- The Gibson Explorer was introduced in 1958 and discontinued in 1963
- It was reintroduced by Gibson when other brands had success with a similar design
- It later became popular among hard rock and metal players
- Also, check out our post on why Gibson guitars are so expensive.
The Gibson Explorer was first introduced in 1958, with a “futuristic” design with the intention to make inroads on the electric guitar market.
It was released alongside Gibson’s Flying V, but was discontinued a few years later.
However, it was later re-introduced and became particularly popular among metal players of the ’70s and ’80s.
Nowadays the Explorer is a highly sought-after guitar, and many brands have released their own designs based on the Explorer.
Which are the 7 Best Explorer Style Guitars?
The Epiphone Explorer is our pick, as it is one of the best options for those looking to get as close as possible to the original, but without paying over a grand.
For those short on cash, the Jackson Kelly JS32 is our best value option. It offers great Explorer traits and a killer tone on a budget.
The Gibson ’70s Explorer is our premium choice for discerning players that want authenticity above everything, and are willing to pay for it.
Our candidates for the 7 best explorer-style guitars are.
- Epiphone Explorer – Our Top Pick
- Jackson Kelly JS32 – Our Budget Option
- Gibson ’70s Explorer – Premium Choice
- ESP LTD EX-401
- Schecter E-1 FR S Special Edition
- B.C. Rich Stealth Exotic Legacy
- Dean Z 79
1. Epiphone Explorer
The Epiphone Explorer is a classic Explorer through and through. Fans of this iconic design will love the rich midrange character and sustain gotten from its mahogany body.
- Iconic design
- Amazing sustain and punch
- Great playability
Epiphone is a sister company of Gibson, and their models are often very good Gibson replicas but for a much lower cost.
The Epiphone Explorer is yet another great example of this and gives you all that crunch and unique look but at an affordable price.
This is our top pick for this list.
- Resonant mahogany body for nice sustain and mid punch
- Set mahogany SlimTaper neck featuring dual cutaways
- Comfortable 22-fret Indian laurel fingerboard
- ProBucker Alnico II pickups for nice cleans and punchy crunch
- Grover Mini 18:1-ratio tuners for stable tuning
The Epiphone Explorer is a fantastic option for those looking for a close copy of the original Gibson Epiphone.
Some of the common traits of this Epiphone include the body shape, tonewoods, and pickup configuration identical to the original 1958 model.
The best of all is that you get a very close replica that is sure to fit your budget.
Another fantastic feature on this Epiphone Explorer is the Laurel fingerboard which provides a similar playing experience to rosewood, but at a lower cost.
This guitar also comes with a mahogany body which is actually an improvement over the 1958 models, which used Korina.
When it comes to playability, this Epiphone provides a very similar experience to the original.
It features a 12” fretboard radius that provides a comfortable and period-correct feel for all playing styles.
As far as the electronic system, this guitar features ProBucker pickups that offer PAF-era clean tones as well as great crunchy tones
These ProBucker pickups are made using Alnico II magnets that provide a warm and rich, with clear highs and a tight bottom.
Alnico II is the same material employed in sought-after vintage PAF humbuckers.
In short, a fantastic option for folks that want to get as close to the original Explorer as possible.
2. Jackson Kelly JS32
Part of Jackson's JS Series, the JS32 Kelly solid-body electric guitar packs a lot of value.
- Massive tone
The Jackson Kelly JS32 is a far better instrument than its low price suggests.
It comes with a modernized version of the typical explorer shape, as well as features that fit the modern guitar player.
This guitar features a pair of custom Jackson humbuckers that deliver high output and great tone.
This is our best value choice for this list.
- Dual Jackson custom humbuckers for high-gain tone
- Compound-radius rosewood fingerboard
- Slender graphite-reinforced maple neck
- Floyd Rose Licensed Jackson Double-locking Tremolo
- Jackson Sealed Die-cast tuners
The Jackson Kelly JS32 features a pair of high-output ceramic-magnet humbuckers that can provide you with a massive tone.
This guitar is a great choice for folks that play more aggressive music and need the features to accomplish that, while on a budget.
This Jackson guitar also features some nice modern appointments like a compound-radius rosewood fretboard that allow you some serious speed on the fretboard and a graphite-reinforced maple neck for durability and reliability.
In case you are looking for an instrument that lets you go crazy with your guitar pyrotechnics, this Jackson delivers.
It features a Floyd Rose Licensed Jackson Double-locking Tremolo that will remain in tune no matter how hard you push it.
With a body made of poplar, amaranth fingerboard, and 24 jumbo frets on a 25.5″ scale, the Jackson Kelly JS32 is a great choice for folks looking for a modern explorer guitar that is also affordable.
