Gibson’s Explorer & Flying V Guitar

Futuristic Designs

Fender had made a big entrance in the guitar-making industry. With its innovative designs, it suddenly let other companies behind. Even the solid-body Gibson Les Paul seemed too traditional for the times. According to then-president Ted McCarty: “Other guitar makers (…) that Gibson was a fuddy duddy old company without a new idea in years. That information came back to me, so I said we would shake ‘em up if that’s what they thought.”

Soon, three wild-looking guitars were born: the Moderne, the Flying V and the Explorer (initially named Futura).

With bodies made from exotic African korina and sharing the same electronics (two humbucker pickups, two tone controls and a 3 way pickup switch), just a few Explorer and Flying V guitars were made in 1958. They soon went out of production: they were far ahead of their time, and would not gain popularity until much later. The Moderne seems to not have even made it into production, and is considered by some as “the Holy Grail of electric guitars”.

Resurgence & Reissues

Bluesman Albert King, blues-rocker Lonnie Mack and The Kinks’ Dave Davies used the Flying V guitar, and contributed to a great extent to its reappearance in form of reissues from the mid-1960s onwards. Even the first reissues were only moderately successful.

Gibsons Explorer & Flying V Guitar

The first of this reissues appeared in 1967. The design was updated with a bigger, more stylish pickguard, and a more traditional stopbar tail piece replacing the original string-through construction. A Vibrola Maestro Tremolo was available as an option. (The current standard model, now marketed by Gibson as V Factor, features the characteristics of this 1967 model.)

Also the Explorer gained popularity when Rick Derringer made extensive use of it. Taking advantage of this, other guitar manufacturers began to use its body shape for their own models, and Gibson finally reissued it 1976, this time with a mahogany body. The Explorer’s large and peculiar body shape contributes to its unique tonal character, appreciated by such different players as U2′s The Edge and Metallica’s James Hetfield.

Other Versions

Gibson has offered through the years a variety of versions of both Flying V and Explorer.

Flying V versions include the Jimi Hendrix and the Lonnie Mack models, the latter including the characteristic Bigsby tailpiece he used on his own 1958 Flying V.

Explorer variants include the smaller sized Studio Explorer and Explorer 90 (its body size is 90% of the original). The Explorer II or E2 model featuring a 5 piece walnut/maple construction and a contoured body was produced between 1979 and 1983.

Gibson’s “Goth” series has featured both Explorer and Flying V guitars, and also Epiphone has offered its own lower cost, offshore production versions, even in Korina wood.