Sunday, October 02, 2005

My Next Guitar?

Updated: 03 October 2005, added price breakdown charts by parts.

A friend and I were at Sam Ash Friday talking with their luthier. He was extolling the virtues of the Explorer as an ideal players guitar--you can control the angle of the guitar to your body with the back of your forearm pushing on the top "fin", something not as easily accomplished with a Strat-style body. This made sense to me.

I mentioned that I have always been interested in acquiring an Explorer (or an SG) myself. I always thought the body design looked great, and some of my favorite players play(ed) Explorers. The only problem with them, as far as I could tell was weight. A heavy piece of wood! The luthier said they weren't any heavier then the Les Pauls, particularly if you can get one made of korina.

Well, all this talk of Explorers started me thinking once again about putting one together myself from parts (since it seems almost certain that I would never be able to afford a "real" Gibson Explorer). In fact, when I built my first Warmoth guitar I was contemplating an Explorer style set up back then (10 years ago?). The friend that was with me at Sam Ash is already talking about putting one together too. (He might change his mind after seeing this post, I dunno...)

This is a shot of the Gibson Explorer '76 available from Music123
Currently listed at $999 (includes a free Gibson
hard shell case that retails at $159)


The question is, can I build a similar model for less? Let's find out...

I have completed some calculations based on Warmoth's current pricing, and the answer is YES, it can be done--if I am willing to apply my own finish to the body. Otherwise, based on the options I selected plus having them apply a finish to the body & headstock, NO.

Now, as I mentioned previously, I have done this DIY guitar thing before. I am no stranger to building out a guitar from parts. I got exactly the guitar I wanted (minus active pickups, I could not afford them) by doing it this way. That is one of the huge advantages of the DIY guitar. The other is the quality of the Warmoth necks & bodies--particularly the necks. Their compound radius design for the fingerboard makes playing on them a dream. I am not an expert but I would daresay they are the best necks made, and they have been in the business for quite a while now.

Having gone this route before, I put together pricing for two variants on the Explorer theme that I think would be very nice. Both deviate from the standard Explorer shown above--both would lose the pickguard in the routing process. Both would have a single volume & single tone control (as opposed to two volume pots on the model above). The body would be alder. The neck would be maple with an ebony fingerboad, satin finish on the maple. Graphite nut, and stainless steel fretwire (which offers longer life then the widely used nickel wire). I am thinking a white body/headstock, black accents, and chrome hardware. I think it would look great, play great, and not break my back (with the alder body).

The second variation differs even further from the standard model shown above. Here I forego the Tune-O-Matic bridge and non-locking Gotoh SG38 tuners in favor of a Gotoh Wilkinson tremolo bridge, keep the graphite nut, and install Schaller Mini Locking Tuners. You see, I refuse to purchase another floating tremolo ever again1.

Another radical departure I would consider is replacing the three-way pickup selector switch with a 5-way switch hooked up to three Seymour Duncan pickups in an Bridge/Humbucker - Mid/Single - Neck/Humbucker style, wired in a "Steve's Wizardry" configuration. According to Totally Guitar (page 103) this configuration uses the five-way switch to coil-split the humbuckers in the 2 and 4 position achieving hum cancellation in all positions (except 3--the single coil alone), plus it should approach/approximate the classic single-coil tones of the 2 & 4 positions found on Strats. This would be a really cool mod to try out, IMO. 2 & 4 are my favorite tones on the Strat. I'm still trying to picture how this thing would look though, I haven't seen many Explorers that didn't have the Tune-O-Matics on them...

Well, the bottom line is the bottom line. So, what did I come up with? Here it is:


Explorer 1 Explorer 2 Variance
Fully Finished $1,059.70 $1,221.20 $161.50
Neck Finish Only $824.70 $986.20 $161.50
Variance $235.00 $235.00

Explorer 1
P/N Price Description

$190.00 Explorer Body, Alder, 2H Routing, No Pickguard

$35.00 Contoured Heel

$10.00 Angled Neck Pockets (for Tune-o-matic)

$185.00 Finish, Body, Solid (White?)

