Guitar Gear Archives

Gibson Guitars – The Gibson Explorer

gibsonexplorerWith it’s angular body, and sharp headstock the Gibson Explorer is instantly recognisable. First released by Gibson in 1958 (along with the equally famous Flying V guitar) the Explorer was a radical departure from its more famous sibling the Gibson Les Paul.

The original Explorer called the X-Plorer (or the Futura as it was initially named) came equipped with twin humbucker pickups, two tone controls and a 3 way pickup switch. The angular Headstock featured the tuning keys on the top of the headstock rather than the traditional Gibson three each side. With its looks the guitar was radically different from others in the marketplace.

The design of the Explorer was so years ahead of it’s time that initial sales were low and the guitar was quickly discontinued. Needless to say those early models are now highly sought after collector’s item.

In the Mid 1970′s, prompted by the success of other manufacturers tributes to the Explorer, Gibson reissued the guitar – sales were strong and the instrument quickly became a mainstay for many artists.

The Explorer is a particularly versatile guitar and produces a wide variety of tones. With the pickup selector in the middle position, it produces sounds reminiscent of a Les Paul. Select the bridge position and you have a solid rock tone, finally the neck pickup has a warm and subtle jazzy tone. The Explorer’s large body produces a lot of its tone and although heavy the guitar is full of character and its trademark Gibson bite makes it ideally suited to rock music.

Today, many famous artists can be seen using the Explorer. One of the most well known Explorer users is U2′s The Edge. His Explorer (picked up on a shopping trip in New York is the early days of the group) created much of the bands early sound and the guitar is still used on tour and in the studio today.

There are many other famous users of the Explorer such as James Hetfield, Eric Clapton, Dave Grohl to name but a few.

These days Gibson has many editions of the Explorer and its future is secure. With its trademark looks and versatile sound the Gibson Explorer can comfortably take its place in the guitar hall of fame.

For more information on the Explorer check out The Gibson Guitar companies homepage

Gibson Les Paul Faded Double Cutaway Guitar

fadedThe Gibson Les Paul Faded Double Cutaway Electric Guitar is reminiscent of the Les Paul special and features a “worn” style finish and double cutaway design. It’s clear that with the pickup selection and paint job that Gibson are appealing to the vintage enthusiasts among us and they are aiming to produce the same feel as the Les Paul specials and Juniors from the late 50’s and early 60’s 

With the new models manufactured in Nashville, the Double Cutaway features a mahogany body. A slim profile mahogany 60’s style 22 Fret glued in neck with rosewood fingerboard and pearloid dot markers. The stopbar tailpiece and tune-o-matic bridge are finished in chrome which looks ok and fits in nicely with the vintage vibe. One area of compromise seems to be the tuners which are standard white button tuners, authentic maybe but perhaps could be updated to some locking tuners.

While aesthetically the Double Cutaway doesn’t have the same visual appeal of the Classic Les Paul it does offer something a little different – there aren’t a lot of color options (red or yellow) but the faded effect produce a “vintage” looking piece that will get some attention at the next open mic night.

Electronics wise the double cutaway features two Gibson Vintage P90 pickups, two volume two tone controls (in the traditional Les Paul configuration) and a three way pickup selector switch which is positioned just above the volume /tone controls on the lower butt of the body. It’s fairly comfortable to play and unplugged has a nice acoustic twang through not though perhaps lacking a little in the sustain department.

Sound wise the P90’s offer a good combination of high output and high end response – combined with a tube amp those sounds the double cutaway can produce some Townshendesque bite. This is all good stuff – and as this guitar is aimed at the “vintage” market the sounds are as expected and the P90’s happily trade that middle ground between Fender’s single coil and a Gibson humbucker making this guitar suitable for a range of styles from pop through to Jazz however my guess is that those buying this guitar will be buying it for a certain sound and while these aren’t the liveliest P90’s we’ve heard they do the job adequately enough and provide enough rumble on the right settings (although add extra distortion with care as the sound can get a trifle mushy.)

