The Gibson Experience: The Explorer and Flying V


The Gibson Experience: Exploring the Different Guitar Series and Models (Part4, The Explorer and Flying V)

The Explorer and Flying V – Unconventional Designs that Redefined Rock

In electric guitars, specific iconic models have pushed the boundaries of design, defying convention and becoming synonymous with the rebellious spirit of rock music. The Gibson Explorer and Flying V stand out among these trailblazing instruments as bold and unconventional masterpieces. This article delves into the origins, unique features, and enduring legacies of these legendary models that continue to captivate guitarists and enthusiasts alike.

The Gibson Explorer: Unleashing a Futuristic Sonic Assault

When the Gibson Explorer was introduced in 1958, its radical body shape and avant-garde design sparked immediate controversy. It departed from the traditional contours of a guitar, embracing a sleek, angular outline that seemed more at home in science fiction than on stage. Marketed as the “Futura” upon its release, the Explorer initially failed to find a receptive audience, leading to its discontinuation in 1959.

However, the guitar’s distinctive appearance and powerful tone eventually attracted the attention of pioneering guitarists, most notably the likes of Allen Collins, Dave Davies, and later James Hetfield of Metallica. With its elongated upper and lower bouts, the Explorer offers excellent balance and access to higher frets, making it an instrument capable of delivering blistering solos and hard-hitting rhythms.

The Explorer’s construction follows Gibson’s tradition of employing high-quality tonewoods. Typically crafted with a mahogany body, the guitar is renowned for its resonant, warm tones, enhanced by its set-neck construction. Combining a mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard contributes to the guitar’s exceptional sustain and smooth playability.

The guitar’s electronics play a vital role in shaping its sound. The Explorer often features two high-output humbuckers, such as Gibson’s 498T and 496R pickups. This configuration allows for a wide tonal range, producing rich, harmonically complex sounds. The Explorer’s aggressive aesthetics are matched by its formidable sonic prowess, making it an ideal choice for hard rock, heavy metal, and alternative styles.

The Flying V: Soaring to New Heights of Innovation

Introduced alongside the Explorer in 1958, the Gibson Flying V presented an even more audacious departure from traditional guitar designs. Its V-shaped body, with its strikingly sharp angles, challenged the conventional notion of what a guitar should look like. Like the Explorer, the Flying V faced initial rejection and ceased production in 1959.

Like its counterpart, the Flying V found its resurgence in the 1960s and beyond, championed by influential guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, and Randy Rhoads. The guitar’s bold silhouette and eye-catching aesthetics inspire musicians to seek an instrument that exudes power and individuality.

The Flying V’s construction mirrors the Explorer, employing premium tonewoods such as mahogany for the body and neck, enhancing its sustain and resonance. The sleek, elongated design provides remarkable upper fret access, allowing guitarists to explore the entire range easily.

Sonically, the Flying V delivers a versatile tonal palette thanks to its dual humbucking pickups, which can vary depending on the model. For instance, the combination of Gibson’s classic ’57 Classic pickups offers a warm, vintage sound with ample output. In contrast, the ‘Dirty Fingers’ pickups produce a high output and aggressive tone suitable for modern rock and metal genres. The Flying V’s exceptional playability and distinctive voice make it an ideal choice for guitarists seeking to make a powerful sonic statement.

The Gibson Explorer and Flying V have left an indelible mark on the history of electric guitars. These iconic models challenged convention with their unconventional designs, pushing the boundaries of aesthetics and functionality. Despite initial skepticism, they found their place in the hands of pioneering guitarists, and their influence continues to resonate to this day. With their striking looks, exceptional playability, and distinctive tones, the Explorer and Flying V stand as testaments to the spirit of innovation and artistic expression in the world of guitar manufacturing.

The impact on the sound and aesthetics of heavy metal and hard rock.

