability, even amid Against Me's punk assault. A production-run signature model of Darth Vader would be sick, and its sleek, mean look could appeal to any number of other punks and aggressive players.

Joni Mitchell with the Martin D-28
Joni Mitchell, 1974. Paul C. Babin, Wikimedia Commons.
Joni Mitchell's
Martin D-28

The Martin D-28 is a classic acoustic, and in the hands of Joni Mitchell, it was a vessel for her rarefied songwriting and alternate tunings. The story behind her particular 1956 D-28 was that she received it as a gift from a Marine in 1966. When he was in Vietnam, it survived an explosion that ruined the rest of his belongings. Mitchell used the D-28 on all of her early records and later wondered to Acoustic Guitar if "the explosion did something to the modules in the wood" that bestowed its special sound. Unfortunately, the guitar was stolen in the '70s, and, while she has replaced it, she said she's never found another that compares. Could Martin work with her to create a signature D-28 that would?

Joni Mitchell with the Martin D-28
Joni Mitchell, 1974. Paul C. Babin, Wikimedia Commons.
Joni Mitchell's
Martin D-28

The Martin D-28 is a classic acoustic, and in the hands of Joni Mitchell, it was a vessel for her rarefied songwriting and alternate tunings. The story behind her particular 1956 D-28 was that she received it as a gift from a Marine in 1966. When he was in Vietnam, it survived an explosion that ruined the rest of his belongings. Mitchell used the D-28 on all of her early records and later wondered to Acoustic Guitar if "the explosion did something to the modules in the wood" that bestowed its special sound. Unfortunately, the guitar was stolen in the '70s, and, while she has replaced it, she said she's never found another that compares. Could Martin work with her to create a signature D-28 that would?

Possibilities Are Endless

While we've thought up these particular signature models above, there is really no end to worthy contenders. Just in the bass-playing world alone, Kim Gordon, Gail Ann Dorsey, Esperanza Spalding, Kim Deal, and Laura Lee could have killer signature basses. Could Sennheiser make a witchy Stevie Nicks 441? What next-level instruments could Holly Herndon or Björk create with a manufacturer willing to give them free reign?

Earlier this month, we asked Reverb’s social media community what signature model they'd like to see, and we got too many great responses to list in full. They included: Bilinda Butcher's Mustang with the Jazzmaster tremolo, Gail Ann Dorsey's Jazz Bass, Meg White's red-and-white drum kit, Poison Ivy Rorschach's Gretsch 6120, Phoebe Bridgers' Danelectro, and Memphis Minnie's National.

The possibilities are truly endless, and, if the responses we received on social media are any indication, there's a large desire to see more signature models for women artists put into production.

Building a More Inclusive Future
Building a More Inclusive Future

In January of 2020, Spotify sponsored a study conducted by USC Annenberg titled "Inclusion in the Recording Studio? Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Artists, Songwriters & Producers across 800 Popular Songs from 2012-2019." It found that though women in music are gaining ground, male artists outnumbered women 3.6 to 1. The ratio of male to female producers across 500 popular songs was 37 to 1. Averaging data from the length of the study, only 12.5% of songwriters were women.

With numbers this low, is it a surprise we don’t see more women’s signature models at our local music stores? What steps can we take to build a more diverse industry where well-deserved signature models aren’t just a dream but a reality? How can we contribute to an inclusive environment that leads to a future full of signature models like the ones above?

To start, youth music education organizations like Willie Mae Future Sounds, countless Girls Rock camps across the globe, Chicxs Rockerxs Southeast LA, the NVAK Foundation, and Women’s Audio Mission, are actively providing young women with the guidance they need to envision themselves in the roles needed to break the mold. With the help of grants from Reverb Gives, they’re also getting the gear they need to make music.

After conducting their own study in 2018, Fender found that over 45% of new guitar purchases were driven by women and are taking steps to introduce more women’s signature models than they ever have before. An encouraging stat as we look toward the future paired with thoughtful action to help ensure more women players feel represented in guitar.

Learning how you can help support organizations like these in your own community helps immensely. Mentorship, being vocal about who you’d like to see represented by the gear companies you love, and uplifting women artists not just in March, but always, goes a long way. Maybe, with your help, we’ll start seeing some of these ideas, or even your own, come to life.

Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Dr. Katherine Pieper, Hannah Clark, Ariana Case & Marc Choueiti "Inclusion in the Recording Studio? Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Artists, Songwriters & Producers across 800 Popular Songs from 2012-2019," January 2020.
A portion of every sale on Reverb supports youth music education programs.
Learn more about Reverb Gives
A portion of every sale on Reverb supports youth music education programs.
Learn more about Reverb Gives
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