We’re always keen to see something other than a traditional Les Paul or Strat so the Gibson Les Paul Faded double cutaway instantly appeals to us – The Les Paul Double cut-away retails for around $800 so should appeal to those Gibson seekers on a budget – and for those looking for a certain 60’s sound would do well to take a look.

Gibson Guitars

Gibson Les Paul Supreme

supremeGibson produce tons of Les Paul’s from signature models through to budget versions in loads of colors and finishes that it really takes something to catch your attention now when you see a Les Paul – the Supreme is aimed to do just that. Featuring a bucket load of luxury the Supreme is really something to lust after. 

With every part studiously selected to exude class Gibson have pushed the boat out. Based on a chambered mahogany body (for a ligthter weight and better resonance) the Les Paul supreme features AAAA maple top and back with fantastic seven ply top – three ply back binding.

With a Mahogany neck and Ebony fingerboard (with deluxe pearl-on-ebony fingerboard inlays) luxury is again piled on with gold tinted alloy frets; and an abalone, pearl, and brass globe inlaid on the Gibson LP headstock. Hardware is gold and as usual the Supreme features the traditional Les Paul fixtures and fittings in a Stopbar tailpiece, tune-o-matic bridge. Tuner’s are Grover locking tuners.

Electrics wise it’s packed with a 490R humbucker in the neck and a 498T in the bridge position. Gibson say of the 490 “feature tonal characteristics similar to the ’57 Classic, but deliver a slight increase in the upper mids, for a more contemporary humbucking sound. The special Alnico II magnet gives these beauties a singing quality that delivers on demand.” While of the 498 “With its higher output and emphasis on mid-ranges and highs, the 498T is the perfect rock pickup.”

While there are higher output Gibson pickups available (eg the Burstbucker) the supreme – doesn’t lack tonally – warm natural tone which is both articulate and deep (the chambered body also seems to add bags of sustain) – maybe not that versatile – but if you want Les Paul – then it delivers – crank it up and enjoy how Rock guitars were meant to sound.

As far as value for money goes – well this guitar retails at around $3,000 so it’s by no means cheap and perhaps this is where the problem lies – in recent years Gibson has taken a bit of a challenge on it’s quality control – the odd duff guitar has perhaps slipped through the net and tainted it’s image –for $3,000+ you need things to be perfect so it’s definatley worth trying before you buy – and checking out the finish, binding and the fretwork on the fingerboard to ensure that everything passes muster.

As a gigging guitar well – it’ll look the business but the finish and hardware will probably give you a few sleepless nights as well – when it comes out fo the box you just want to drool over it – I can well imagine a few tears if it picks up the usual dings and scratches that gigging guitars do –

Overall – well it’s a Les Paul – Iconic looks and Iconic tone – not much to go wrong really – with looks and finishing touches that put it towards the top of the Gibson tree. Gibson Guitars

Gibson Les Paul Menace

lpmenaceFrom time to time – all manufacturers appeal to certain a certain audience – Gibson have long played up to marketing tactics such as this with signature releases and brands such as the Les Paul Vixen – in 2006 they released the Les Paul Menace which from the off is a Les Paul but perhaps not as we know it!

Gibson’s marketing strategy with the Les Paul Menace is no doubt aimed at the rockier element of the guitar community and the guitar features some nifty (if not earth shattering) mods to the usual Les Paul. First things first the LP Menace is fierce – we know that because it’s got some fist stickers on the fretboard and a tatoo-esque Gibson decal and it’s got a jet black paintjob to go with it (which looks great by the way) – looks count and the Menace has got its own personality and fits right into the angsty rock genre . Those looking for a nice pink finish or thier favourite burst color look elsewhere! The menace is a one trick pony but it’s one trick is done with the right level of finesse and we suspect with a good natured sense of humour.