3. Gibson ’70s Explorer
Armed with an iconic angular body and eye-grabbing hockey-stick headstock, the Gibson ’70s Explorer re-creates the trail-blazing axe that rocked a million stadiums.
- Great tone and playability
- Surprisingly ergonomic
- Eye-catching design
The Gibson ’70s Explorer is for that discerning player that is willing to pay for the ultimate Explorer guitar.
Naturally, the Gibson Explorer is one of the best-known guitars in the world, and is hard to argue with all the goodness that the original has to offer.
This is our premium choice for this list.
- Rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays
- SlimTaper mahogany neck feels for ultra-fast action
- ’70s Tribute Burstbucker pickups for PAF humbucker tone
- Hand-wired with Orange Drop capacitors for classic tone
- Plek’d for ultimate precision when playing
The Gibson ’70s Explorer comes with the legendary Burstbucker pickups.
These offer tight low-end, complex midrange, and lovely highs that are commonplace on original Gibson guitars.
The Burstbucker pickups were developed to re-create the sound of authentic PAF humbuckers faithfully, and they certainly deliver that on this guitar.
As far as playability, besides Gibson’s SlimTaper profile neck, this ’70s Explorer feels fast and precise in great part thanks to its Plek processing.
This process basically levels the frets with extreme precision, and the result is an incredible feel and superior playability.
Besides, Plek processing also helps bring loud and clear sound because the fret edges feel smooth as silk.
In short, this is the ultimate choice for discerning guitarists that want a tried and true Explorer sound, tone and feel from a Gibson original.
4. ESP LTD EX-401
With its classic combination of a mahogany body and maple neck with a fast-playing pau Ferro fingerboard, this metal machine pumps out warm, girthy tones tailor-made for heavier genres and playing styles.
- Plays as well as it sounds
- Superb design
- Silky-smooth maple neck
ESP LTD has been making professional-quality guitars for years, with superior features and traits while keeping the costs in check.
The ESP LTD EX-401 is no exception to this.
Especially good for metal players, this guitar comes with outstanding characteristics as well as a classic and unequivocal Explorer look and feel.
- Mahogany body and maple neck for added warmth and snap
- Pau ferro fingerboard
- Thin “U” neck profile on a set-thru design
- EMG 81/60 active humbuckers for high-output
- Grover tuners and Tune-o-matic bridge
The ESP LTD EX-401 comes with the tried-and-true combination of a mahogany body and maple neck that has been a staple of good electric guitars for decades.
Add to that a fast pau ferro fingerboard and a “U” shaped neck profile and set-through design for an instrument that plays as well as it sounds.
The design on this guitar is second to none, with a fantastic 3-piece maple neck that delivers snap and sustain for days, while remaining comfortable and fast.
This guitar is ideal for harder styles of music like metal. This is largely because of the high-output active EMG humbuckers that ESP LTD included.
They employ the classic EMG 81/60 combination that gives you everything from scorching-hot distortion to penetrating and balanced cleans.
In the bridge, you’ll find an EMG 81 ceramic pickup that offers a balanced tone and does wonder with distortion pedals or tube distortion.
In the neck, we have an EMG 60 ceramic humbucker, for brilliant and cutting highs that are great for rhythms.
This is completed with the classic 3-way toggle for switching between pickups, with volume and tone knobs as in a typical Explorer electronic configuration.
5. Schecter E-1 FR S Special Edition
Every inch and detail of the Schecter E-1 FR S Special Edition solidbody electric guitar was engineered for aggressive, high-speed playing.
- Stunning design
- Tailor-made for aggressive playing
- Great playability
The Schecter E-1 FR S is a guitar specially designed for shredders of aggressive types of music.
Everything from its sound, playability features, and looks are ideal for metal and similar players.
- Sustainiac neck pickup for extended sustain
- Apocalypse VI bridge humbucker
- Floyd Rose 1500 series double-locking tremolo
- Thin “C” neck profile
- Mahogany body and neck with figured maple and ebony
The Schecter E-1 features a three-piece mahogany body with a maple top.
Right from the start, you get classic tonewoods with the snap and looks that maple is known for.
However, the most attractive feature of this guitar is the pickups.
The neck pickup is a Sustaniac pickup. Once you switch it on this pickup will sustain a note for as long as you are holding it out.
For the bridge pickup, Schecter went the more traditional route, with an Apocalypse VI alnico humbucker that is very aggressive.
Together, this pickup pair make the E-1 FR S a shred machine in the shape of an Explorer.
These high-output pickups are naturally geared for metal or similar styles of music that require a lot of output.
