1984 Gibson Explorer Custom Shop

CRAVE Guitars says…

Thumbs up: Rare early Custom Shop Edition model, great pickups, originality and condition, OHSC

Thumbs down: Divisive colour, tweaked basic design, non‑traditional control layout

Decree: A wonderful cool and rare early Gibson Custom Shop Explorer in an unusual colour and in fabulous condition

Model Description:

Although the Gibson Custom Shop wasn’t formally established as a separate production facility at Gibson’s plant in Nashville Tennessee until 1993, there is plenty of evidence that custom, limited edition and one‑off special guitars were being produced by a specialist team within the main Gibson facility from as early as 1983/1984. All of these custom designated instruments received the addition of the exclusive Gibson ‘Custom Shop Edition’ logo. Early Custom Shop Gibson Explorers included the very limited edition (of only 100) Explorer Heritage guitars in 1983 and a few upgraded Explorer models in 1984/1985, featuring appointments not available on the standard guitars. While the Heritage harked back to the original 1950s Explorers, the basis for the latter was the then‑modern Alder body/maple neck model with no scratchplate and triangular control layout. Many critics might say that the early Custom Shop badging was more of a low cost/low risk marketing exercise to sell slightly tweaked standard models, rather than a discrete expert team of luthiers set up to create high‑class custom models. Alternatively, it may have been used as a test bed to determine whether there was sufficient market demand for elite‑grade instruments before establishing an expensive dedicated manufacturing workshop. It was also several years before Gibson’s main competitor, Fender, established their own Custom Shop – presumably Fender learned from Gibson’s experience. Whatever the rationale at Gibson, these Custom Shop badged guitars exist as a clear statement of intent.

Guitar Description:

Wow! Here we have a very cool and rare 1984 Gibson Custom Shop Edition Explorer in unusual Night Violet sunburst (also sometimes called Purple Burst or Midnite Violet) finish with gleaming gold hardware. There were a few standard models released in this genuine, original and outlandish custom colour (with chrome hardware) and even fewer of them exhibiting the Custom Shop logo. Very few have survived in such good all‑original condition as this one. This particular Explorer seems to have spent the majority of its life untouched in its case and is almost in mint, ‘New Old Stock’ (NOS) condition, with just a few signs of finish crazing. If you want a virtual time machine to take you back 30 years plus, this could be the result. Like many 1980s Explorers, this example forgoes the traditional scratchplate and has the triangular control pattern with the pickup selector switch adjacent to the knobs. The wonderful ‘Dirty Fingers’ pickups used by Explorers in the 1980s give it a distinctive ‘growl’ and powerful tones full of harmonics, which the modern imitations just can’t match (and neither can ‘normal’ Gibson humbuckers). This Explorer is a surprisingly light weight guitar, so it is easy to pick up and play for extended periods, which accords with an alder/maple construction. While the base model Explorers had a light weight alder body, the only visible bare wood in the electronics cavity is almost certainly mahogany, which is intriguing and may actually be part of the custom feature set. If it is a mahogany body, one wonders what the neck is made of but there is no way to find out without damaging it. This is probably one of the very earliest Gibsons to carry the sought after Custom Shop title and a very worthy example of the breed it is too.


  • Made in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A. in April 1984
  • Offset mahogany solid body
  • Night Violet sunburst nitrocellulose finish
  • Early Gibson ‘Custom Shop Edition’ logo on rear of headstock
  • Maple or mahogany set neck
  • Original Grover tuners
  • Unbound rosewood fingerboard with 22 frets and dot markers
  • Scale length 24¾” (629mm)
  • Original gold plated hardware
  • No scratchplate
  • 2 volume and 1 tone control in triangular pattern with adjacent 3‑way pickup selector switch
  • Original dual uncovered Gibson ‘Dirty Fingers’ humbucking pickups
  • Weight: 6lb (2.72kg)
  • Original Gibson hard shell case

Detail Gallery:

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