The first thing that differentiates this Gibson from others is the body – sure it’s the familiar Les Paul single cut-away shape but this things grooved! Gibson calls these “tribal body routings”. well they sure are unique looking first off there are four grooves just behind the tailpeice these are matched by two further cuts just behind the 3 way pickup switch – these subtleties are a nice fun design quirk and fit in nicely with the other visuals.

Based on a Mahagonay body with maple top – In comparison to a Les Paul Standard it’s a little thinner and a little lighter – the neck which is a 60′s tapered neck is fun and fast. It’s comfortable to play and it’s lighter body makes adds to it’s charm – Pickup wise the Menace has one 490R “Smoky coil” and one 498T “Smoky Coil” which have clear bobbins enabling the wiring to be viewed which is a neat trick and adds to the visuals – sound wise well as you’d expect from a Gibson – thick warm and with enough bite to please. Let’s face it this is a rock guitar and whilst there are more heavy pickups out there the factory fitted ones should please the vast majority – plug into a half decent amp and you get the typical Les Paul sounds you’d come to expect. The lighter body doesnt dent the usual sustain whilst there is enough grit about the sound to match up to it’s persona.

If we were to nitpick then personally we miss the traditional Gibson and Les Paul logo’s – sure we understand why there not there but they really are part of the furniture for the Les Paul – as for the finish – as beautiful as it looks out of the box this thing will need to be looked after – too many scratches or blemishes would detract from the guitar – so if you buy – look after it!

The menace comes in at around the $1000 mark so is on the low end of the Gibson price scale and represents value for those looking for a Gibson at a good price. There will be many that will weigh up the Epiphone Les Paul against this model (shop around and in some cases there’s not a huge amount in it.) and for those that wait there’s enough character here to please most.

Gibson Guitars

Gibson ES 137

137When it comes to Jazz boxes, Gibson have more than a solid reputation – with the likes of the L5, 335 and ES-175 which are all classics in the genre they are so highly regarded they are you could excuse Gibson for taking their foot of the gas with semi’s. This is especially true when you consider, under Gibson, that with Epiphone they pretty much have the high end part of the semi acoustic market sewn up.

So it’s somewhat appealing when you see tweaks to their stable and innovative models appearing – the ES-137 is one such instrument, with a body based on a ES-135 but with enough changes up it’s sleave to to be a model in it’s own right the ES-137 is somewhat of a hybrid – not a traditional Jazz box – but not an all out rock and roller either.

Gibson hail the ES-137 as the first Gibson guitar to utilize a mahogany center block. Now, center blocks are nothing new and have been used to improve sustain and reduce feedback for a while – but the 137 with its a mahogany block, and the resultant tone is enhanced (producing something that is a little more than faintly familiar to a Les Paul).

For the 137 Gibson have opted for a laminated curly maple body – while this may upset the purists out there who have a dislike for laminate it does it’s job well enough. The single cutaway design and weight of the instrument make for a pleasurable experience. The only downside is that the neck (maple) is a little on the wide side and while accommodating for those with largish hands – it won’t be for everyone.

Visually, the 137 is a handsome guitar and Gibson have gone to town to ensure that it’s aesthetically appealing, with the body being nicely bound, special inlay on the fretboard, a bound fingerboard – all nicely done and acting as a nice “polish” to the instrument.

All the usual Gisbon essentials are there, two tone, two volume controls, Tune-o-matic bridge with stop tailpiece – three way pickup selector – standard Gibson fare.

Pickups are a Gibson 490R in the neck and a 498T in the bridge. The 498T is one of Gibson’s higher output pickups, and has pronounced mid ranges and highs being one of Gibson’s hotter pickups – this makes an interesting choice and ensures that the 137 comes packed with enough versatility to ensure that it isn’t just an out and out Jazz box – with a bit of drive and the bridge pickup selected you get the nice thick Gibson tone – making it stray into rock or hard blues territory.

