2020 Gibson Explorer in Antique Natural Guitar Review

My legit, number 1 dream guitar is finally here, but will it live up to my lofty (and unfair) expectations?

Cost: $1699.00 from Gibson.com or Reverb.com! (some affiliate links)

Overview & Final Score: 7.8 out of 10

As part of Gibson’s revamped lineup following the takeover of their new CEO and restructuring, the Explorer got a bit of an update and was re-released, albeit with a price increase. Seen here is the 2021 Antique Natural Explorer, featuring an all Mahogany body and neck, with a Rosewood fretboard, and nitrocellulose lacquer finish. Powered by dual BurstBucker2 and BurstBucker3 pickups, the Gibson Explorer is a far more simple and reliable instrument than the whacky shape might suggest. First released in ’58 alongside the Flying V, the Explorer has been a staple of alternative rock and metal ever since. The pickups are controlled by individual volume knobs, a 3-way selector switch, and a master tone knob as well. Hardware highlights include Grover Rotomatic tuners, Gibson’s Nashville tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tail piece, and 22 medium jumbo frets. A graphtech nut, 3-ply white pickguard, and 12″ fingerboard radius further wrap up the spec sheet nicely.

Sound: 9

Considering this was my dream guitar for the better part of 10 years, I am so relieved to say this Explorer sounds awesome. It is, in some ways, so unlike other Gibson’s that I’ve played in the sense that it has a beautiful, treble-rich sound. You can totally see why alt rock icons like The Edge uses one, because this Explorer is just full of chime and bell-like resonance. However, when you kick on some gain, it really comes alive in the more traditional Gibson sense. It’s rich, sustaining, and totally nails hard rock sounds. For me, it is nice to have a guitar that can jump from U2 to The Clash or Led Zeppelin with the click of a pedal. So the tones housed in here are definitely versatile, especially with the neck pickup having some real smooth lead tones that cut well through the mixes I laid down. So far, my Explorer is also incredibly quiet, with little to no buzz, and a smooth signal that is very responsive to the tone and volume controls on the guitar. The BurstBucker pickups sound really nice in the context of this guitar, nicer than they have sounded in other LP or ES-style Gibsons that I’ve played. Maybe that’s just in my head? Or maybe this guitar just sounds really good as a complete unit?

Playability: 8

It wouldn’t be a Gibson if it didn’t have some sort of tuning issues. It’s not bad or even close to unusable, but the higher strings just don’t stay more than hour or so in tune. Of course the G string is bad, but the others are just borderline frustrating. That is made up for though in a really smooth playing experience up and down the neck, with good fretwork, great action, and a lovely finish on the neck. It sits comfortably in my hands, which is one of the most important aspects of this whole review. If it feels good, it usually is good. So while there are some warts here, it is still an overall enjoyable guitar and neck. As long as you have some experience with Gibson guitars, their issues, and their shorter scale length, this is really not even a concern. But Fender converts, take your time to adjust accordingly.

Finish & Construction: 7

While this guitar is absolutely killer in its current form, it came to me without a functioning pickup selector switch. That’s pretty frustrating for a guitar that costs more than $1500+ and is coming from a major brand. The finish work is obviously great, and I love the look and feel of this instrument, but the solution they provided me was more of a temporary fix than a long term one and I do feel sort of nervous about replacing it again soon. Either way, there are many things to be impressed with on this guitar, most of which might be how comfortable the body is despite the futuristic, oddball shape. Opening the box for the first time, I was stunned at how impressive these look in person, having never seen one off screen. The nitrocellulose lacquer looks and feels just as I hoped it would, and I cannot wait for this to naturally age and relic on its.

Value: 7

It hurts me to say anything negative about a guitar I’ve wanted for so long, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels a tad overpriced. This Gibson Explorer is no doubt a wonderful guitar, but it feels more manufactured than magic and sits at a price point that is above my threshold for this sort of thing. I know that is not a very scientific criticism, but so much of guitar playing, songwriting, and gear reviewing is based on feel, mojo, and the connection with the instrument. I have connected with it for personal and nostalgic reasons, but I’m not sure I would pick this up over my other guitars for a gig or songwriting session, unless I was going for that specific U2/’80s Alternative sound. It’s still a really good guitar that isn’t necessarily overpriced, just not wowing me the way others have. Gibson has probably priced it accordingly, but I would argue another few hundred could come off the price. After all, these used to go for about $1400 a couple years ago instead and it doesn’t feel like anything has really changed.

Good for: Classic Rock, Alternative & Indie Music, Gigging Musicians, Metal, U2 and Killers Fanboys Like Me

Published by Matt Dunn

Guitar and music journalist for Ultimate-Guitar.com and Guitarsforidiots.com as well as a contributor for Guitarniche.com and Stringjoy.com. Reach out to talk about guitars, commission a partscaster, or ask for a review.

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