10 Players Who Rose to Fame with Gibson Explorers
Hard to believe, but nearly 60 years have passed since Gibson launched the Explorer model as part of the company’s “modernist” range of instruments. Even more remarkable, the Explorer’s radical design remains as strikingly original as ever. For 2017, Gibson is offering two Explorer models from which players can choose: the Traditional (T) model, crafted in the image of the original instrument; and the High Performance (HP) model, which adds modern comfort and contemporary sonic features to the original design, while keeping intact the distinctive power and sustain that’s made the Explorer an enduring classic. Below, we profile 10 great players for whom the Explorer has proved indispensable.
The late great Gary Moore was effusive in his love for the Explorer, which was a mainstay of his performing arsenal throughout the latter period of his solo career. It’s no accident that his famous white Explorer is featured prominently on the cover of his 2003 Live at Monsters of Rock album, and the accompanying DVD. During that show and others, Moore demonstrated just how versatile the Explorer could be.
The sight of Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale fronting her band with her Signature Model Explorer slung low is a striking image indeed. In a chat with Guitar.com, Hale expressed her affection for the instrument. “It's very comfortable,” she says. “I think it's got a great balance, and it's definitely one of those guitars that you can see from the back row. I love that about it too. When you put it on, it kind of feels like home.”
Eric Clapton isn’t the first name that springs to mind at the mention of the Explorer, but in fact “Slowhand” did play a ’58 korina model, with a shortened bass bout. Rumors abound as to how the instrument came to be modified, with some asserting that Clapton originally believed the guitar to be a Gibson prototype. In 2001, Gibson introduced a limited-run reproduction of this iconic instrument. Moreover, in 1983, Clapton famously performed with an “unmodified” Explorer at the ARMS benefit concert in London.
James Hetfield has often turned to the Explorer, and in fact he purportedly used the instrument on every Metallica album from 1984’s Ride the Lightning through 1991’s eponymously titled “black” album. Among his most recognizable Explorers are: “So What” and “More Beer,” two 1984 models named for the permanent markers scrawled on the bodies; and “Rusty,” a 1976 model that features a black finish and metal pickguard.
Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher was inspired to pick up an Explorer after seeing James Hetfield playing one in the early ‘80s. “I thought, ‘That dude looks cool playing that,’” Kelliher later gold Gibson.com. “’I want to play that!’” Fast forward 30 years, and Kelliher has his own Signature “Golden Axe” Gibson Explorer. “[I love] the way it sits and feels and the profile and everything,” he says. “It’s a great guitar.”
The Edge’s 1976 Explorer is so iconic, his guitar tech convinced him to “retire” the instrument from the road several years ago. Not to fear, however, as the same tech subsequently located three suitable “replacement” Explorers for the U2 guitarist. Speaking with Guitar World in 2008, The Edge said, “When I [first] picked up the Explorer it felt really, really good. I wasn’t expecting it, but the guitar seemed to talk to me. There are some songs in this, I said to myself. It clicked pretty quickly—the look, the sound. It felt natural.”
Canadian guitarist Jason Hook has earned raves for his work in Five Finger Death Punch and his top-flight session work. A devotee of the Explorer, Hook was honored with his own Signature Model in 2013. “I was looking at the other Gibson guitars and thought, ‘Maybe the Explorer would be more comfortable because of the way the top of the guitar is shaped like a V,” Hook told Gibson.com. “So, I switched to playing Explorers years ago, and I’ve been glued to that guitar ever since. I love it. It’s my favorite guitar.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd co-founder Allen Collins started out playing a Firebird. That changed, however, when the late southern-rock pioneer bought a natural-finish korina ’58 Explorer from Eric Clapton in 1976. From that point forward, the Explorer remained his go-to instrument, for the rest of his playing days. In 2003, Gibson paid tribute to Collins with a limited run of 100 replicas of his beloved Explorer.
For the Foo Fighters’ 1995 debut album (essentially a one-man-band affair), Dave Grohl turned to a black standard Explorer as his instrument of choice. Later, beginning with 1999’s There is Nothing Left to Lose, he broke out a beautiful white Explorer. Check out various videos from the band, and you will see they are rife with both these instruments.
Scorpions guitar great Matthias Jabs has extolled the Explorer virtues for nearly four decades. In the late ‘80s, he and Gibson partnered to design the “Explorer 90” – so named for being “sized” 10 percent smaller than a standard Explorer. In a chat with Ultimate Guitar in 2007, Jabs explained the trademark stripes that adorn his Explorer. “I had only one white Explorer for our first tour of America in 1979,” he said. “ [When I got another one], I wanted to show people that I had more than one, so I put a couple strips of gaffer tape on the guitar in the form of the design that I've become known for today.”