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.