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The eccentric design and powerful sound of the Explorer has lead to many guitar brands creating their own versions of this unique instrument.
Gibson may be best known for classic electric guitars like the Les Paul or SG, but the manufacturer has also been responsible for some less conventional designs over the years.
The Explorer was first introduced in 1958, alongside the similarly eccentric the Flying V guitar. Initially, both of these guitars struggled for success, but the Explorer enjoyed a resurgence when metal musicians popularized it in the 70s and 80s.
In this guide, we’ve searched for the best Explorer-style guitars to suit a variety of budgets. These guitars are made by top manufacturers and are all similar to the original Gibson Explorer.
In a Rush Roundup
How We Tested
We ran these Explorer style guitars through a series of tests to assess their capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. This involved firstly analyzing the tone of the guitar, checking for any noise issues, and seeing how much gain they could handle without compromising on clarity.
We then took looked at the physical qualities of the guitar, assessing the strength of each component, piece of hardware, and the joints. We finished our testing process by determining how comfortable the guitars were when playing using various techniques.
Best Gibson Explorer Copy Guitar Reviews
Schecter has become a highly popular manufacturer in recent years, particularly in heavy rock and metal scenes. The E-1 FR S Special Edition guitar utilizes the trusted tonewood formation of ebony, maple, and mahogany to produce a classic sound.
When you look at this guitar closely, you can see the incredible attention to detail that Schecter has given to its design process. The mahogany body has a stunning finish, and the mixture of black and silver components looks classy.
I’ve had the pleasure of coming across several guitars that use the Sustaniac humbucking pickup, and it never fails to impress me. This humbucker is employed in the neck position and has a unique sustain circuit which increases your note length considerably.
If you prefer a more aggressive, sharp tone, you can flick the switch to the bridge position and utilize the power of the Apocalypse V1 humbucker.
To top off this fabulous Explorer-type guitar, Schecter has installed a Floyd Rose 1500 series tremolo for advanced playing techniques. This piece of hardware facilitates vibrato without risking your tuning.
- Mahogany body with quilted maple top
- Mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard
- Schecter USA Apocalypse V1 and Sustaniac humbucker pickups
- Classic hard rock tone
- Floyd Rose 1500 series tremolo for pitch modulation
- Thick sounding bridge humbucker
- Produces an aggressive tone
Jackson produces a wide range of exceptional guitars for rock, and this Kelly KEXQ from the manufacturer’s X Series is one of its finest affordable offerings.
Ideal for guitarists who value dynamic control, the modified “Speed” profile makes navigating the full length of the 25.5-inch laurel fingerboard easy. Jumbo nickel frets provide plenty of space for guitarists who like to bend notes.
To ensure tuning stability, Jackson has employed the reliable Floyd Rose Special Locking Nut. Additionally, the neck-through design extracts every last bit of sustain from each note that is played.
Using poplar for this guitar’s body was a wise move by Jackson. Not only does this tonewood deliver an articulate tone with a defined low end, but it’s also fairly affordable, which is why they’ve kept the cost of the axe relatively low.
The two Jackson-designed humbucking pickups provide an abundance of power and will soak up any distortion or fuzz that you subject them to.
- Poplar body with quilted maple top
- Maple neck with laurel fingerboard
- 2 x Jackson High-output humbucker pickups
- Great for fast playing techniques
- Highly compatible with distortion and overdrive
- Lightweight and mobile construction
- Lacks some power in the bass frequencies
Considering the mixture of high-quality tonewoods that ESP LTD has used to build the EX-401, along with the distinguished aesthetical design, it would be easy to assume that this guitar would come with a hefty price tag.
Conversely, it is a highly affordable Explorer-type guitar that performs to the standard of a high-end model. Made for metal rock shredding, this axe has an ultra-fast playing maple neck that feels solid underhand.
The neck is shaped in the popular thin “U” profile, which provides the right amount of chunkiness to firmly wrap your fretting hand around when forming chord shapes or playing single-note riffs.
If you’ve ever used a set of EMG humbuckers before, you’ll probably be aware of the sheer power they possess. Employing two of these has allowed ESP LTD to increase the velocity of this guitar’s tone.
A 3-way toggle switch makes it easy to alter the pickup position and adjust the fundamental sound of the guitar, and a tune-o-matic bridge ensures solid tuning stability while playing.
