“He wanted to trade for a specific guitar... or gold”: YouTuber finds rare Stars and Stripes Gibson Explorer – thought to be one of just five or six in existence

A 1980s Gibson Designer Series Stars and Stripes Explorer
(Image credit: Trogly's Guitar Show / YouTube)

We always love it when YouTube guitar expert Trogly digs up something weird and rare – and his new Stars and Stripes Gibson Explorer, which he estimates to be one of just five or six examples produced, certainly took a lot of digging...

The unusual electric guitar comes from Gibson’s 1980s Designer Series, which featured custom artwork and, among them, several flag designs, including the sought-after Union Jack Explorer.

In the clip, the YouTuber tells an interesting, previously unheard story, about the man behind the series’ most popular artwork.

“[A guy called] Scott F contacted me and he said this was birthed as a chance collaboration when he worked on the then Gibson CEO's car,” explains Trogly (AKA Austin).

“He just happened to shoot his shot and say, ‘I could do really cool things with guitars’.”

Gibson’s CEO (with the firm then at the tail-end of the Norlin era) was reportedly open to the idea and, after exchanging some prototypes, Scott F. was brought into the factory to work on the custom finishes in the evenings.

“All the really attractive designer series guitars are accredited to Scott,” notes Trogly. “He liked to do the straight lines. The weird squiggly ones? Apparently that was someone else.”

Interestingly, the Stars and Stripes design actually has a link back to another Trogly find that we previously covered – the Gibson Map guitar that was conceived for the firm’s iconic “American Made. World Played” campaign. 

Reportedly, nine Stars and Stripes map guitars were produced around the same era, but the Explorers, thought to be prototypes, never made it to the wider production line – hence the rarity. 

Trogly says he has been trying to track down a (specifically hardtail) Stars and Stripes Explorer for some time now and was initially skeptical when he heard about the example in the clip. 

That is understandable, because from the outside, the deal looked somewhat sketchy – and involved a 28-hour road trip. 

“This guy did not want to take cash. He wanted a specific guitar [namely a particular Martin D-45], or… gold,” laughs Trogly. “I’m not going to lie. It kind of set off some red flags!”

1980s Gibson Designer Series Stars and Stripes Explorer

(Image credit: The Trogly's Guitar Show / YouTube)

In the end, the collector took the plunge – and the extensive drive – and was relieved to find out the seller was, in fact, a legitimate guitar dealer, pulling off the deal for an undisclosed amount.

Specs of the Explorer include a mahogany body with a maple neck and ebony fingerboard, plus 1984 Dirty Fingers humbuckers, stock white pickup covers and clear control knobs, a Schaller bridge, and Schaller-style Gibson tuners. 

Like the Map guitar that inspired the finish in the first place, the aesthetic is a bit of a gimmick, but (unlike the Map guitar) the Stars and Stripes Explorer sounds almost as good as it looks.

In particular, those Dirty Fingers humbuckers sound great in the demos, shining in their intended, hot-as-hell distorted applications and cleaning-up surprisingly well, too.

For the full story of the Stars and Stripes Explorer, watch Trogly’s clip above and subscribe to his channel for more unusual nuggets of guitar history.

Gibson’s Norlin-era builds were once dismissed out of hand, but these days collectors appear to be reappraising some models, particularly those with unique or interesting finishes. 

For instance, the mega rare NOS 1984 Explorer finished in Blue Silverburst that arrived as part of Gibson’s latest Certified Vintage drop sold almost as soon as it hit the web.

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.