This guitar also has a unique control layout of 1x Volume, 1 x Tone, 3-way toggle pickup switch, 2-way mini-switch (on/off), 3-way mini-switch (Sustainiac modes).
The fretboard on this instrument is ebony and comes on a 12-16” compound radius with 24 frets. and a 25.5” scale length.
To top it off, the E-1 FR S features a Floyd Rose 1500 Tremolo so you can go to town on your dive bombs and other pyrotechnics while ensuring tuning stability.
6. B.C. Rich Stealth Exotic Legacy
Beauty and more: the Stealth Legacy offers USA-made DiMarzio humbuckers that have a wealth of heavy tones.
- Incredible design
- Killer distorted tones
- Excellent playability
The B.C. Rich Stealth Exotic Legacy is a special and heavily modernized Explorer for hard rock and metal.
This guitar is ideal for those that want something off the beaten path and love exotic looks with a ferocious tone and superior playability.
- Alder body, Spalted Maple top, natural finish
- Shredzilla Ultra Slim Contour neck shape with satin finish
- 3-piece hard rock maple neck
- Dual adjusting truss rod
- Reversed 6-in line headstock with matching spalted maple
The BC Rich Stealth Legacy features DiMarzio Direct Mount Dual Humbucker pickups that offer a variety of heavy tones.
Both of these pickups are active and made in the USA, with the one on the neck being a DiMarzio D Activator X, while the one on the bridge is a DiMarzio Super X2N.
These humbuckers offer you killer distorted tones with tons of sustain and punch, while also giving you sparkly cleans with nice high-end.
Besides offering great tones, this BC Rich also excels in playability. It comes with an ebony fretboard with a 14-degree compound radius for fast playing.
This guitar features 24 extra-jumbo frets and the gorgeous B.C. Rich Split Diamonds inlays.
Other noteworthy features are the nut width of 1.625”, Grover Mini Locking Rotomatic tuners at 18:1 ratio, B.C. Rich Quad hardtail bridge and 24 5/8″ scale length.
This guitar also features a striking body shape that is balanced and also lightweight, offering a comfortable playing experience that is easier on your back than other Explorer copies.
Additionally, it comes with a lovely spalted maple top and matching headstock overlay, making it look as good as it sounds and feels.
7. Dean Z 79
The '79 Z Floyd Flame Top has hot pickups and striking visuals that made Dean a household name in the late '70s.
- Great for metal
Dean Guitars has been one of the top choices for 40 years for metal musicians.
Although they also make nice guitars for other styles, Dean has typically been associated with harder styles of music and the Z 79 guitar is no exception.
- 3-piece mahogany neck
- Indian rosewood fretboard
- Tune-O-Matic bridge with Z plate
- Pickup (Neck/Bridge): DMT Series Time Capsule
- Comes with D’Addario EXL120 strings (.009-.042)
The Dean Z 79 features a set neck construction on a mahogany body and top.
The neck on this guitar is a 3 piece mahogany and features an Indian rosewood fretboard.
The body on this guitar is very close to an original Explorer, so traditionalists looking for the real deal (at a lower price) will certainly appreciate that fact.
Regarding the electronics, both the neck and bridge pickup feature DMT Series Time Capsule humbucker pickups.
These pickups can offer punchy crunch, especially on the bridge position, as well as nice and balanced cleans (mostly on the neck position).
The scale length on this Dean guitar is 24 3/4″ on a 12″ radius, and comes with 22 jumbo frets and abalone dot inlays.
These are good appointments that make it comfortable to play with a consistent feel and accessibility throughout the neck.
This guitar also comes with Dean’s distinctive headstock, which blends very nicely with the overall style and feels of an explorer.
In short, a nice guitar for those that play mostly metal and associated styles.
Does Gibson still make the Explorer?
Yes, Gibson still makes the Explorer. And just like other traditional guitars, it charges for the luxury of having one of the most sought-after guitars in history.
What companies make Explorer guitars?
Several companies make Explorer-style guitars. Among them are ESP, BC Rich, Epiphone, Jackson, etc.
Are Explorer guitars comfortable?
Comfort is not one of the main attributes of Explorer guitars.
That being said, some modern replicas or guitars based on the explorer, do feature modern appointments that make them lighter and more comfortable to play.
How big is a Gibson Explorer?
A Gibson Explorer features the same scale length as most Gibson guitars, at 24.75″
Which famous guitarists play Explorer-type guitars?
Some famous guitarists that use or have used explorer-type guitars include Neil Young, Dave Mustaine, Gary Moore, James Hetfield, Dave Grohl, and Dimebag Darrell.