- Mahogany body
- Maple neck and pau ferro fingerboard
- 2 x EMG 81 humbucking pickups
- Warm, full-sounding midrange for chord playing
- Thin neck is great for soloing
- High-output humbucking tone for metal and hard rock
- Higher frequencies can sound harsh with too much gain or distortion
The 1958 Gibson Explorer is shrouded in mystery. No one knows exactly how many of the original models were manufactured or how many were sold. What we do know is that the design was way ahead of its time.
Epiphone is the expert when it comes to recreating iconic Gibson guitars, and this remake of the ’58 Explorer is a great choice for those who have a limited budget but would still like to enjoy the authentic features of that first model.
The Epiphone Explorer produces a warm, immersive midrange with a good amount of sustain, particularly in the high end. The lows are ideal for rock riffs and crunchy chords, and the tonality overall is well-balanced.
Indian laurel has been used for the guitar’s fingerboard, and this makes it easy to slide from fret to fret. The LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge improves tuning stability, and the pair of pickups resemble those used in the original Gibson model.
Rather than using the same humbuckers in the neck and bridge position, Epiphone has opted for a ProBucker 2 in the neck, and a Probucker 3 in the bridge position, so that there is variation between the switch positions.
- Mahogany body
- Mahogany neck and Indian laurel fingerboard
- ProBucker 2 and ProBucker 3 humbucker pickups
- Recreation of the original 1958 Gibson Explorer
- Excellent tuning stability
- Clear and articulate highs
- May not have the aggression required for heavy metal
Schecter’s E-1 Custom is loaded with a pair of USA Custom Shop humbuckers, which blast out an energetic, hot-rodded tone. If you’re a lead guitarist, these pickups will allow you to be heard above the rest of your band with no problems.
This affordable Explorer type guitar has a mahogany set neck and is solidly constructed. The body is also made from mahogany, with a quilted maple top adding more resonance.
The neck is shaped in the classic thin “C” profile, and the fingerboard is made from ebony. The tailpiece and tuners are more modern additions which complement the vintage aesthetics.
Another interesting aspect of this guitar is the push-pull knob, which makes coil-splitting a possibility. This feature can be used to add more single-coil-sounding tones to your sonic arsenal.
- Mahogany body with quilted maple top
- Mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard
- Schecter USA Sunset Strip and Pasadena humbucker pickups
- Classic hot-rodded humbucker tone
- Smooth playing neck and fingerboard
- Balanced, powerful tone
- No tremolo arm included
Jackson’s Kelly JS32 has the classic Explorer body shape but is considerably more affordable than most similarly styled guitars. This is down to the cheaper tonewood materials used to construct the guitar.
However, the mixture of an amaranth fingerboard, maple neck, and poplar body creates a solid feel and produces a well-balanced tone across the frequency spectrum.
Jackson has also installed a Floyd Rose locking nut on the Kelly JS32, which boosts the sustain and also helps the strings retain their tuning. The 42 jumbo frets provide ample space for expressive playing, and they are inlaid with Pearloid sharkfins.
Two custom Jackson humbuckers deliver a powerful tone that sounds great when combined with a lot of gain or saturation, either from an amplifier or amp simulator pedals.
- Poplar body
- Maple neck and Amaranth fingerboard
- 2 x Jackson high output humbuckers
- Great for beginners or those on a tight budget
- High gain humbucking tone
- Smooth, responsive fingerboard for intricate techniques
- Sounds slightly weak in the upper mids
Explorer Style Guitars and Alternatives Buyer's Guide
The Gibson Explorer has amassed somewhat of a cult following over the years, which has led to many manufacturers creating instruments inspired by the unique characteristics of this guitar.
Explorer-style guitars are based on the original Gibson design, but manufacturers may include some modern advancements to make the instruments more versatile.
At the basic level, a guitar that is designed like the Explorer has all of the same components as any other electric guitar. However, its unique body shape and style make it perform differently than most other axes.
When Gibson first introduced the Explorer along with its popular Flying V guitar in 1958, many guitarists were put off by the unusual appearance of this instrument. However, as the years have passed, the Explorer has become increasingly popular/
Here’s a breakdown of the most important things to consider when choosing an Explorer-style guitar.
Things To Consider When Buying
Consider the tonewoods
Originally, the Gibson Explorer had a rosewood or ebony fingerboard with a kornia body and neck. Modern Explorer-style guitars use a variety of tonewoods, including maple, mahogany, and rosewood, each of which impacts the sound and playability of the instrument.
