Rick’s Picks: 1958 Gibson Explorer

August 30th, 2011

By Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick

As I explained in the Summer 2010 issue, which featured a 1958 Burst that I still tour with, I’m a staunch believer that even very valuable guitars are meant to be played onstage. But I have to draw the line where my two 1958 Explorers are concerned; they’ve become too valuable for me to take on the road anymore. Gibson made only 19, and as far as I know I’m the only guy in the world who has a pair of them. Adding to their rarity and uniqueness, both have their original hardshell cases. For my insurance premiums and security requirements, I keep them (and some of my other collectibles) in a few original Gibson Collector’s Vaults. Before the vaults, my insurance rates were truly astronomical.

The look, shape, style, and vibe of the Explorer has always felt the most “me” of any guitar. From the very first time that I ever saw one of these, in my minds eye, that was my look. The Les Paul, the Stratocaster, the Tele…have ’em, played ’em, love’ em, but they weren’t me. I was never gonna try to pass myself off as a Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, or Jimmy Page.

I bought the cleaner of the two Explorers in the late Seventies for $4,000 from George Gruhn, who you’ve all had the pleasure to meet in this issue. That may seem like the deal of the century, considering that, recently, one of a dozen Explorers Gibson built in 1963 from leftover Fifties bodies and necks sold at auction for $611,000. But at the time I bought this Explorer, Sixties Strats were worth only about $750, and Bursts were going for $2,000. Under the circumstances, that was a hell of a lot of money to spend on a single guitar.

In 1990, I brought the Explorer to the Dallas Guitar Show, where I was performing at a party with Cliff Williams of AC/DC and Joe Walsh. I had my son, Miles, who was 14 at the time, carry the guitar onto the show floor, and a guy offered us $75,000 cash for it, right there on the spot. For whatever reason, even though I could have used the money and had brought the guitar there to sell it, I thought about it and said no. I’m glad I didn’t do it.

As for the more beat-up Explorer (which is my favorite of the two, because it just looks like it should sound better), I bought it in 1981 from Larry Briggs at Strings West in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It looks the way that I got it, complete with all the dings and doweled holes on the top where a different bridge was installed. The guitar also has a neck-joint repair that you can see at the heel or if you look into the neck pickup cavity.

I think Larry was asking around seven grand for the guitar, and we did a retail-to-retail trade where I gave him a couple of Stratocasters and a Firebird or two and $650. You can see me writing the check in this snapshot, a little piece of Rick Nielsen history that Larry was kind enough to dig out of his archives.

  • Regarding Rick Nielsons 2 ’58 Explorers, i think you’ll find that there was one complete batch of 40 guitars produced in 1958 with 19 being SHIPPED in 1958 with a further 3 shipped in ’59 and out of the remaining 18 guitar made, 16 were made up & shipped in ’63 with 60′ parts and the remainig 2 Explorer bodies were converted into basses, the natural one of which was owned & played by Wayne Bullock of Lonnie Macks band and the other one,apparently with a tobacco sunburst finish is still at large out there somewhere!! Also if i recall,didnt Rick also own a ’58 split-headstock Explorer/Futura some years back? I have to admit,from the photo in his book i had some serious doubts about its authenticity-non-original scratchplte,wrong body edge contour,wrong truss-rod coer placement and avery dodgy looking fingerboard!! Knowing how Rick was sadly taken in by that totally fake ‘Thunderbolt’ a few years back,i was wondering if this Explorer was of the same ilk, as the only one of this type (split headstock & raised plastic logo as opposed to the one with a single large mother-of-pearl ‘G’) that i KNOW has been verified as genuine was the one owned by both Rick Derringer & the late Scott Chinery! Regarding how Rick feels about his 2 Explorers though, i have to admit that i know how he feels as for 10 years between 1983 & ’93 i was the only guy in the UK with 2 original’58 Flying V’s..s/n’s 8 3359 & 8 6989! Wish i had’em now though,sadly just got the pics & the memories!! Ah well!!…!
    Neil Fleming, Crowborough, East Sussex, England!

  • Drew Briggs

    It’s hard to see how the one I own could be an original or an overstock as it has issues but it meets most of the criterior and has a qwerky # under the pick guard. No doubt about it, it’s vintage, but what vintage?
    I would love for someone to help clue me in.

  • Ephiphone’s Korina 1958, which has been on the wish list of a lot of guitarist, as you know was limited series. The spec’s checked out, to me the butterscotch natural wood just knocked me out. I was busy buying this guitar or that, and wish now I had been thinking about buying that very special one of kind limited Ephiphone.

    I just checked out NAMM 2015. I key worded Ephiphone Explorer, Gibson Explorer, and Ibanez Destroyer models. It doesn’t look like Ephiphone, Gibson, or Ibanez is bringing out any new models in 2015 for music stores for their purchasing lists for the next 6- 12 months.

    So if your in the market for an Ephiphone Explorer, I suggest buying up a Gothic 1958 really soon. They will be discontinued shortly.

    The TV Silver, is has just been discontinued.

    Keep exploring

    Brian Rhodes

  • Andrew VonWinge

    I have an 58 korina Gibson and ive also had the epiphone korina. the latter is just a tad longer than the original but overall its a great guitar.