A Guide to Gibson Explorer Series


A Guide to Gibson Explorer Series. As one of the pioneering makers of electric guitars, Gibson threw the music industry a curveball with the introduction of the Explorer series in the late 1950s. Unconventional, cutting-edge, and teeming with personality, these guitars carved a niche for themselves among musicians seeking to break away from the individualistic Les Pauls and Stratocasters.

This deep dive unveils the allure of the Gibson Explorer Series—detailing its evolution, technical specifications, sound influence, and sustenance. It serves not just as a story of the guitar’s history, but a comprehensive guide for enthusiasts looking to master these models.

Let’s navigate through the rich heritage, impressive specs, and musical versatility of these unique instruments, and equip ourselves with the tools to maintain the allure of an Explorer.

A Guide to Gibson Explorer Series

History of Gibson Explorer Series

The Beginnings of the Gibson Explorer Series

The Gibson Explorer Series originates from the mid-20th century, during a time of cultural and musical evolution. Initially introduced in 1958, the Gibson Explorer was part of Gibson’s Modernistic line of guitars, along with its well-known counterpart, the Flying V. The unusual, futuristic design was a drastic departure from traditional guitar shapes, which was an ambitious attempt by Gibson to stay ahead of the competition.

Design Evolution Over The Years

The original 1958 model was characterized by a Korina body and neck, which had a very linear shape that reminisced of a designer’s drafting tool. The design featured a solid mahogany body and neck, a rosewood fretboard, and a set of high-output humbuckers. However, the Explorer’s unconventional look did not appeal to many guitar players initially.

In 1976, Gibson reintroduced the Explorer, altering its design to make it more palatable to the musical preferences of the decade. This included a switch to a mahogany body, a three-piece maple neck, and the addition of a pickguard.

Impact on the Music Industry

Despite its challenging start, the Gibson Explorer has become a mainstay in the music industry. Its distinct tone and natural sustain, combined with its visually striking body style captured the attention of many rock and metal musicians, due to its clear sound at high volumes and robustness.

Influential Artists and Contributions

Prominent guitarists such as The Edge from U2, James Hetfield from Metallica, and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top have used the Gibson Explorer as their instrument of choice, contributing to its popularity.

Highlighting a seamless blend of tradition and innovation, the journey of the Gibson Explorer Series serves as an exhibit of how product evolution can be successively achieved. Changes in each phase of design and function bear the mark of Gibson’s attentive response to the changing musical styles and evolving preferences of players. Thus, the path traversed by the Gibson Explorer Series memories a compelling depiction of a company daring to challenge widespread tastes while simultaneously adapting them over time.

Guide to Gibson Explorer Series

Technical Specifications of Gibson Explorer Series

An Insight into the Gibson Explorer Series

Internationally recognized for its distinctive, angled shape and its robust, edgy tone, the Gibson Explorer series constitutes a hallmark line of electric guitars. First introduced in 1958, the series has been continually produced ever since and has won the hearts of countless rock and metal musicians around the world.

Technical Specifications

The Gibson Explorer series guitars typically feature a mahogany body and neck, giving them a warm and rich tone with remarkable sustain. The body sports a distinct radical-shaped design with a gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish available in various color options including but not limited to Ebony, Antique Natural, and Classic White.

The neck profile of the Gibson Explorer is typically a “Slim Taper” design. It’s a comfortable shape that enables fast playing and easy chording. The rosewood fingerboard – featuring 22 medium jumbo frets and traditional Acrylic Dot inlays – contributes to the guitar’s warm and articulate tone.

Each Gibson Explorer comes equipped with two humbucker pickups – usually a 490R in the neck position and a 498T in the bridge position. This configuration offers a broad range of tones, from warm and smooth to aggressive and growling, suitable for a variety of music styles.

Additionally, each model utilizes a Tune-O-Matic bridge with a stop bar, enhancing the natural sustain and resonance of the guitar. Also, the use of Grover Mini Rotomatics tuners offers precision tuning stability.

