Price paid: C$ 700
Purchased from: Friend
Features — 10
The guitar was made in the USA for a limited time in 2011, limited to 400 pieces from what research I've done. Specs are as follows:
- Swamp ash body, stained in what Gibson's website called "Juju" and it's a satin finish; more on that in a minute
- Standard 24 3/4 inch scale
- Mahogany set neck w/ rosewood fingerboard and red mother-of-pearl inlays, listed as "Fast Explorer" profile; 12 degree radius, 22 medium jumbo frets
- Two Gibson GEM active pickups (Alnico II magnets) with two volumes and a master tone, three way toggle selector
- Schaller Floyd Rose-style bridge and mini Grover tuners (14:1 ratio)
- Came with a Gibson USA molded hard case.
Sound — 9
As I said on my last review (and got eaten alive for), I play all kinds of different genres ranging from country to melodic death metal and everything in between and this guitar suits the majority of those styles fairly well. I'm running it through a Hughes & Kettner Switchblade 100 head into a Randall 4x12 speaker cabinet, using Planet Waves cables or a Line 6 G30 Relay wireless. Both methods work fantastically in my opinion. No effects at all, just straight in.
Guitar has a very honky midrange, as you'd expect from an Explorer. Sounds very full and defined on both clean and gain settings, but gain is where it really shines due to the active pickups. It's almost like having an overdrive pedal in the guitar. They sound a lot more dynamic than your standard EMG 60/81 or 81/85 pairing; notes are clear and easily distinguished within complex chords.
This guitar sits really well in a mix situation. I've jammed with some friends already using the guitar and it cuts when you need it to, but blends nicely when the full band is on rhythm sections of tunes. My only real complaint is that the neck pickup sounds a bit muddy depending on settings, but if you use your ear, it'll sound great. Don't play the numbers game - just turn dials until it sounds good and you'll probably surprise yourself.
Action, Fit & Finish — 10
When I got the guitar, the bridge was sitting a hair too far forward, but that was easily remedied with a screwdriver and a tuner. Intonation was spot on, action was perfect for me - not too high, not too low. Pickups provided even output as they were set up, but as noted above the neck pickup can tend to get a bit muddy at times.
The top is fantastic; the black stained swamp ash looks really sharp, especially with the red accent colour. I love the finish, which is one of the main reasons I bought the guitar. Bridge was excellently routed as well and now is full floating properly. As far as flaws go, the body had a few small dings, but I knew about that when I bought it (actually, i put one of them there myself when I was jamming with my friend earlier in the year) so I'm going to say no real issues for that. No noisy parts, everything was in tip top shape.
Reliability & Durability — 10
The guitar is VERY solidly put together and will definitely withstand most live situations. Hardware is really solid, although I do plan on ordering some titanium parts from FU-Tone to add to the guitar's tremolo system, just to help it last a bit longer. Strap buttons that were on it are definitely solid, but I took them out and put a DiMarzio Clip Lok strap on in their place.
If it wasn't a Floyd-style bridge, I would definitely gig without a back up if this was my only guitar, but it is - so I would make sure to bring a fixed bridge backup. Finish is really well done, will definitely withstand massive amounts of sweating on stage.
Overall Impression — 9
This guitar is mainly going to be for rock and metal (tuned in E flat standard at the moment) and it definitely suits those styles really well. Been playing for almost 13 years in various genres and bands. Gear is a constant revolving door for me, but my current set up includes a Jackson DK2M, a Charvel So Cal, a Washburn RX30 and an Ibanez AE30 acoustic for guitars, and my amp rig was noted above.
If it were stolen, I would be finding the bastard who did so and beating him rather severely... but if I had the money to buy another one used, I would do so in a heart beat! They were almost 3000 new so to get it for 700 was a steal of a price. My only real complaint with the guitar is the sometimes muddy neck pickup. Everything else is great.