This is a great guitar for the money. It has 10% smaller body than the regular explorer. There are many possible problems with this model. Neck dive, pickups misalignement, wood color mismatch or greenish colored wood. You will not get a top end guitar so don't expect one. I've seen 4 of these guitars and each one was different. What you can expect: Fat sound, great tone - if you plan to change the pickups you will have to think again because the pickups really complement this guitar and sound much better in this guitar than in the SC-450. Perfect and versatile. Great for blues, nice cleans, very punchy on drive, on high gain you get the classic old-school heavy metal sound -I really really like the sounds. It is dark sounding - you will have to brighten up the EQ. You may have trouble cutting through in the band mix. Great playabillity and access to highest frets. Thick neck is pretty comfortable. It has linear volume potentiometers and logarithmic tone. Weight was from 3.1kg to 3.7kg.
My rating of 3 stars is comparing to top level guitars. My rating is not according to price/performance (considering the price I would rate it 5 stars).
Now for the real in-depth review!
First off: I do not advocate returning the same guitar multiple times.
I returned this guitar 3 times and asked for a replacement. I decided to keep the 4th. Each one was different and had different issues which I couldn't accept. Each one had neck dive of various degree. All had the same pickups/hardware yet each one played and sounded a bit different because of wood density and neck size. I will write about all 4 guitars.
Review format: this review will be split into sections (neck,action,pickups,..). In each section I'll first write in general what was true for all guitars. Then I'll write what was specifically different on each guitar (Gtr.1,Gtr.2,..)
First a short write about each of these guitars:
Guitar No.1: This was actually a EX-76 AN GHW (gold hardware/black pickguard) and was B-stock. This one was from the first batch that Thomann sold in april 2020. Thick neck! Thicker than other 3 guitars. Severe neck dive! unusable.
Guitar No.2: Beautiful wood color and matching. Great tone. A blues machine! Neck dive was manageable with a thick guitar strap with rough underside. Electronics was wired wrong.
Guitar No.3: Different colored wood and poor matching. Most of the wood pieces were ugly greenish tint. Neck dive was very bad. Tone was the worst on this one.
Guitar No.4: From the October 2020 batch. Moderate neck dive. Almost all wood is light greenish tint. Great tone..
FINISH: The finish is ok in general. 2 of the guitars had unevenly applied top laquer coat. On the other 2 guitars it looked stunning. There were no other obvious flaws.
Gtr 1: Perfect
Gtr 2: Perfect
Gtr 3: Uneven top coat. Too much laquer on some places..it even changed the shape of the lower left horn! This guitar actually looked bad.
Gtr 4: Two burn marks on the side of the neck. You can see them when you play. (Thomann agreed to a partial refund for this). Too much laquer on the lower horn but its not so bad.
PLAYABILITY & ACTION:
First impressions were great playabillity. The fretboard sits right where you need it (on Explorers the fretboard is shifted more to the left in comparison to other guitar models). Higher fret access is as good as I can imagine. On the 22nd fret you can pick the note cleanly on both the high E and the low E(!) string. So all the frets are reachable and playable. The neck has a glossy finish but I don't have troubles sliding around. You may have to sand down the finish if your hands tend to sweat a lot.
Gtr 1: Very comfortable to play. Action a little high. Great access of upper frets. No problem rocking the 22nd fret.
Gtr 2: Still good but not as No.1. Higher nut on the side of the low E string. Frets are not as even across the board. Limited access on the 22th fret (the horn cut seems to be different on this one)
Gtr 3: Excellent! Best fretwork of all. I was amazed. The transfer from lower to higher frets was so seamless. Playing on the 15th fret felt as comfortable as playing on the 5th.
Gtr 4: Pretty good but I didn't like it at first. Action was high and intonation was off. The nut is too high. Open chords sound out of tune. Upper frets are sticking out more and some notes die off quickly. The frets are not as smooth as previous guitars.
This was a real surprise. I expected good. I played a SC-450 and liked the pickups. In this guitar the same pickups sound even better and more refined. Its a joy to hear. The guitar is generally dark sounding I have to turn the presence up on the amp. They are versatile - nice cleans, great for blues, 80's hair metal and old-school heavy metal. Really convincing high gain sounds but not modern sounding. The sound was a little different from one guitar to the other. There is a problem with pickup angle..the pickup cavity has leftover wood and the pickup doesn't settle straight. Every guitar had at least one pickup like this. This has to be chiseled away.
