Epiphone Explorer-GT and Special II-GT
The Epiphone Company, epiphone.com
Explorer-GT, $332.00; Special II-GT, $332.00
Originally published in Guitar World, January 2010
With slim-tapered maple necks, thin mahogany bodies and specially designed humbuckers, the Explorer-GT and Special II-GT are exciting guitars for players across the spectrum, from jazz and blues to metal.
Epiphone's devotion to building high-quality instruments at consumer-friendly prices began many decades before our current economic crisis, making the company a long-trusted source of bang-for-the-buck guitars. The company’s GT Series sets a new standard for affordable fine instruments. The Special II-GT and Explorer-GT each street for about $200 and deliver inspiring tones, superb playability and exciting features.
Both of these fabulous Epiphones are built with thin mahogany bodies, which allows them to resonate at high frequencies and thereby enhances note definition. Naturally, this also aids weight reduction and overall comfort. The 24 3/4–inch-scale maple necks are bolted to the bodies with a recessed four-bolt pattern, so you never feel the screws when playing in the upper registers. A moderately flat 14-inch radius makes it possible to play with very low action and never fret out on a bend or lose single-note punch, and the relatively thin C-shape neck carve is comfortable for big hands or small. I also really like the chocolate semi-gloss finish, which allows the guitar’s wood to vibrate and feels like a worn-in pawnshop prize. Sealed lightweight tuners, like those seen on guitar in the Seventies, maintain good tuning stability and imbue notes with a livelier and bouncy response.
Epiphone has equipped these guitars with ceramic-based humbuckers whose definition makes them equally suited to jazz, blues, classic rock, metal or serious hardcore. Each guitar has a master volume, master tone and spring-loaded tone pot with a momentary “killswitch” feature that interrupts the signal when the pot is pressed, making it possible to instantly create that rapid-fire Randy Rhoads–style toggle effect.
The Explorer-GT’s body is about 15 percent smaller than the original’s, which makes the guitar comfortable for beginners and smaller players without sacrificing appearance. It also has a Tune-o-matic and stop-tail piece and a subtly angled neck heel.
This GT version of the timehonored Special II gives you the look of a Les Paul and the low-end enhancement of the classic rounded upper bout in a lightweight and almost ergonomically perfect package. The neck heel is contoured for effortless fingering in the upper frets and boasts a six-screw vintage-style tremolo. Because the tremolo is set up to lay flat, it doesn’t affect sustain or the body’s powerful vibrations when not in use.
Although the GT Series’ differing body shapes create slightly different acoustic tonalities, the Gibson 700T bridge humbucker and 650R neck humbucker dominate each guitar’s individual tone with upper-midrange emphasis and high-end sparkle, making these instruments well suited to modified Marshalls and Mesa Rectifier–style circuits. The GT’s note delivery has lots of thrust as well, which translates into touch sensitivity and sheer sonic energy. Between these two axes, the Explorer-GT has the more prominent midrange attack, while the Special II-GT produces slightly rounder tones and a bit more low end.
I found the clean tones of these guitars surprising. Using the neck pickup and various clean amps with reverb, I actually pulled serious jazz sounds from these guitars. They were warm, accurate, fast and reminiscent of three-dimensional archtop-style responses.
If you play near the bridge like I do, you’ll find that the Explorer-GT’s reduced body size places the controls close to the picking hand, and as a result you may accidentally roll off the volume when picking. On the plus side, the killswitch tone pot on both guitars is one of those features that Epiphone and Gibson should have incorporated years ago. It works flawlessly.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With slim-tapered maple necks, thin mahogany bodies and specially designed humbuckers, the Explorer-GT and Special II-GT are exciting guitars for players across the spectrum, from jazz and blues to metal. The Explorer-GT is somewhat more aggressive sounding, and the Special II-GT has a slightly fuller, vintage tonality. Better still, the spring-loaded killswitch places a classic effect at your fingertips.
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