The Edge and The Explorer*

August 8, 2006 · Print This Article

By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor

Ed. Note: In honor of Edge’s 45th birthday, takes a look back at his connection to the Gibson Explorer.

Throughout the Vertigo Tour Bono told the story of how Edge landed in Dublin on a spaceship. He never said what guitar Edge was playing as he descended from the ship he no doubt built, but if looks are anything, it’d be a safe bet that the he had his Gibson Explorer with him.

"I was on a trip to New York and I went to a guitar shop," Edge told Joe Bosso in the Sept. 2005 issue of Guitar World. "I didn’t go with the intention of buying an Explorer. A Rickenbacker six-string was what I was after. But when I picked up the Explorer it felt really, really good. I wasn’t expecting it, but the guitar seemed to talk to me. ‘There are some songs in this,’ I said to myself."

Edge was just a teenager when he bought the guitar, still a teenager when he put the Explorer to good use on "The Boy" album. Since that time, the Explorer has played an integral part in every U2 album and tour, save "Pop" and PopMart ("It’s actually just on a long vacation, but it’s still around," Edge said of the Explorer in a 1997 MSN chat), right through "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and the recently resuscitated Vertigo Tour.

The match makes odd sense. The majority of Explorer players hard rockers like Dave Grohl of The Foo Fighters, James Hetfield of Metallica and Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest). While his playing style shares very little with these other Explorer-wielding guitarists, Edge has still managed to make his own mark with and on the guitar.

"On many levels the Explorer meshes well with The Edge and U2," said Greg Flamm, guitarist with U2 tribute band Vertigo USA. "First off, the shape of an Explorer complements Edge’s body or posture. It’s been said, ‘Edge is a man of angles,’ there are no soft curves in the shape of an Explorer, all rigid lines. Secondly, when U2 started out they knew they wanted to differ from the classic rock bands of the day, most guitarists at that time were playing Stratocaster or Les Paul body style guitars. The Explorer is a bold move to stand out from the norm."

(Mini Explorer image courtesy Musicstreet Limited)

It’s that distinct shape that originally made the Explorer a hard sell. "The Explorer’s radical body shape debuted in 1958 and was almost 20 years ahead of its time," said Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson Guitar CEO and co-founder of Music Rising. "Not until the late 1970s did rock ‘n’ roll’s most daring guitarists embrace the Explorer."

And Edge was one of them, his head fatefully turned by ’76 natural re-issue Explorer. "In many, many ways I think The Edge gave that guitar both a sound and an identity," said Guitar World’s Bosso. "Very few people were exposed to the sound of the guitar until they heard him and, as far as even the visual of the guitar, I don’t think they really saw it to a great extent until they saw it strapped around his shoulders."

(Photo copyright Philippe Carly, New Wave Photos)

The unique look of the guitar had kept it from gaining popularity in the mid-’50s and also gave Edge second thoughts about it in the late-’70s. "When I went back to Dublin and took it out of the case in front of the band, I was thinking, ‘How is this going to go over?’" he told Bosso. "It was so off people’s perceptions of what I might go for. There might have been one of two comments at first, but it clicked pretty quickly—the look, the sound. It felt natural."

That sound and shape have felt natural for many young guitarists who have come up after Edge, including Tom Dumont of No Doubt and Invincible Overlord. While Edge didn’t influence Dumont’s love of the Explorer, he and the U2 guitarist were drawn to it for similar reasons.

"When I was a kid there was a guy who rented a room from my mom and he had flowing long hair and a beard, and he played a beautiful mahogany Explorer exclusively," Dumont said. "He would open the case and show it to me as if it were a priceless jewel. He could shred on that guitar with furious abandon. I’ve been in awe of the Explorer ever since."

These days, Dumont plays an Explorer-esque Hamer guitar. "In my later 20s on tour with No Doubt I ventured into a guitar shop in Lincoln, Neb., and saw a Korina guitar made by Hamer that lived up to the Explorer fantasy of my youth," he said. "I contacted Hamer guitars and fell in love with their creation, the model they call the Standard. I own a number of them now and love the lightness of the Korina wood, the shape and balance of the body, and the resonance of the tone. It’s my No. 1 favorite guitar."

(Tom Dumont and one of his Hamer Standard courtesy of Tom Dumont)

The tone of the Explorer is part of what’s made it such a good fit for Edge and U2, the instrument behind trademark songs like "I Will Follow" and "Beautiful Day." For Bosso, the sound of the Explorer is what ties it to Edge most of all.

"I don’t think anybody’s made a sonic statement with that guitar the way The Edge has," he said. "Honestly, he’s the only guitar player that I think has made a real oral statement with the Explorer. The other guitar players just seem to sort of bathe it in distortion so you can’t really tell how the guitar sounds, per se, it could be any guitar they’re playing, really. The Edge is the only one that I really think has explored what that piece of wood sounds like."

