1979 Gibson Explorer E2

CRAVE Guitars says…

Thumbs up: Great pickups, fine all‑original condition, truly unique and highly distinctive aesthetics, provenance, relative rarity, OHSC, favourable vintage values

Thumbs down: Atypical Explorer tone woods, so not necessarily one for the conservative player, traditionalist or collector. The TP‑6 tailpiece may not suit everyone

Decree: There has not been anything quite like the Gibson Explorer E2 (or the Flying V2) before or since, making the model(s) unique and increasingly collectable. It is a divisive variant that you’ll either love or hate… I love it

Model Description:

It is common knowledge that the original introduction of Gibson’s ‘modernistic’ series guitars including the Explorer, the Flying V and the archetype‑only Moderne, from 1958 until the early 1960s was neither commercially nor critically successful. Ironically, these are now some of the most valuable vintage guitars out there. As it turns out, Gibson President Ted McCarty’s futuristic guitar designs were way ahead of their time. The Explorer experienced a prolific resurgence from the mid‑1970s to the mid‑1980s and has been a regular feature of the Gibson and Epiphone catalogues ever since. Here, we are looking at a very specific model, the Explorer E2 (sometimes written as EII), which was only produced in relatively small numbers by Gibson from 1979 to 1983. During the same period, Gibson also made the Flying V2 as a matching model sharing some of the same features. Both the Explorer E2 and Flying V2 are reasonably scarce today. The design which, while familiar enough in outline, was a bold departure from the original template in terms of its construction. The original Explorer E2 and Flying V2 bodies were made of five alternating layers of walnut and maple with the edges attractively sculpted to emphasise the contrast between the lighter and darker tone woods, all under a natural finish. Gibson made the E2’s body woods interchangeable, meaning that the outer top and bottom layers were available as either walnut or maple, the former being more common. The set necks were also made from five strips of and walnut and maple capped with an unbound 22‑fret ebony fingerboard including, unusually for Gibson, a brass nut. While the Explorer E2 was otherwise fairly traditional, the Flying V2 was even more radical. In an attempt to boost dwindling sales, later E2s were finished in solid colours, retaining the bevelled body edges. Unlike the  early Flying V2s with their unconventional ‘boomerang’ pickups, all Explorer E2s came with the distinctive uncovered ‘Dirty Fingers’ pickups. To‑date, Gibson has not reissued either the Explorer E2 or the Flying V2, so the only ones available to enthusiasts are the visually striking originals, which are rapidly increasing in value on the vintage market due to their relative scarcity and overt eccentricity.

Guitar Description:

If you have an interest in cool, rare and unusual guitars, this truly outstanding 1979 Gibson Explorer E2 from the first year of the model’s production may well fit the bill. The E2’s natural finish over three layers of walnut and two layers of maple is certainly striking. I don’t know why Gibson hasn’t contoured the Explorer’s body before or since, as it streamlines the otherwise angular shape and it looks very sleek and cool. The gold plated hardware contrasts beautifully with a gorgeously fine‑grained black ebony fingerboard and black plastic parts. The E2’s scratchplate and controls retain the ‘standard’ Explorer layout, rather than the triangular knob pattern, adjacent pickup selector switch and no scratchplate that was used regularly by Gibson during the 1980s. Overall, this Explorer is in wonderful all‑original condition with only a bit of superficial buckle rash and the odd minor dink, which only adds to the cool. She has been very well cared for and the few signs of play wear are far less than one might expect of a guitar that’s been around for several decades. Crucially, the electronics are untouched, including the awesome original Gibson ‘Dirty Fingers’ pickups with all their raw power and finely nuanced output. For those ‘in the know’, nothing more needs saying about the reputation of these desirable pickups. Not only does the E2 look the part, she plays very well indeed; she is a real joy to pick up and hard to put down. The tone, unplugged or amplified, reveals the guitar’s unmatched tonal character. The dense tone woods are not hugely resonant resulting in a lovely taut sound with plenty of attack. The E2, like most Explorers, is a far more flexible instrument than many people appreciate and this particular model’s eccentricities only add to a tonal palette that not only includes but also goes beyond what the standard Explorers of the 1980s could deliver. While there are some that will disregard the E2 from the outset as just another Norlin‑era Gibson misfire, it remains a fascinating variation from the norm and should be judged objectively on its own merits. While the E2 may be straying too far from the classic specifications for some, taken as a whole package, the intent as well as the outcome have been very well executed, resulting in a truly unique model in the Explorer’s long lineage. It’s always good to have some sort of backstory to a guitar. I took over the stewardship of this stunning Gibson Explorer E2 from Peter Cox, singer and co-founder of English band Go West, who also very kindly provided signed provenance.


  • Made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.A. in November 1979
  • 5-piece walnut and maple set neck
  • Unbound ebony fingerboard with 22 frets and pearloid dot markers
  • Scale length 24¾” (629mm)
  • Nut width 1 11/16” (43 mm)
  • Original sealed Gibson‑branded mini tuners
  • Engraved 3‑ply (b/w/b) ‘E2’ truss rod cover
  • 5‑layer walnut and maple contoured body with walnut front/back in natural nitrocellulose finish
  • Original 5‑ply (b/w/b/w/b) scratchplate
  • Original Gibson ‘Dirty Fingers’ uncovered humbucking pickups
  • Original gold plated hardware
  • Gibson tune‑o‑matic bridge and TP-6 fine‑tune tailpiece
  • Original electrics, 3‑way toggle pickup selector switch, 2 volume and 1 tone control, and edge‑mounted jack socket
  • Original black plastic speed knobs
  • Original brass strap buttons
  • Weight: 9lb 9oz (4.33Kg)
  • Original Gibson oblong hard shell case


Around the same time as the E2, Gibson Explorer CMT (Curly Maple Top) models from 1981‑1984 often featured a truss rod cover also engraved with the ‘E2’ logo, leading to significant confusion over model designation then and since. See CRAVE Guitars’ 1982 Gibson Explorer CMT (read feature here – page opens in new browser tab)

See also:

Why not take a look at CRAVE Guitars’ matching 1980 Gibson Flying V2 (read feature here – page opens in new browser tab)?

Detail Gallery:

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