Gibson AMI | (03) 8696 4600 | www.gibsonami.com.au | RRP: $1159

The Gib­son Explorer was ahead of its time when it was released in the 50s, and still seemed like a bit a quirky anachro­nism in the 70s. But in the 80s it found itself at the cen­tre of a rev­o­lu­tion in gui­tar; thrash. This highly tech­ni­cal, highly aggres­sive new form of music required a gui­tar that could have plenty of punch, was playable, and looked badass. Cer­tain play­ers took the Explorer and popped a set of EMG pick­ups in it, and went on to cre­ate his­tory. We’ll leave it to you to fig­ure out who we’re talk­ing about… Any­way, the 1984 Explorer EX pays trib­ute to the meet­ing of Explorer and EMG that helped to define the future of heavy music.


This model isn’t exactly like the Gib­son that cer­tain thrash­ers were mod­i­fy­ing in the 80s. It has a sim­ple volume/tone con­trol lay­out instead of volume/volume/tone, for instance. But it still has that aggres­sive shape, Mahogany body and neck, 22 frets and a whole lot of atti­tude. The neck is a Slim­Ta­per “D” pro­file, which posi­tions the hand per­fectly for com­plex riffage, aided by the 12” fret­board radius, which gives you a flat-but-not-too-flat play­ing sur­face. The fin­ger­board is Rose­wood and is adorned with sim­ple dot inlays. The strings are anchored by a Stop­Bar tail­piece and they pass over a Lock­Tone Tune-O-Matic bridge, and the nut width is 1.68”. The classically-shaped head­stock car­ries six Grover tuners with small buttons.

The active pick­ups are an EMG 81 in the bridge posi­tion and an 85 in the neck. There’s a bat­tery com­part­ment in the back, and a 3-way pickup selec­tor gives you bridge, bridge/neck and neck options. The pickup choice is an inter­est­ing one because cer­tain thrash­ers favoured an EMG 60 in the neck posi­tion. But this is not designed to be an exact copy of anyone’s gui­tar. Oh, also it’s avail­able in two colours: Alpine White and Ebony. No other colours are avail­able. Sad but true.


So how does this beast sound? Big, mean, pre­cise and pow­er­ful. The EMG 81 keeps up with ultra-fast alter­nate pick­ing while strik­ing the per­fect bal­ance between attack and body. It keeps up with down-tuned riffs per­fectly well, and it has exactly the kind of slightly cold, slightly ster­ile clean tone that many thrash play­ers look for. The neck pickup isn’t as smooth and bluesy as the 60 would be, but again it gives you great attack and def­i­n­i­tion for fast play­ing — which is espe­cially impor­tant in thrash lead-playing where you’ll find your­self doing every­thing from bluesy bends to rapid-fire arpeg­gios, string skips and tap­ping. The neck pickup’s clean tone is a lit­tle live­lier than the bridge, approach­ing an almost jazzy tex­ture at times.

Epi­phone has been care­ful to ensure that the playa­bil­ity of the 1984 Explorer EX puts up just enough of a fight to prompt you to whack the string hard and gen­er­ate those big punchy tones. It’s not a hard gui­tar to play but it doesn’t do all the work for you either. You’ll need a heavy pick to get the right kind of crunch, and maybe a really long strap so you can really give it some fuel and fire with your pick­ing hand.


Although fans of cer­tain thrash­ers are prob­a­bly the most log­i­cal own­ers of this gui­tar, it’s an all-round great metal axe which can cover a lot of ground, from hard rock to Open C extreme metal of the ‘Strap­ping Young Lad’ vari­ety. And it has enough of its own thing going on that you can choose to cel­e­brate its sim­i­lar­i­ties to those axes used in the 80s and early 90s, or you can approach it as an instru­ment for your music right now.

Hits and Misses


Robust playa­bil­ity

Great build quality

Aggres­sive tones


Stream­lined con­trols reduce versatility

EMG 60 would have been cool


  • Body Mate­r­ial: Mahogany
  • Neck Mate­r­ial: Mahogany
  • Neck Joint: Glued-In, Set Neck
  • Fin­ger­board Mate­r­ial: Rosewood
  • Machine Heads: Grover™ with small metal buttons
  • Neck Pickup: Active EMG-85
  • Bridge Pickup: Active EMG-81
  • Pickup Selec­tor: 3-way Tog­gle Switch, Epi­phone All-Metal