Some of that exploration came out of the necessity. "It was the only guitar I had," Edge told Bosso. "You should’ve seen is in the studio when we recorded ‘Boy.’ Steve Lillywhite was aghast when I took the Explorer out of the case. He just looked at me and said, ‘Uh, what else you got?’ and I put my finger up and said, ‘I got one guitar and you’re looking at it.’"

Even in the early days, it seemed Edge knew he had a good thing going with the Explorer. "I think it’s the most distinctive of my guitars," he said in a May 1982 U2 Magazine interview. "It seems the body shape affects the sound somehow. It’s a very vibrant guitar with lots of treble."

"I used it for the first album and up until the recording of the ‘October album, but I seem to use another Strat that I bought more and more, so I think I’ll probably end up using the Strat for half the show and the Explorer for the rest," he said to U2 Magazine.

These days, Edge has quite a few more guitars at his disposal (his Vertigo kit includes 15 electric and acoustic guitars) but continues to use the Explorer. "Why should he change a winning combination?" Marko Zirkovich of said. "He’ll continue to play the Explorer whenever he feels that it’s the right guitar for the task at hand. It might sound corny or clichéd, but as a guitar player you definitely develop a sort of relationship with a guitar. After all, you practice and play countless hours and grow accustomed to the idiosyncrasies and features of a certain guitar. You just know the guitar inside out, how the fretboard feels, how to get your sound, etc."


Edge felt that relationship getting stronger and stronger during the ZooTV days, and that scared him a little bit. "I am starting to get attached to my guitars, which I’m very worried about because I went through 10 or 12 years of really seeing my guitar as the enemy, a thing I had to somehow fight against to find something new in there, so I never really got attached to my guitars but I’m starting to develop a real attachment to my Gibson Explorer in particular," he told BP Fallon in an interview that appeared in the ZooTV tour book and is now available on Fallon’s website.

By the time U2 started work on "All That You Can’t Leave Behind," Edge saw the Explorer less as an impediment and more as an old friend. "It’s the same one I used for all of the first record and most of the first three tours," he said in a 2000 Guitar Player interview. "It’s odd, around the time of ‘The Unforgettable Fire,’ I began to extend my collection to include more Teles and Strats, and the Explorer became less in favor. But now—maybe because we’ve gone full-circle musically—I’m drawn back to the Explorer. In fact, if you listen to the echo guitars toward the end of ‘Beautiful Day,’ the tone sounds like it could have come from the first record. It’s so that tone."

The rest of the members of U2, who at first may have had their doubts about the instrument, have also developed their own attachments to the Explorer over the years. "I was surprised by how much the guys in the band enjoyed the sound of it," Edge told Guitar Player. "Adam, in particular, was so delighted to see it out again. He said, ‘This thing sounds like nothing else on Earth!’ It’s a pretty special guitar."


Music fans and collectors have embraced how special the guitar is, in no small part because of Edge. Musicstreet Limited, an online retailer targeting musicians, sells a mini replica of the Explorer in honor of Edge. "The Edge is synonymous with the Explorer since the days of ‘Boy’ and ‘October’ and the resurrection of the guitar in the video for ‘Beautiful Day,’" said Ian Rhodes, managing director for the Surrey, England-based site. "I think if you had to associate The Edge with one guitar, it’d be the Explorer."

Guitar World’s Bosso agrees. "That’s really the guitar he came out with so you have that first impression and it’s just right there," he said. "Plus, I do think he does enjoy coming back to that guitar. It’s not his only guitar, he definitely likes to change it up, but he does come back to it. I think it’s a big part of what he wants to put across, really. I think the audience really responds to the way that he’s presenting himself."

Many thanks to Mike Bamber, Joe Bosso, Tom Dumont, Greg Flamm, Caroline Galloway, Henry Juszkiewicz, Ted Matson, Ian Rhodes and Marko Zirkovich for all their help with this article.

Check out the Guitar World website here. Learn more about Invincible Overlord here. Visit the official No Doubt website here. The Vertigo USA website is here. The official website for Gibson Guitars is here. Get more information about Musicstreet Limited here or check out the mini-Explorer here.

Thanks to Philippe Carly for use of his photos. More photos of the young U2 and other new wave bands can be found at


One Response to “The Edge and The Explorer*”

  1. The Edge and The Explorer | msdevlinsmith on May 7th, 2014 4:31 pm

    [...] posted on on Aug. 8, 2006. Throughout the Vertigo Tour Bono told the story of how Edge landed in Dublin on a [...]

Got something to say?

You must be logged in to post a comment.