The Explorer and Flying V guitar models from Gibson have undeniably left an indelible mark on heavy metal and complex rock music. These iconic instruments have shaped the sonic landscape of these genres and become synonymous with their aggressive and rebellious aesthetics. In this section, we will explore the impact of the Explorer and Flying V guitars on the sound and aesthetics of heavy metal and hard rock, exploring their unique features and the influential players who have wielded them.

Sound-wise, the Explorer and Flying V guitars have played a pivotal role in defining the aggressive and assertive tones characteristic of heavy metal and complex rock music. Their solid-body construction and dual humbucking pickups deliver a thick, heavy sound with plenty of sustain.

The use of mahogany as the primary tonewood further enhances the guitars’ rich and warm tone, adding depth and resonance to the sound. These guitars are known for producing crushing rhythm and searing lead tones, perfect for the high-gain distortion and extended soloing prevalent in heavy metal and hard rock.

One of the notable features of the Explorer and Flying V guitars is their distinctive body shapes. The Explorer boasts an asymmetrical design with its angular and aggressive lines. At the same time, the Flying V takes on a more futuristic and avant-garde appearance, resembling the shape of its namesake. These unconventional designs were initially met with skepticism but quickly became icons of rebellion and non-conformity within the music community. Their bold and edgy aesthetics perfectly complement the aggressive nature of heavy metal and hard rock, making them visually striking instruments that instantly command attention on stage.

When discussing the impact of the Explorer and Flying V guitars on heavy metal and hard rock, it is impossible to overlook the influential players who have embraced these instruments and helped solidify their place in the genre’s history. Guitarists like James Hetfield of Metallica and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth are synonymous with the Explorer. Their aggressive tone and appearance create iconic heavy metal riffs and solos. Similarly, guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix, Michael Schenker, and Kirk Hammett have wielded the Flying V, each pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with the instrument’s unique design.

The impact of the Explorer and Flying V guitars extends beyond their sound and aesthetics; they have also influenced the development of guitar-playing techniques in heavy metal and hard rock. These guitars’ unconventional body shapes and weight distribution have forced players to adapt their playing styles, resulting in new approaches and techniques. For example, the Explorer’s angular body encourages players to explore different playing positions and facilitates access to the higher frets, facilitating intricate lead playing and shredding. The Flying V’s V-shaped design often necessitates a modified playing posture, challenging guitarists to experiment with new ways of navigating the instrument.

The Explorer and Flying V guitars have indelibly impacted the sound and aesthetics of heavy metal and hard rock. Their assertive and aggressive tones, combined with their visually striking designs, have helped shape the sonic landscape of these genres. Moreover, the influential players who have wielded these instruments have further solidified their place in the pantheon of rock and metal music. The Explorer and Flying V guitars inspire generations of guitarists, pushing the boundaries of what is possible and adding a dose of rebellion and edginess to the music world.

These are the unique features and tonal characteristics of Explorer and Flying V guitars.

The Gibson Explorer and Flying V guitars are iconic instruments that have left an indelible mark on electric guitars. Introduced in the late 1950s, these models represented a radical departure from traditional guitar designs due to their striking visual aesthetics and tonal capabilities. This section will delve into the unique features and tonal characteristics that make the Explorer and Flying V guitars stand out.

Explorer Guitar

With its angular and futuristic design, the Gibson Explorer was initially met with mixed reactions upon its release in 1958. However, it has become a beloved instrument cherished by many guitarists across various genres. Here are some of the notable features that contribute to its distinctive character:

  1. Body Shape: The Explorer features a highly angular and symmetrical body shape characterized by elongated horns and sharp edges. This design sets it apart visually and enhances its playability by providing excellent access to the upper frets.
  2. Construction: The Explorer typically employs a solid mahogany body, contributing to its rich and warm tonal quality. The neck is also crafted from mahogany, ensuring a strong and resonant connection between the body and the neck.
  3. Pickups: Gibson offers various pickup configurations for the Explorer, including dual humbuckers or a combination of humbuckers and single-coil pickups. These pickups deliver a wide range of tones, from thick and punchy rhythm sounds to searing lead tones with enhanced sustain.
  4. Tonal Characteristics: The Explorer is known for its powerful and aggressive sound. The combination of a mahogany body and humbucking pickups lends itself well to producing thick, chunky rhythm tones with excellent note definition and clarity. When overdriven, the Explorer can deliver a searing, harmonically rich distortion favored by many rock and metal guitarists.