Gtr 1: The tone was very good for old school heavy metal.
Gtr 2: Great blues tone. A true blues machine. Incredible! I will remember this one!
Gtr 3: Tone is fat but not so good as the others
Gtr 4: Best of all. This one feels more at home with 80's hard rock. The middle position sounds so creamy and full.
Volume pots are linear which I don't like and the tone pot is logarithmic. Electronics are neatly made. The pickups cable is left long and tied in a loop in the control cavity. There is enough room to install push-pull pots and big capacitors. The routing for the switch is not made under the pickguard like on the gibson explorer but is routed inside the body. Potentiometers are pretty good- action is firm and smooth. The switch was flimsy on all guitars except one.
Gtr 2: Wired wrong! Front volume controled the bridge pickup and middle controled the neck. Switch also reversed.
Fat thick neck. Thicker than on the SC-450. Its aproximately 19mm on the 1st fret and 24mm on the 15th -measured on the 4th guitar. Quite comfortable. My hands are not big. The neck-body heel joint is remarkable - very nicely made on all guitars. The neck-head joint looks very nice as well. All guitars had the same neck thickness except the first one which was thicker. Radius is 12". First they said its 10" then 12" now the specs sheet shows 15". It was always 12". The neck has a glossy finish.
Gtr 1: The thickest neck of all. The pointy heel at the headstock was non-existant because the neck just continued at that thickness to the body. This neck felt the most comfortable.
Frets are not Jumbo they are somewhere in the middle. Fretwork was good to great. No dead notes on any guitar but action was set high on some and produced buzz when lowered. Nicely rounded fret edges and nothing sticking out. Very nicely leveled. I swear on No.3 I would bet it went through a PLEK machine!
Color shown in pictures was dark wood color but guitars all came with black fretboard. I hated this at first but I like it now. The wood underneath is brown but they painted black over it. You can see the wood underneath at the edges of the fretboard. They probably did this because of inconsistency with wood grain and color (?). There is some sort of try on doing rolled fretboard edges. But the roll is only made in the middle of each fret field. I was very pleased to see this.
GTR 1: great and very comfortable. Fretboard colored black.
GTR 2: not as even as No.1. Fretboard colored black. The color seems a little sticky while playing.
Gtr 3: Excellent out of the box. With a little work this would play like a top end guitar. Strange hump from 15th to 20th fret if you look from the side. Maybe just optical. Fretboard is colored black but the edges if you look from the side are left natural - this looks nice.
Gtr 4: Great from 1st to 15th fret. There is a noticeable rise from the 15th to 22th fret which affects playabillity. The neck is tilted and sticks up but just on the highest frets. This makes action lower at higher frets and makes them buzz more. After a pro setup this is still noticable. The edges of the fretboard were left natural wood color.
TUNERS & TUNING STABILITY:
Excellent tuners on this guitar. The problem is they are too heavy. These are one of the heaviest tuners around. For a guitar that neck dives by default they should have used lighter tuners. All the guitars held tuning extremely well! Overall this guitar construction is great for tuning stability. The bridge saddles were flawless everytime and there was only a little pinch in the nut on one guitar but could be remedied with some pencil graphite. Excellent! I would mention the Grover tuners are not all perfect and smooth to turn. There is a small give of air when you start turning on some.
Not as good as I had hoped. The wood color can really make this guitar look bad. It all depends on luck. 2 guitars were very nice with light colored wood (like Korina) as seen on the Gibson explorers the other 2 were not so nice. The worst of all is when you get a guitar made of different colored wood pieces and it looks like a jigsaw puzzle. Pickguard was cut roughly on some and was very bad on one. Also pickguard came full of scratches on all guitars. The pickups on one guitar were so badly misplaced that 5 of 6 polepieces were completely out of line from the string. The headstock looks very good. Overall if you look at the guitar it does have nice proportions and does look like a nice explorer. The potentiometer knobs mostly had some sort of flaw, a white ring visible inside or spots of glue. Lucky me the last guitar has perfect looking knobs.
Gtr 1: Beautiful wood color and matching. Good overall. The gold hardware is nice and even. Oh! the pickup covers were of different shades of gold and looked funny in sunlight.
Gtr 2: Excellent wood choice! Very beautiful guitar when seen from a far. Pickguard is cut so bad you can see the line is not straight also rough on edges and sticks out from the wood on some parts. Pickups alignment is very bad.
