This is an extract from my interview with Rick Nielsen for my book Flying V, Explorer, Firebird. Definitely someone to talk to on this subject, as he’s had them all … and I always enjoy chatting to Rick.
TB: When did you first become aware that there was such a guitar as a Gibson Explorer or a Flying V?
RN: Well, I saw pictures, and I’d get all the catalogues and brochures. I had that Gibson catalogue with the original V, the funny double-necks in there – but you never saw people actually playing them. I saw Albert King, he had one way back, and Dave Davies had a Flying V, but that was pretty rare to see any of those kind of instruments around. So I was aware of them.
Then in the late 60s, early 70s, I was aware of the stuff because I was looking for an Explorer but I could never find one. The ones that I did see were usually blues guys, and they probably got a good deal on them, cos nobody was buying them really.
My personality, to this day … I’m never going to look like Jimmy Page or Jeff Beck, a lot of guitar players they dream of being That Guy. I never dreamed of being anybody, ha ha. So the guitars I wanted would go more towards my personality. That was the reason why I had Hamer make that very first Explorer for me, because they weren’t available, but they were cool.
TB: Did you get your hands on a real Explorer before the Hamer?
RN: Right around the same time, I got that one and then I got a real Explorer, and it was all right, it is as cool as I thought. The actual regular Explorers are actually a little bit lighter than the Hamer: they made the Hamer more like a Les Paul. I don’t think Paul Hamer knew anything about korina or anything like that.
TB: The first modernistic Gibson you got was this Explorer?
RN: Yes, still have it.
TB: Can you recall how you got it?
RN: Yeah, I do, I got it from Larry Briggs, had a guitar store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and he was asking … I think this was ’76 or ’75, ’74, right around there, in that range. Because we’d tour all the time, a week in Oklahoma City, in New Orleans for a week, Miami, North Dakota, just so we could play, and I’d always be scrounging around looking for stuff. Back in those days, if you could find anything like that they weren’t like crazy money. You’re trying to help the poor guy that owns it or the music store: you don’t want to have that crummy old thing, here let me have it.
I had Les Pauls before … like the one I sold to Jeff Beck. I had kind of stuff way before I had Explorers and Vs and stuff like that. Did you know Larry Henrickson, Ax-In-Hand, the collector? I have a sales receipt from Ax-In-Hand. He only wanted the pristine stuff, and he was the highest priced guy back in the late 60s, early 70s. I went down there, I have a receipt I should email you, it’s pretty funny: shows I bought two Stratocasters, maple neck, with cases, and a Firebird, for $200 or something stupid. Because if it was beat up a little bit, he didn’t like it. You could only get the crummier stuff, in his eyes, and it was really a fair price. Try to get one of his sea foam green whatevers, however, and his prices were higher than anybody else. He had all this great stuff in his store, but I don’t think anyone ever bought anything except the beat-ups.
Back to the Explorer with Larry Briggs, I think he was … I also have a price list from George Gruhn, in ’76, original Explorer, hard case, the whole deal, $4,000. I bought that one, too, but I traded stuff for ’em.