« A Classic Lives on in both tone and quality »Published on 10/01/12 at 13:18
Gibson shelved the design, and reintroduced it in the 70's with a few updates, one of them being the choice of pickups. By this time, the Gibson 496 and 500T pickups had been introduced, giving players more power over the previous model of humbuckers, which were lower output.
As a result, the Explorer quickly became popular for the evolving sound of rock n' roll that pushed for more distortion and sustain.
The modern Explorer remains rather unchanged from its 70's incarnation, still sporting the 496R/500T pickup configuration, the hybrid 50's/60's set neck with 22 fret rosewood fingerboard, tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece, and two-volume/one-tone control configuration with 3-way toggle switch.
Someone at Gibson must have visited a psychic while designing the Explorer. The psychic would have said "guitar players will have the desire to play fast, much faster than today." because that's exactly what the Explorer is designed for - blazing speed. One listen to Brenden Small's guitar playing on any Dethklok album will confirm that shredding is a breeze on this guitar. Access to the higher frets is open, making those wide runs easy.
To facilitate this, the fretboard radius feels rather flat all the way down the neck, allowing for easier bending and faster runs than more traditional radius fretboards. Still, its nut width and scale length are Gibson standard sizes.
It doesn't take a keen eye to see that the Explorer isn't the most ergonomic design in the guitar world. In fact, it's rather large and awkward, which is ultimately why I ended up selling mine. Moving around a small stage or practice area almost always resulted in bumping the headstock or rear corner of the body on something or someone. However, despite its size, the Explorer is surprisingly light in weight.
The Explorer does well with a variety of sounds, but it would be a mistake to assert that its forte is not rock and metal. The 500T comes alive through a properly distorting tube amp, driving the preamp into harmonic armageddon and evoking a midrange grind that is addictive. This pickup works well with everything from Bad Company-style plexi gain to Stoner Metal to compressed, soaring power metal.
The 496 does cleaner tones and alternate-picked runs surprisingly well, although lower notes tend to blend together on fast runs. It has a very warm, mellow quality without being weak.
The 2009 Explorer I owned was immaculately constructed, leading me to wonder where the complaints of quality with newer Gibson guitars was founded. The guitar played well, sounded excellent, and looked badass. I actually regret selling it, and will likely own another some day.
Gibson guitars have a lifetime warranty, and are still hand-made right here in the USA. There are plenty of great guitars made elsewhere for less money, and there are many excellent values from many manufacturers. I think every guitar player should own at least one Gibson in their lifetime, to have a chance to connect with a great American legacy that has helped shape an artform and a culture for more than 75 years.