With a list of around $2,500 which is around the same as an entry level 335 this sits towards the lower end of Gibson’s hollowbody range (there is a Custom version of the 137 which costs a bit more)- there’s no doubt that the center block does it’s job and the versatility in the sound will please many. Jazzer’s may not be totally convinced there are cleaner Gibson tones out there- nevertheless for those wanting sonic versatility from a semi and a beautiful instrument to boot – the 137 fits the bill.

Gibson Guitars

Gibson Kalamazoo

Gibson and Fender have produced such iconic (and different) instruments in the Les Paul and the Stratocaster that it’s sometimes easy to forget that they sometimes produced models in direct competition with each other, not only on budget but stylistically as well.

In the 1960’s Fender had the Mustang which was at the time a relatively cheap introduction to Fender’s line offering a slightly different take on the traditional Fender sounds. The Mustang went on to be a firm favourite among those looking for a cheap injection of retro cool together with a distinctive sound.

In competition to this Gibson introduced the Kalamazoo range (although visibly this wasn’t branded Gibson, “Kalamazoo made in the USA” logo adorned the headstock). The name Kalamazoo has been associated a fair bit with Gibson over the years and acoustics, amplifiers and electrics have all been in receipt of the name at one stage or another. The late ‘60’s saw the Kalamazoo undergo a couple of incarnations – the first release saw a body shape similar to the Fender Mustang with the second release more reminiscent of the Gibson SG.

The first release of the Kalamazoo came in two configurations – the KG1 and the KG2. The early KG-2 was a two pickup model featuring a compressed chipboard (MDF) body, Double cutaway design – with the pickguard and tailpiece quite high up the body. With it’s Fender-ish headstock ( six tuners on the top of the headstock – unlike the traditional Gibson three aside) on a maple bolt on neck featuring a 22 fret rosewood fingerboard. As a budget model the hardware was understandably fairly low end but did feature the classic vibrola style tremolo system and open tuners.

Sound wise the Kalamazoo produced a very clean, surfy tone – something quite unlike the typical Gibson tone. The pickups – sometimes referred to as “melody maker” pickups were single coil – the KG2 featured a pickup selector switch and separate tone/volume controls for each pickup providing an element of versatility to the guitar. The pickups could get noisy and so weren’t suitable to too much overdrive – however the tone was distinctive and gave the guitar a unique character.

What’s striking with the Kalamazoo is how similar it is to the Fender models of the time – this is interesting because today – Gibson and Fender have such unique styles that there are not many designs which are familiar between the two manufacturers.

The Kalazmazoo was discontinued by Gibson in the early 70′s, good examples of the Kalamazoo show up on auction sites from time to time. For a 30+ year old instrument there are the obvious things to look out for, the tremolo system is often incomplete, the pickguard can have cracks and like any vintage guitar the neck should be checked for any warp.

While the Kalamazoo may never have the appeal of some of Gibson’s more prestigious lines, for enthusiasts the Kalamazoo marks an interesting time for in Gibson’s history – there aren’t too many guitars like this in Gibson’s stable and while examples may never see huge prices – it remains an alluring piece.

The Fender Jaguar

fenderjaguarFender released the Fender Jaguar in the early 1960′s. Although stylistically similar to its sibling the Fender Stratocaster – the body is more angular and features the same “offset waist” as the Jazzmaster upon which the Jaguar was based.

The original Jaguar featured a dual circuit system featuring pickup selector switches (which turned the pickups on or off) and a high pass filter switch that accentuated the treble sound of the guitar. The guitar has two single coil pickups designed specifically for the Jaguar and they provide a broad tonal range (although its pickups can get quite noisy when overdriven and are prone to feedback).

The guitar’s sound can be somewhat of an acquired taste as it differs from both Fenders Stratocaster and Telecaster with it’s mid range sound setting it apart. This difference is part of the guitars appeal and its later resurgence in the alt.rock niche relied much on the guitars unique sound.