Variations Within the Series

There are several variations within the Gibson Explorer series, each adding unique elements to the original design. The ’58 Explorer pays tribute to the original model with a solid mahogany body, rosewood fingerboard, and Burstbucker pickups which reproduce the sound of the original PAF pickups.

The Explorer B-2 takes on a stealthy, all-black design with Dirty Fingers + pickups, known for their high output, while the Explorer Tribute 2019 has a stripped-down aesthetic and features a pair of powerful 57 Classic and Super 57 Classic pickups.

The Gibson Explorer T is another standout in the series, featuring a pair of BurstBucker Pro pickups and delivering vintage PAF tones with upgraded reliability and output.

Understanding Key Aspects

All the Gibson Explorer models have their unique tonal character and aesthetic qualities. For instance, the ’58 Explorer may be sought after by enthusiasts looking for the vintage specification and tone, while others may prefer the more modern, aggressive sound and look of the Explorer B-2. Understanding these variations helps to appreciate why certain models may be preferable depending on individual taste and playing style.

The Gibson Explorer series has earned a prominent place in musical history. Celebrated for its intrepid design, versatile range of tones, and exceptional playability, it consistently draws interest from guitar enthusiasts. The series’ audacious aesthetics wonderfully complement its powerful tone and handling, cementing its status within Gibson’s enduring legacy.

A black Gibson Explorer electric guitar with a unique angular shape and iconic design, representing the Gibson Explorer Series.

Photo by yurii_stupen on Unsplash

Playing Techniques and Sound Influence

Diving Deeper into the Gibson Explorer Series: An Exploration of Techniques and Sound Influence

Iconic for its sharp, unique body contours, the Gibson Explorer series boasts remarkable sound versatility. With the ability to accommodate various playing styles across diverse music genres, the guitars of this series, particularly the celebrated Explorer model, stand out.

From riotous rock to menacing metal, the robust body supports genres that demand extreme palm muting and heavy riffing on the lower strings. Paradoxically, it can also channel a smooth, clean tone—using fingerpicking tactics or skillful pick play on higher strings—ideal for country, blues, or jazz musicians.

Sound output mastery largely banks on striking the perfect balance among the guitar’s volume and tone knobs and the apt usage of the pickup selector switch. The series widely employs humbucker pickups, known for neutralizing humming noises and delivering a fuller, denser sound. From carving out a robust, warm tone via the neck pickup to creating brighter or punchier outputs with the bridge pickup, the pickup selector switch plays a pivotal role in diversifying the sound.

Undeniably, the wood used in construction significantly contributes to the Gibson Explorer series’ distinctive sound. Crafted predominantly from mahogany, the bodies of these guitars aid in carving out a deeply resonant and rich tone. Given the wood’s natural tonal warmth and the guitar’s high gain potential, it’s hardly surprising to see it emerge as a preferred choice among heavy rock and metal musicians.

Exploring Notable Performers and the Legacy of the Gibson Explorer Series

Many of the world’s renowned guitarists have embraced the Gibson Explorer Series, enhancing its standing across a spectrum of genres. James Hetfield, the rhythm guitarist and vocalist of the iconic metal band Metallica, is a prominent figure among these artists.

Hetfield’s distinctive rhythm guitar technique, marked by forceful down-picking and refined palm muting, has drawn him to the Gibson Explorer. The appealing heavier tone and exceptional playability of these guitars contribute significantly to defining Metallica’s unique sound, thereby making Explorer models even more popular among heavy metal enthusiasts.

Another noteworthy musician who has preferred the Gibson Explorer is The Edge from U2, celebrated for his inventive use of effects and unique playing method. The Edge’s utilization of the Explorer, particularly during U2’s formative years, contributed to creating a unique aural flavor that became the hallmark of the band’s sound.

Unlike Hetfield, The Edge belongs to a completely different genre, yet both prolific artists manage to take full advantage of the sound versatility offered by the Explorer models in their distinguished playing styles, thus underlining the adaptability of these instruments.

