Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen shows off his epic guitar collection and reveals he owns three of the 19 ’58 Explorers in existence

We all knew that Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen was one of the world’s most dedicated collectors of guitars but perhaps we never realised just how expansive his gear arsenal was. But when Gibson’s Mark Agnesi came knocking at Nielsen’s home in Rockford, Illinois, even he was taken aback.

You might think of the rock icon’s house as a veritable Xanadu, and that would kind of be appropriate – Nielsen owns a 1959 Les Paul Standard once owned by Rush’s Geddy Lee. 

And as though to demonstrate his six sense for all things vintage and gear-related, he had convinced Joe Bonamassa’s guitar tech, Mike Hickey, to perform a modest act of blasphemy by removing the covers off the humbuckers on it, knowing that there were double cream-coil PAFs underneath.

There was also his 1960 Les Paul Standard, another ’59 Les Paul with a tiger-stripe top that was used for the Collector’s Choice reissue, and another ‘Burst with an eye-popping, nigh-on quilted grain. But the best was yet to come. 

Rick Nielsen

Rick Nielsen with the second electric guitar he ever bought, a 1955 Gold Top Les Paul  (Image credit: YouTube / Gibson TV)

In his storage facility, shelves are stacked high with electric guitars by Hamer, Fender, but mostly Gibson, there lurked three of the the rarest and most sought-after vintage guitars of all time, the 1958 Gibson Explorer. 

With only 19 '58 Explorers ever made, that means Nielsen owns 15.8 per cent of the world’s supply of them. The first he bought, for four grand. Bearing the serial number 81008, Nielsen says it might be the first ever made.

The second was more beat up, bearing scars of various modifications and road miles. The third korina Explorer might well be the gnarliest, with its split V-shaped headstock. “Having two is unbelievable,” says Nielsen. “Having one is unbelievable!”

“We go from never seeing a korina Explorer on this show to three back-to-back-to-back, I think you win,” Agnesi told Nielsen. 

There was also a ’58 Korina Flying V, one of 81 made in that year, and a guitar that was previously in Andy Warhol’s possession. It had been retrofitted with Grover Stair Step Imperial tuners and was picked up by Nielsen in circa-‘82 for the princely sum of $1,700 – a bargain that is hard to comprehend when we consider today's overheated vintage market.

“They were so rare,” says Nielsen. “If you see it, get it! I never hassled or bargained for something that was a fair price. Thank you, Gibson, for making these. I can’t believe that they couldn’t sell these things.”

How times have changed. And Gibson are selling them again, releasing Murphy Lab replicas of their trailblazing korina-built 1958 Explorer and Flying V earlier in the year. Available exclusively through the Gibson Garage for $9,999, Gibson stuck with tradition and made 19 Explorers and 81 Vs.

Check out the rest of the rest of Nielsen's guitar collection in the video above. Rumour has it, there might well be a five-necked Hamer electric with a story to tell to. Subscribe to Gibson TV on YouTube.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.