Guitar Aficionado

Rick's Picks: 1958 Gibson Explorer

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.
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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.

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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.

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