Price paid: € 1400
Purchased from: Evenstad Musikk A/S
Features — 8
The Gibson Explorer Blackout is a 2015 limited edition, that features an all black mahogany body and neck, black bindings and headstock, with a glossy finish and black chrome hardware, powered by non-covered Gibson Dirty Fingers ceramic pickups. Traditional tune-o-matic brigde and stoptail, with Mini-Grover Kidney tuners (non-locking) as per usual, as well as Vol/Vol/Tone speedknobs and a 3-way switch. Did I mention that these are black as well?
A 22-fret, 24 3/4" scale Slim-Taper neck with a black composite fingerboard with acrylic split-diamond inlays completes the design. The open routing hidden behind a black 3-piece pickguard might throw some people off, but I have come to terms with it. Comes with a huge Gibson hardcase with the usual certificates and booklets.
Sound — 10
First of all, this axe sounds as agressive as it looks. This thing is bred for metal, but it is easily capable to use with all kinds of styles. The Dirty Fingers are high-output pickups that are surprisingly low-noise. They're not very rich sounding, but are instead very agressive on the lows and highs, but still has enough mids to give it some nice cleans. I play through a Blackstar ID:60 TVP head with a Marshall 1936 Lead 2x12 cab, and a Marshall DSL40 Combo, both of wich are set for mid-gain clean-crunch and high-gain OD-Dist.
Action, Fit & Finish — 10
Out of the box, the guitar was flawless. No transportation damage, no misalignment, no sharp edges on the frets and not even a scratch on the plastic coating on the plate covers. Hell, it was barely out of tune! It came factory set-up with 9-46 guage strings (Brite Wires?) and fairly low action, so for me it was immediately very comfortable to play. Although they were set up initially very good, pickup and bridge adjustments had to be made shortly after, as I swapped the strings for heavier gauge to play in lower tunings. This axe has since been set-up for B-standard with custom 13-62 strings from Stringjoy.
Reliability & Durability — 6
This axe has yet to be played live, but has easily over 100 hours of playtime at home. The construction, neck joint, nut and near-invisible bindings all seem to be very good quality. The brigde, however, has not proven to be very durable. One of the intonation screws broke off during adjustment, and upon removing it for repair, I learned that this brigde (and stoptail) was from Advanced Plating Inc (???wtf Gibson???), that had a very copperish interior. I decided that this simply wouldn't do, and a proper TonePros brigde now sits in it's place.
The Mini-Grovers have proven slightly difficult to do fine tuning on the heavier guages I've been using. These tuners have a 14:1 turning ratio, but they will soon be replaced by Hipshot Grip-Locks with an 18:1 ratio. The strap buttons are surprisingly good. My Perris Heavy Metal strap sits very tightly, so no accidents yet - like that scenario where you're left standing, cold-sweating and hyper-ventilating, with a strap on the shoulder and a guitar on the floor... :/
Overall Impression — 9
As previously stated, the Explorer Blackout is bred for metal. I've opted to use this axe for mainly playing melodic death metal (Amon Amarth), but also just for having fun with playing classics in low tunings. :D I've owned this axe since December 2014 and use it almost daily. I was extremely exicted to see that Amon Amarth guitarist Olavi Mikkonen also got himself a Blackout, which you can see in the video "First Kill."
This is a true battleaxe that has not only made me very happy, but has also helped a lot for improving my playing. And yes, I am biased towards the viking style of metal, as I am Norwegian! If only it had come with a TonePros brigde out of the factory, instead the API knockoff, I would have given it top marks.
I have aslo been toying with the thought of swapping the pickups for a set of Seymour Duncan AHB's, which would really fit the design (you know, a Blackout with Blackouts... :D ), but I have not tried these yet, so I'm not sure what to expect for the sound. But, who knows? :D