The guitar features a shorter 22 fret neck together with a spring loaded rubber string mute and floating tremolo system. The tremolo system, which was unique to the Jaguar and Jazzmaster was not a success and was dogged by design flaws such as inadequate saddles, however the tremolo was of the locking variety and therefore protected the guitars tuning during string breakages.

The Jaguar never gained the popularity of the Stratocaster or the Telecaster and Fender eventually discontinued the guitar in the early 1970′s. After a resurgence in it’s usage by artists such as Nirvana (Kurt Cobain was often pictured with a Jaguar), Fender restarted production in the 1990′s and the guitar is still produced today and remains popular with artists who are looking for a different sound whilst still requiring the quality of a Fender instrument

Fender Mustang

fendermustangThe Fender Mustang, designed by Leo Fender, was originally released in the early 1960′s and was based on an earlier Fender guitar the Fender Musicmaster (the Mustang differs by having a vibrator tailpiece). Like the Musicmaster, the Mustang was aimed at the “guitar student” market and in comparison to its stable mates was less expensive (it’s original cost was around $150).

The basic specifications for the Fender Mustang featured a Mahogany body, 24″ scale neck with 22 Frets. The Mustang also featured a “dynamic vibrato” similar to that found on the Fender Jaguar. During the 1960′s the guitar went through several iterations. These modifications included varying colors and body contours, different tuning pegs and smaller headstock.

The Fender Mustang comes with two single coil pickups that each feature a three way pickup selector which allow the pickup to be turned on or off or placed into Phase mode. These switches were often criticised as while the guitar was being played they could be inadvertently switched off. A solution to this was place tape over the switches to keep them in position.

Although the quality of its pickups have often been criticised the guitar is able to produce some respectable clean tones although can be noisy when overdriven. The Mustang is often seen as a “surf music” guitar due to the sounds it is able to produce.

Fender originally discontinued the Mustang in the 1980′s however reissued it a decade later after as a result of its popularity with grunge and punk bands prevalent at the time.

Many artists have been associated with the Mustang such as Kurt Cobain, Shakira and Blur’s Graham Coxon and its continued use ensures that the guitar remains a favourite of the Fender stable.

Visit the Fender Website for more information on the Fender Mustang Guitar

Fender Cyclone

cycloneLooking somewhat like a stretched Stratocaster – the Fender Cyclone is aimed at those Fender lovers who like their sound a little more alternate – a tinge more punkier. Differing from it’s Stratocaster brethren with it’s mix of single coil and humbucker pickups it also got a whacked out visual style about it. Taking a look at it and it’s undoubtedly got that alt.rock look about it – somewhat unique looking with it’s offset body betraying it’s close relation to the Fender Mustang

Based on an alder body (with a polyester finish) the Cylone has a scale length of 24.75” – the neck is maple and has a rosewood 9.5” fingerboard mounted with 22 “Medium Jumbo” Frets. The hardware is pretty basic for a Fender – and as the Cyclone has a retail price of only $469 the guitar is clearly aimed at the budget Fender owners and as such some of the hardware choices reflect that – the Tremolo system for example struggles to stay in tune with anything more than a teasing vibrato and the Tuners (Fender Vintage Style Machines) lack the robustness of locking tuners – however these are common place with guitars of a similar price and won’t upset the beginner – for the more astute however these may be a nagging compromise that will need to be swapped out.

Electrics wise it has one volume and one tone control – pickups are provided by a tex-mex single coil in the neck position and a “atomic humbucker” in the bridge. The tex-mex is nicely done and is very reminiscent of that sweet Strat sound (look closely and you’ll see it’s fitted in some of Fender’s Strats) however one issue that the Fender Cyclone has is that the pickups are quite meaty and aren’t that well balanced – the Atomic Humbucker pickup in the bridge is noticeably louder than the neck pickup and you need to be tread carefully when switching between the two mid song and with the selector switch mid position the neck pickup is easily drowned out by it’s humbucking sibling this has a big impact on the guitar’s versatility – it may be great for those practicing at home wanting to switch from rhythm (neck) to solo (bridge) but for a live situation the imbalance in volumes could be a bit of a pain.

