11 legends of the Flying V and Explorer
Gibson's original Flying V and Explorers - and the many copies they've spawned - are some of the flashiest guitars you can strap on.
Here's MusicRadar's countdown of 11 of the guitarists who have made the dramatic shapes their own.
Next page: Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix's psychedelic Flying V
Hendrix owned three Vs: an originally black specimen he hand-painted with a eye-catching psychedelic, floral design, and which he toured in 1967 and 1968 (reissue pictured), a sunburst example from 1969 that now resides with the Hard Rock Cafe, and a 1969 lefty version created for him by Gibson (also the first V to feature an inlaid pearl logo). Did he use one on All Along The Watchtower? Some experts believe so…
Next page: The Edge
When a teenage Edge wandered into a New York guitar shop, he was after a Rickenbacker. Yet it was a natural 1976 Explorer that he left with. “I wasn’t expecting it, but the Explorer seemed to talk to me,” he says. It has since appeared on almost every U2 album.
Next page: Michael Schenker
Along with his brother and former Scorpions sidekick Rudolf – who himself is the world’s premier collector of Flying Vs with over 70 – teutonic fret-tickler Michael Schenker is the rocker most readily associated with the model, despite Gibson never producing a signature model. Schenker now has his own signature V-style made by Dean (pictured).
Next page: KK Downing
For a long time Judas Priest axe-mangler KK Downing played an original ’64 Gibson Flying V with PAF pickups (one of only 200 made) but he’s since employed similar designs made by Hamer, ESP and his own KxK Custom Shop. Very metal.
Next page: Rick Nielsen
This Hamer aficionado was a principal reason the company began making V and Explorer-style guitars in the first place. But he’s also an avid collector and owns not one but two ’58 korina Explorers (not to mention a twin-neck guitar shaped like… Rick Nielsen).
Next page: Billy Gibbons
Not content with owning just one Holy Grail of the guitar world (in Pearly Gates, his legendary ’59 Les Paul), ZZ Top bluesman Gibbons has an original ’58 korina Flying V nestling amongst his gigantic guitar collection.
The V has seen action on many 1970s ZZ recordings, and can be seen adorning the cover of Fandango! from 1975. He also own numerous custom-made Explorer-styles.
Next page: Albert King
A man whose persona was so intertwined with the Flying V that his gravestone in Arkansas has one emblazoned on it, in many ways Albert King had the first and last word on the instrument. A true original, his trailblazing Southpaw blues was powered by a 1958 korina V (known as Lucy to BB’s Lucille), flipped upside down.
His trademark aggressive bends would influence the likes of Clapton, SRV, Otis Rush and many others, shaping the sound of the blues for generations to come.
Next page: Lenny Kravitz
Lenny Kravitz’s signature Gibson Flying V is a 1967 historic reissue with a black and gold flake finish, with a pickguard and truss rod cover of gold mirror. Understated, just like the man.
Kravitz has owned four original ‘67s over the years, in burgundy, natural, pelham blue and cherry.
Next page: Dave Grohl
Foo Fighter Grohl was using a black standard Explorer as his weapon of choice when he made the switch from the drum stool in Nirvana (see the Big Me video from the band’s 1995 self-titled debut to see it in action).
After Pat Smear and then his replacement Franz Stahl parted ways with the band, Grohl decided to record all the guitar parts for 1999’s There Is Nothing Left To Lose himself.
To capture many of this album’s most memorable licks he used a white Explorer (it makes an appearance in the space shuttle scenes of the video for Next Year) through a Vox AC30.
Next page: Tim Wheeler
Ash’s leader is a latter-day Flying V aficionado, mainly using a 1982 korina model fitted with ’58 ‘zebra-coil’ PAFs. Oddly, he never uses this one in the studio.
He has a cherry reissue and sparkly V (pictured) also, and most impressively a modded-model that spits fire out the bottoms of the wings. Rockin’!
Next page: James Hetfield
On the Kill ’Em All album, Hetfield was using a V copy with Gibson truss rod cover, then the rhythm king’s white ‘More Beer’ and ‘So What’ (named after the permanent marker scrawl on their bodies) 1984 Explorers became veterans of every Metallica session from 1984’s Ride The Lightning until 1991’s Black Album.
Unlike his other guitars, neither have EMG pickups – and the ‘More Beer’ features Seymour Duncans.