Think about the hardware
To ensure maximum tuning stability, sustain, and intonation, Explorer-style guitar manufacturers may use specific hardware like a Floyd Rose locking vibrato, or a Tune-o-matic bridge, both of which improve the aforementioned aspects.
Consider the pickup configuration
Explorer-type guitars predominantly have either a HH or HHH pickup configuration. The latter also comes with five-way pickup switches, which increases the tonal possibilities you have at your disposal.
Look out for different neck profiles
Explorer-shaped guitars are popular amongst metal players due to their fast-playing necks. Some manufacturers use slightly modified neck profiles to maximize speed, while others stick with conventional shapes, like the thin “U” profile.
Signature Explorer Qualities to Look Out For
Explorer-style guitars are instantly recognizable, largely because of their unusual, eye-catching body shape. This makes them a great choice for guitarists who want to attract attention rather than go unnoticed.
The eccentric design of the Explorer was initially exclusive to Gibson, but many manufacturers have used it as a blueprint to create their own versions of this unique instrument.
A guitar’s body shape isn’t simply an aesthetical feature – it also impacts the tone and dynamics.
In the case of Explorer-style guitars, you can expect a more aggressive tone with an emphasis on the upper midrange due to less of a rounded area for the string vibrations to pass through.
Dynamically, Explorer-type guitars often sound surprisingly thick and powerful. That’s why they’ve built a considerable following in the heavy rock and metal communities.
The body shape makes the highest frets of an Explorer-style guitar easily accessible. However, you might find that some have a slightly modified cutaway that makes it harder to bend strings beyond the 18th fret than others do.
In theory, any pickups could be installed on an Explorer-style guitar. The original model had either two or three humbuckers installed, which combined to produce a thick, warm tone.
Having three humbucking pickups will increase the fullness of the guitar’s tone, but most modern Explorer-style guitars keep things more simple by including humbuckers in the bridge and neck positions.
If you’re a rock or metal guitarist who wants to use an Explorer-style guitar to create gain-heavy riffs and chord patterns, high-output humbuckers are the best choice.
The higher the output of the pickups, the more aggressive they will sound. You can combine high output humbuckers with distortion and overdrive to create powerful, saturated tones.
It’s common for manufacturers to install two slightly different humbucking pickups in the bridge and neck position of an Explorer-style guitar. This increases the tonal variation that can be achieved by moving the pickup toggle switch.
Other Components & Features
Gibson has experimented with various components and designed the Explorer over the years. This is evident when you compare the modern version to the 1958 original.
One of the common issues with the Explorer body type is that it can lead to some tuning stability issues, but the models we’ve included combat this with mechanisms like Tuno-o-matic bridges and set necks.
Epiphone’s Explorer copies are the closest that you’ll get to the original Gibson models, as they are a sibling company to the guitar manufacturing icons.
They’re more affordable than Gibson-made Explorers but include many of the same components and design features.
It’s also worth checking the weight of Explorer-style guitars, as some are considerably lighter than others. This may be desirable if you prefer less weight on your shoulder when performing live.
Explorer Style Guitars FAQs
Which Guitarists Have Used the Explorer?
Although it wasn’t initially ad popular as Gibson had hoped, the Explorer eventually went on to be used by some legendary guitarists who helped to boost its status.
Notable guitarists who have used the explorer include Dave Grohl, Neil Young, and blues legend Gary Moore. The Explorer became increasingly popular in the 1980s when eccentric guitar designs were the norm.
Is the Gibson Explorer Comfortable to Play?
Due to its unconventional body shape, many guitarists assume that the Gibson Explorer is going to be less comfortable than a standard solidbody electric guitar. However, it’s surprisingly lightweight, and many find it to be equally as comfortable as more conventional instruments.
The design of the Explorer makes it easy to reach the higher frets, and other than the modified body shape, it doesn’t feel too different from other popular solid body guitars made by Gibson.
Is the Gibson Explorer a Metal Guitar?
When the Explorer was initially created, it was intended for rock n’ roll guitarists who wanted a change from the conventional body style. However, it became a popular choice for metal guitarists as time passed.
Today, the Explorer is synonymous with all subgenres of heavy rock and metal guitar playing, rather than the originally intended rock n’ roll genre.