Gtr 3: Ugly dark greenish colored wood mixed with light colored. Also wood grain pattern was not nice on the top part. You could see all the wood joints. Also the finish was so thick and uneven it ruined what was left of the nicer parts. Poorly cut pickguard.
Gtr 4: Also greenish colored but the pieces match in color so its not horrible looking. Pretty nice. Looks great on photos. Pickguard is well cut and looks great.
NECK DIVE? & OVERALL BALANCE:
Neck dive is the biggest problem on this guitar. The lighter body weight the position of strap buttons and using heavy grover tuners all account to it. One guitar had just incredible neck dive. I know all the tricks to combat neck dive. The worst guitar (Gtr.1) would just slam to the ground if you let go of the neck. If you think a rough thick leather strap will cure all neck dive you haven't seen real neck dive yet! Nothing helps. It took 1kg (2,2pound) weight strapped to the body side strap button and a rough thick strap to hold this neck level to the ground. It was still not enough. Other guitars were not as extreme but still each one had neck dive. So consider this when you buy. In corespondance with Thomann they stated that neck dive is not considered an issue on this guitar but a feature. Yes you can move the strap button to the neck-body joint like on the gibson but if the neck is very heavy you will still feel it tug on you or your back and also the guitar will start to tip over to the front.
Balance while sitting was pretty good but not great. The guitar can tip over or roll towards you. The shape itself is great for sitting but body weight has to be even to not cause inbalance. If you only play sitting down this could be a perfect guitar for you.
Here is a review for each guitar:
Gtr 1. Just horrible! Neck shoots to the ground. Thick strap and weights doesn't cure it. Tried taping the strap to the underside position like Gibson and it didn't help. Impossible to play normally when standing. On the other hand while sitting this guitar was perfect and very comfortable to play. The lower horn kept the guitar firmly in position. Even the neck didn't tip in.
Gtr 2. Not so bad on the neck dive. I could play this standing up with a thick strap. This would work great with the strap button on the other position. Unfortunately this guitar had other issues and I couldn't keep it.
Gtr 3. Bad neck dive again but a little better than Gtr 1. While sitting guitar rolls towards you.
Gtr 4. There is neck dive. I kept this guitar and changed the position of the button (drilled a new hole). It's pretty good now but the guitar now tips a little to the front. Sitting down it's not so comfortable. This guitar is neck heavy even when sitting also it rolls towards you and you have to constantly prop it back into position.
HARDCASE & GIGBAG:
I bought the Thomann Extreme hardcase and Explorer gigbag to go with this guitar. Both are made for the original explorer so they are bigger. The hardcase fits ok but there is a lot of room left. The lid closes down firmly enough on the nut and strings. The guitar doesn't move around if you are gentle but I wouldn't use this case when transporting the guitar in a car. It's good for home storage.
The gigbag is great. It is larger but that's not a problem. Very good for carying this guitar also very well made.
After the setup?:
I had the guitar setup professionally. The nut was lowered and recut, the frets were leveled, the frets were sticking out a bit (i didn't notice this) so that was also fixed and with it the fretboard edge was rolled properly, action was lowered, the strap button was repositioned to the back of the neck-body joint, the volume potentiometers were switched for CTS logarythmic (I plan to change the tone potentiometer later).
After the setup.. the guitar doesn't neck dive anymore. I love to play it now. Playability is even better. I still wouldn't say it plays like a top end guitar.
IN THE band MIX:
I played Gtr.1 and Gtr.4 with my band. Gtr.1 was great in the mix only a bit darker and the sound was not as refined as I'm used to. It didn't clean up using the volume pots. Gtr.4 has troubles being heard in the mix especially on the neck pickup. I don't really know why. It sounds great on its own. I will try some more adjustments and then change pickups. This guitar is resonant and very dark sounding.
Exceptional service. I was a tough customer. The return process is easy. I was worried each time but there were no problems. There was no trouble returning the guitars you can buy with confidence. I wish didn't need to return so many times and I feel bad about the shipping costs I caused. All guitars were packed very well.
SHOULD YOU BUY IT?
If you want to play standing up then expect serious problems and workarounds. I don't recommend this guitar for standing.
If you only play while sitting this guitar could be perfect for you. Fret access is so good. This could be a shred guitar.
If you are looking for a smaller body explorer buy it - there is not much other options. If you like explorers buy it - for the money you get a good explorer with vintage looks.