Therefore, mastering the Gibson Explorer Series involves comprehending the influence of playing styles, understanding the intricacies of guitar construction, assessing sound tonalities, as well as learning to strike the perfect balance between volume and tone control. Owing to their versatility, these guitars serve a multitude of music genres, including but not limited to metal and blues, offering musicians the opportunity to create their exclusive sound signatures.

Image of a Gibson Explorer guitar, showcasing its angular body shape and iconic design.

Photo by dylu on Unsplash

Maintenance and Sustainability Tips

Taking Care of Your Gibson Explorer: Never Underestimate the Power of Regular Cleaning

Maintaining your Gibson Explorer Series guitar in pristine condition plays a key role in preserving its superb sound quality and attractive aesthetics. Dust and sweat, if left unchecked, can lead to corrosion, ultimately impacting the playability and good resonance of your guitar.

Following usage, it’s highly recommended to clean your guitar using a soft, lint-free cloth to remove sweat and deter dust accumulation. Cleaning products designed explicitly for guitars should be used for the body, neck, and headstock to ensure safety and thorough cleaning.

Maintaining Gibson Explorer String Health

Strings are integral to a guitar’s sound and proper upkeep will greatly influence its longevity and performance. When strings start to look discolored or produce a dull sound, it’s time to replace them. Regular string changes, approximately every 3-4 months, will keep your guitar sounding its best. Always remember to stretch new strings and tune them up to pitch, ensuring they seat properly and stay in tune.

Guitar Storage: Protecting Your Investment

Storage plays a critical role in preserving your Gibson Explorer guitar. Avoid extremes of temperature and humidity as these cause the wood to contract or expand leading to fret buzzing or even cracks. Store your guitar in its case when not in use, preferably in a cool, dry, and stable environment.

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Troubleshooting Gibson Explorer Issues

Guitars, like any mechanical device, may develop problems over time. Common issues include string buzzing, intonation problems, and electronics issues. Most of these can be corrected with a simple setup which includes adjusting the neck, action, pickup height, and intonation. Always refer to the Gibson owner’s manual or a professional guitar technician for proper setup procedures.

Sustainable Practices for Gibson Explorer

The sustainability of your Gibson Explorer Series involves more than just regular cleaning and maintenance. It includes using the guitar correctly and preserving its parts. Deter overly hard picking or strumming as they can bend the neck and damage the strings. Using a guitar pick rather than fingers can help reduce wear and tear on the strings. Remember to unplug the guitar after use to prolong the life of its electronics. Always handle your guitar with care as knocks or drops can cause serious damage.

Common Repairs on Gibson Explorer Series

Some common repairs like replacing strings, adjusting string action, or fixing minor electronic issues can be done at home with the right knowledge. For major issues like neck adjustments or electronic replacements, consider taking your Guitar to a certified Gibson repair center. Utilizing professional services not only guarantees quality work but also preserves the value and lifespan of your guitar.


Owning a Gibson Explorer Series guitar is a lifetime investment that requires proper care and maintenance. By adhering to these tips, you can maintain the quality, performance, and lifespan of your guitar. Whether you’re a professional musician or a hobbyist, understanding your guitar’s needs will largely contribute to an uninterrupted guitar-playing experience.

A picture of a Gibson Explorer guitar in black color, showcasing its sleek design and unique body shape.

The journey with the Gibson Explorer Series is nothing short of a thrilling ride—filled with historical significance, technical mastery, sonic versatility, and the importance of adequate maintenance. Embracing the Explorer isn’t just about acquiring a uniquely shaped guitar; it’s about embodying an attitude that celebrates originality and a daring desire to be different.

Understanding the instincts and efforts of those who crafted these stunning instruments, the ingenious design elements that went into each model, and the bigger-picture contributions of the music legends who played them, imbue us with a deeper appreciation for these axes. Remember, just as it takes years of practice to master guitar playing, maintaining an Explorer in mint condition is a matter of patience, diligence, and sustainable care. So, whether you’re an aspiring musician or an avid collector, the fascinating world of the Gibson Explorer Series always has something exciting in store.

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