$189.00 Neck, Explorer Warmoth "Pro" Construction, Maple/Ebony
SS6105 $20.00 Stainless Steel Fretwire
NBGG $24.75 Nut, Graphtec Graphite, Cut & Installed

$115.00 Finish, Satin (Solid Black Peghead)
TOM1C $16.00 Bridge, Gotoh Tune-O-Matic Stud Mount, Chrome
STP1C $13.00 Bridge, Gotoh Stop Tail Piece, Chrome
SG38LC $25.50 Tuners, Gotoh SG38, Chrome
BK1B $4.00 Knobs, Black (2ea)
CTS500 $3.00 CTS Brand 500k Pot, Volume
CTS250 $3.00 CTS Brand 250k Pot, Tone
??? $160.00 Pickups, Seymour Duncan (2)
n/a $12.00 Straplocks, Dunlop (Sam Ash)
NP1C $4.50 Neck Plate, Chrome
SLP1B $11.50 Straight LP Switch Black with Black Knob 1/2" mounting hole
LPSP1B $1.25 LP Switch Plates
NS2C $1.60 Neck Screws (4)
HBRT1B $7.00 Pickup Rings, Tall, Angled, Black (2)
TFS1B $1.40 Pickup Mounting Screw, Black, Stainless Steel
MJ1 $2.50 Jack, Mono
SJP1C $5.00 Jack Cover, Chrome

$1.50 Capacitors
CST1 $7.00 Copper Shielding, 8” (10” linear)
CST2 $5.25 Copper Shielding, 2” (21” linear)
WK1 $5.95 Wiring Kit


Explorer 2
P/N Price Description

$190.00 Explorer Body, Alder, H-S-H Routing, No Pickguard

$35.00 Contoured Heel

$185.00 Finish, Body, Solid (White?)

$189.00 Neck, Explorer Warmoth "Pro" Construction, Maple/Ebony
SS6105 $20.00 Stainless Steel Fretwire
NBGG $24.75 Nut, Graphtec Graphite, Cut & Installed

$115.00 Finish, Satin (Solid Black Peghead)
WT1C $89.00 Gotoh Wilkinson Tremolo

$10.00 Gotoh Wilkinson Tremolo, Stud Installation
SMLC $48.00 Schaller Mini Locking Tuners
MS1 $4.50 Mini Switch On-On 1/4" mounting hole
BK1B $4.00 Knobs, Black (2ea)
CTS500 $3.00 CTS Brand 500k Pot, Volume
CTS250 $3.00 CTS Brand 250k Pot, Tone
??? $234.00 Pickups, Seymour Duncan (2H, 1S)
n/a $12.00 Straplocks, Dunlop (Sam Ash)
NP1C $4.50 Neck Plate, Chrome
CRL5 $12.00 CRL Brand 5 Way Switch Includes 2 Chrome Mounting Screws
SSK1B $1.25 Strat® and Tele® Switch Knobs (Black)
NS2C $1.60 Neck Screws (4)
HBRT1B $7.00 Pickup Rings, Tall, Angled, Black (2)
TFS1B $1.40 Pickup Mounting Screw, Black, Stainless Steel
MJ1 $2.50 Jack, Mono
SJP1C $5.00 Jack Cover, Chrome

$1.50 Capacitors
CST1 $7.00 Copper Shielding, 8” (10” linear)
CST2 $5.25 Copper Shielding, 2” (21” linear)
WK1 $5.95 Wiring Kit


I'm confident I could do the finish on the body, but I want a "factory" finish on the neck. It's vital that that is done correctly.

BTW, I haven't taken the time to determine the precise model pickups I would want, but I do have a very close estimate on what they would cost for both of these Explorer variants. Seymour Duncan all the way baby!

Well, it's a pricey endeavor no doubt, and not for the faint of heart (hint: practice your soldering well in advance of trying to wire up a guitar!!). I have a PDF with the parts/pricing breakdown for both configurations but I can't post it to Blogger I guess. If anyone is interested in it, e-mail me and I will send it to you...

1While I love the versatility and functionality of the Schaller Licensed Floyd Rose tremolo on my first Warmoth, it is a total pain in the butt to set up (which is costly) and if you break a string it takes forever to get it all back to pitch again.

2All trademarks mentioned above are owned by their respective owners. I've heard guitar companies freak out when you mention their product names for some reason, so there! I have done my civic duty. Warmoth is Warmoth; Strat (Stratocaster) is Fender; Explorer & SG are Gibson. If I forgot anybody else, you (and everybody else) knows who you are...

1 comment:

AD said...

How odd! I was doing a price comparison last night on the Explorer (custom built from Warmoth vs. purchasing one via Musician's Friend. I was up to $729.00 (that included a real nice "Dragon" finish with matching headstock, gold frets as opposed to the nickle, Gotoh tune-o-matic bridge (sorry, no Wilkinson Tremolo) and gold hardware (I have this thing for gold finished hardware - which jacks up the price). I had come to the conclusion that it would be just about the same in cost. Since I am no expert in building a guitar I would have to rely on my friend J to give me some pointers. I was also thinking of a 3 pick-up configuration as well, except I was thinking of 3 humbuckers with a 5-way switch, but I can compromise and do a H-S-H configuration. I was looking into EMG 81s for my pickups. Something to think about. I would be, however, in a position to REALLY be serious about building one around Christmas time 2006. I would have the funding to do so. Just some thoughts I was going to send today. Funny, same brain wave link...scary?!