Flying V Guitar

Jimi Hendrix™ 1969 Flying V
Jimi Hendrix™ 1969 Flying V

Like the Explorer, the Flying V debuted in 1958 and quickly garnered attention for its radical design. The Flying V is an unconventional and eye-catching instrument with a distinct V-shaped body. Let’s explore its unique features and tonal characteristics:

  1. Body Shape: The Flying V features a V-shaped body, which gives it a striking appearance and contributes to its balanced weight distribution and comfortable playing experience. The extended upper wing of the body provides excellent access to the upper frets.
  2. Construction: Like the Explorer, the Flying V is typically constructed with a solid mahogany body and neck, ensuring a resonance and sustain characteristic of Gibson guitars.
  3. Pickups: The Flying V offers a variety of pickup configurations, including dual humbuckers or a combination of humbuckers and single-coil pickups. This versatile pickup setup enables a wide tonal range, from warm and smooth cleans to assertive, aggressive, distorted tones.
  4. Tonal Characteristics: The Flying V delivers a distinct and versatile sound. Its mahogany body and neck create a rich, resonant tone with a solid, low-end response. The guitar’s pickups and unique body shape offer a broad spectrum of tones, from classic bluesy sounds to heavy rock and metal tones with excellent sustain and clarity.

In conclusion, the Gibson Explorer and Flying V guitars have established themselves as legendary instruments due to their unique designs and exceptional tonal characteristics. Whether you’re drawn to the bold and futuristic aesthetics or the powerful and versatile sounds they produce, these guitars continue to inspire and captivate musicians across genres, making them icons in electric guitars.

Famous guitarists and their affinity for these models.

In rock and heavy metal, few guitar designs are as iconic and distinctive as the Gibson Explorer and Flying V. These two guitar models have captured the imaginations of guitarists and fans alike with their radical shapes and powerful sound. This article will delve into the fascinating realm of famous guitarists who have showcased their incredible talents while wielding these extraordinary instruments.

Famous guitarists using a Gibson Explorer

The Gibson Explorer, first introduced in the late 1950s, broke away from traditional guitar shapes and offered a futuristic design. Its bold and aggressive appearance resonated with many musicians, particularly those drawn to hard rock and heavy metal genres. Here are a few notable guitarists who have become synonymous with the Gibson Explorer.

James Hetfield (Metallica)

Metallica’s frontman and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield has been wielding the Gibson Explorer throughout his career. The guitar’s sharp edges and powerful tone perfectly complement Hetfield’s aggressive playing style and thunderous riffs. His Explorer has become an iconic part of Metallica’s image, featuring prominently in their live performances and on album covers.

Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)

Dave Grohl, the multi-talented musician and founder of Foo Fighters, has also embraced the Gibson Explorer. Grohl’s high-energy stage presence and powerful guitar playing blend harmoniously with the Explorer’s distinct shape and sound. He has been seen rocking various models of the Explorer, including custom-made versions, during live performances and studio recordings.

The Edge (U2)

The Edge, the innovative guitarist of U2, is known for his atmospheric soundscapes and distinctive guitar textures. While primarily associated with his use of the Gibson Les Paul, The Edge has also been spotted with a Gibson Explorer. The guitar’s dynamic range and versatility have allowed The Edge to explore new sonic territories and add depth to U2’s music.

Famous artists using a Gibson Flying V

Introduced alongside the Explorer in the late 1950s, the Gibson Flying V features a V-shaped body that immediately commands attention. Its unique design and powerful tone have attracted various guitarists, from blues to metal. Some legendary guitarists have left an indelible mark with their Flying V.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix, one of the greatest guitarists in history, was renowned for his unparalleled skill and creativity. While Hendrix is often associated with his iconic Fender Stratocaster, he occasionally played a Gibson Flying V. Hendrix’s electrifying performances and innovative playing techniques showcased the Flying V’s ability to produce searing solos and expressive melodies.

Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot)

Randy Rhoads, best known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot, became a legendary figure in heavy metal guitar. Rhoads’ skillful and melodic playing style and his white Gibson Flying V left an enduring impact on the genre. His Flying V became an extension of his virtuosity, and its striking appearance perfectly mirrored Rhoads’ stage presence.

Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz, the rock icon and multi-instrumentalist, has embraced the Gibson Flying V throughout his career. Known for his retro-infused rock sound, Kravitz’s use of the Flying V adds an element of classic rock authenticity to his music. With his dynamic performances and soulful guitar solos, Kravitz has solidified the Flying V’s place in contemporary rock music.

The Gibson Explorer and Flying V have etched themselves into the annals of rock history through the hands of renowned guitarists. From the aggressive power of the Explorer to the striking visuals and soaring solos of the Flying V, these guitars have become symbols of rebellion, innovation, and sonic prowess. Through their masterful playing, these famous guitarists have further solidified the Explorer and Flying V as iconic instruments that inspire generations of musicians to push boundaries and unleash their creativity.

Fun facts

Alongside their unique appearances, these guitars have captivating stories and exciting trivia surrounding their creation. Let’s discover the intriguing tales behind the Explorer and Flying V.

The Gibson Explorer

The Gibson Explorer debuted in 1958, featuring a distinctively angular body shape that defied traditional guitar design. Its unconventional appearance initially received a lukewarm response from consumers, leading to limited sales and a short production run. However, as the years went by, the Explorer gained a cult following and eventually became one of Gibson’s most sought-after models.

Development Anecdote 1: The Futuristic Prototype

The story of the Explorer’s development can be traced back to the late 1950s when Gibson tasked designer Ray Dietrich with creating a futuristic-looking guitar. Inspired by the emerging fascination with space exploration and science fiction, Dietrich crafted a bold, asymmetrical body shape prototype. This design, known as the “Explorer 1,” featured sharply angled wings and a pointed headstock. Though the prototype received mixed reviews then, its avant-garde aesthetics would later become iconic.

Development Anecdote 2: The Resurgence

After a brief hiatus, the Explorer found a new lease on life in the 1970s when a young guitarist, Rick Nielsen, from the band Cheap Trick, started prominently featuring the model on stage. Nielsen’s high-energy performances and unique style attracted attention, and his choice of the Explorer propelled the guitar back into the limelight. This resurgence reignited interest in the model, and soon, other guitarists began recognizing its distinctive sound and striking appearance.

The Flying V

Like the Explorer, the Gibson Flying V debuted in 1958. Its striking V-shaped body, akin to the wingspan of an airborne bird, immediately set it apart from the traditional guitar designs of the time. Although the initial response to the Flying V was lukewarm, it would later become an iconic symbol of rock and metal.

Development Anecdote 1: Prototype Evolution

The Flying V’s design evolution started with the “Futura” prototype, created by Gibson’s chief design engineer, Ted McCarty. This initial guitar version featured rounded edges and a more symmetrical V shape. However, McCarty felt that the design was too radical for the conservative guitar market of the late 1950s. He decided to refine the design and, in collaboration with designer Maurice Berlin, developed the now-iconic V-shaped body with sharper angles.

Development Anecdote 2: The Spark of Inspiration

Guitarist Albert King was crucial in bringing the Flying V into the spotlight. In 1958, King, known for his soulful blues style, approached Gibson and expressed his interest in a custom-built guitar with a unique shape.

Recognizing the potential of King’s endorsement, Gibson obliged and crafted a custom Flying V for him. King’s onstage presence and the powerful blues tones he produced with the Flying V captured the imagination of guitarists worldwide, establishing the model as a legendary instrument.