Thursday, August 1, 2013

2010 Gibson Explorer Electric Guitar Review

Hi there!

There is a general consensus in the rock world that the Les Paul is the ne plus ultra of the Gibson electric guitars. But for me, I always preferred SGs as I think they sound better and play smoother with less of a weight penalty. That is, until I finally got an Explorer.

Gibson launched the Explorer model in 1958, and their goal for this and the Flying V (introduced the same year) was to push the envelope and put forth a space-age design. They hit the mark, in my opinion.

Consumers did not agree, and the Explorer was discontinued in 1963, only to be introduced again in 1976 when Gibson saw that other manufacturers (especially Hamer) were successfully selling their design. It became an iconic instrument for hard rock and heavy metal guitarists, with James Hetfield from Metallica being the most famous.

There have been quite a few changes over the years, but we are going to focus on the here and now as today we are looking at my 2010 Gibson Explorer.

We had better start with the body, which is a humongous slab of mahogany. It has a truly bizarre shape with a long lower fin and no forearm or belly contours. This one is covered in a glossy coat of Ebony, which is thin enough that you can see the pockmarks of the grain. These guitars are also available in Cherry or Classic White. I think that Ebony looks the best on this body shape. All of the colors come with a three-layer white pickguard.

It is loaded up with a 596R neck pickup and a 500T bridge pickup, neither of which have covers. It is wired more simply than a Les Paul with two volume knobs, a tone knob and a 3-way pickup selector toggle. By the way, it has speed knobs, which have always been my favorite look. The electronics are accessed through a plastic cavity cover on the back of the guitar.

The Explorer has a slim profile set neck, which is made of mahogany with a rosewood fretboard. I hear that Gibson is now using granadillo for fretboards, which is a green ebony that comes from trees in West India. No comment.

There are 22 frets and some pearloid dot inlays sunk into the fretboard. There is no binding to be found, either on the neck or the body. The Corian nut is the Gibson standard 1.695” width.

The pointy (and perfectly chip-able) headstock has the Gibson logo inlaid into the tip, and has the classic bell-shaped truss rod cover. There are chrome plated mini Grover tuners, which match the stop bar tailpiece and Tune-O-Matic bridge.

The Gibson Explorer comes in quite a bit cheaper than its Les Paul cousins, with a list price of $2399, and a street price of $1399, which includes one of the biggest hardshell cases I have ever seen. It is covered with lizard texture Tolex and lined with bright white fur! I’m in love!

I found this one at my local Best Buy with plenty of shop wear, but at a stupidly cheap price (under $500, including tax and the original hard case and paperwork). They slashed prices when they shut down the music departments in their stores this past spring, so I stocked up on instruments to pull down some extra cash.

But, after a quick and dirty set-up I forgot any ideas I had of flipping this guitar to make a few hundred bucks. This thing plays incredibly, and sounds beautiful! The pickups are terrific for rock or metal, though they are lacking in pure clean tones. Combining this with that big chunk of mahogany equals a super fat tone. It is a grinding and distortion machine.

The neck is a departure from many modern-day Gibson, in that the frets are level and the intonation is great. I know they say that all of the instruments that come out of Nashville are Plek’d, and if this is so than I have no respect for the Plek process. Almost all new Gibson solid body guitars play like crap right out of the box, and require extensive work to reach their full potential. I am glad that this one is an exception.

Ergonomically, it can be a bit tricky, depending on your playing style. The body is big, and I have heard some players complain that the huge lower fin gets in the way of their forearm when playing. I have not run into any trouble with this, so maybe I hold the guitar differently than they do. In mitigation of any ergonomic issues, this Explorer weighs around 9 pounds, which is way lighter than most of the Les Pauls I have ever owned.

Anyway, this guitar will not look quite like this anymore. One of my very good friends is an artist with a tremendous sense of style, and I have given him this guitar as a blank canvas to do with as he wishes. I look forward to sharing the results with you!



  1. Nice. I missed the Best Buy blowout.

    -Eric H

  2. Oh, boy. I am interested to see what the artist comes up with. Me, I only do Rickenbackers!

  3. Me too, Corey. I can only hope it is half as cool as the Rick you did for Jack!

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  6. It's a bitch to move around (more like carrying a Fender Rhodes than a guitar!), but the 2010 Explorer is an amazing rock or blues guitar, outfitted with the perfect pickups. I always regretted trading in my 70's Explorer back in the day - don't get me started on my many sacrifices to the gods of bad trade in decisions when I was young and stupid (now I'm just stupid) - and wasn't even guitar shopping when I took one off the rack to test drive an amp I was buying. Plays so easily and is a monster, driven or clean. It's in my top 3 pieces out of my 17 guitar collection. I thought I did well getting it for $1k about 2 years ago. You should be put in shackles for only paying $500 for yours! Of all the things that have changed in my 40+ years of playing, one if the most shocking is that decent guitars these days seem to start at about $1k. You can't get an average Epi for $500 anymore. Well done. To any rockers out there, if you find one of these for $1500 or less, buy it. You will never regret it.