However taking this slight niggle into account – sound wise the Cyclone produces a nice crisp punky tone with a good mid-range punch – the cyclone is certainly aiming at a alt.rock niche and it does this well – sought of like a cross between a Strat and Les Paul – the humbucker gives plenty of growly tones and the guitar offers enough sustain to please those vintage rockers out there – I’d question it’s versatility – with the two different pickups – the lack of two tone controls is a big drawback – but if you go for the cyclone your probably not going to want to swap between jazz and country – likely your going to want the tones it offers out of the box, which it does with it’s own panache.

For a relatively inexpensive guitar – and something that isn’t your usual staple Fender (i.e. Strat or Tele) the Cyclone has quite a few things going for it – there are some niggles too – and your advice (as ever) is to play before you buy – but if your after a different tone and want the visuals then the Cyclone may well be worth a look.

For more info check out the Fender Guitar website

Fender Toronado

toronadoOver the years Fender have had a rich association with rock music – a number of seriously heavy rock acts such as Iron Maiden – Hendrix to name a few have used Fenders but it must irk a little that for serious rock muso’s a Gibson Les Paul is what they grab for – so with the Toronado Fender have taken a number of design innovations to their standard template in an attempt to make the guitar appeal to those players who wouldn’t normally go for a Fender

The first thing you notice when you glance at a Toronado is that it looks unlike any other Fender whilst being strangely familiar – the butt of the guitar is contoured like a strat and coupled with the offset waist it’s nice and comfortable to rest on your knee when you want to pick it up to play but the rest of the design is fairly angular and seems strangely reminiscent of some hybrid – Jaguar/Explorer combo – hardware wise well purists would argue that it’s laid out as rock guitar should be twin humbuckers (in this case Atomic Humbuckers) – two tone – two volume controls – and a pickup selector switch – the bridge is served by a Adjusto-Matic™ Bridge with Anchored-Tailpiece.

The body is made from Alder and comes in a range of colors set off by a Polyester finish and the neck is maple with a rosewood 22 fret fingerboard with a 9.5” radius – the frets are medium jumbo’s. Hardware is chrome and the body is finished with a typical Fender style pick guard.

As with most Fender’s the build quality is pretty good – one cutback has been the use of standard vintage tuner’s – perhaps we’re nitpicking but we always like to see locking tuners to keep that stability – especially if your gonna rock out – you may as well do it in tune.

As we said at the start – the Toronado is aimed at the rock market – with the Atomic Humbucker Fender have clearly kitted out the guitar with that in mind the pickups offer a gutsy mid range with plenty of bottom end. Turned up high with a loud amp – they can get a little noisy.

Being aimed at the “Les Paul” community it’s unsurprising that the Toronado has some similarities – the pickups are pretty meaty but don’t stretch all the way into the Les Paul sound – perhaps more like a P90 tone with an unmistakable Fender quality – a fair degree of warmth coupled with a full sound – a little bassy perhaps – whilst the pickups don’t have the loudest output by any means they do the job well – the neck pickup provides an excellent workhorse for rhythm tones and the bridge pickups adds that extra bite for solo’s – add some overdrive and you’ve got a lovely creamy tone – great for rock or blues the tone/volume options add versatility and if you do need a bit of range we think that the Toronado would make an excellent guitar for a covers band.

With it’s distinct look the Toronado is really something different from the Fender stable – while there tackling an established market – the guitar offers quite a bit – in both tone and versatility and with a RRP of around the $500 dollar mark that’s a fairly cheap price to pay for a “badged” instrument offering the Fender quality.

For more info check out the Fender Guitar website

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