To me, the 1976 Gibson Explorer means lust at first sight, love at first feel and that rarest of man-machine crushes: an enduring passion that persists long after I plunked down my hard-earned cash.
Gibson’s luthiers prototyped the Explorer (alongside pointy siblings the Flying V and the apocryphal Moderne) in the ’50s. The space race was on, rock ‘n’ roll was coming into its own and cars boasted bold curves and sci-fi fins. The Explorer and Flying V were released in 1958, a year after the Soviets launched Sputnik 1. (The Moderne didn’t makes its official debut until 1982.)
Like the beautiful but doomed Power Mac G4 Cube, the radically shaped guitars were clearly ahead of their time: These pointy instruments, which years later would become staples of heavy metal and hard-rock style, flopped hard. Gibson discontinued both lines within a few years.
In 1976, spurred by the success of competitors’ Explorer clones, Gibson came to its senses and reissued the Explorer. The natural mahogany finish on the best of these, much like the lighter Korina of the original models, gave the strangely shaped guitars a retro-futuristic look. That marriage of old and new is coming back into fashion now as designers tumble to the innate beauty of natural materials.