James Hetfield’s 1984 Gibson Explorer 83 “So What”

After the neck snapped on his Electra Flying V in 1984, James started using a couple of different guitars. What soon came to be his main one was a white 1984 Gibson Explorer decorated with a sticker on it reading “So What”.

In the first two years, however, from 1984, this guitar looked identical to another Explorer that James had, as the “So What” sticker didn’t appear until sometime in 1986. This makes the two guitars very hard to differentiate from each other in the footage from that period.

James with what was likely the pre-sticker “So What” Explorer.

Specs, Usage

James’ Explorer is a model commonly referred to as “Explorer 83”, and it features a cream-white finish – originally clean, but faded to yellow over the years. What separates this model from what would be considered a standard Explorer is the fact that it has a different control layout and no pickguard.

The “Explorer 83” model to the left has a triangle control layout, compared to an older model of the Explorer (right). Also, the “83” model has no pickguard, which also means that the pickup selector is now located near the control pots.

This guitar was originally equipped with Gibson Dirty Fingers pickups (496R/500T ), but sometime in the late 80s – presumably around 1987 when Kirk Hammett switched to EMGs as well – James took the pickups out and replaced them with the EMG 81/60 set.

Knowing that, and the fact that this was James’ favorite guitar at the time, the album “Ride the Lightning” (1984) was largely recorded using this particular guitar equipped with the stock Gibson pickups. EMGs didn’t come into play until the “EP: Garage Days Re-revisited” (1987) and “…And Justice for All” (1988).

Lastly, as was the case with his Electra Flying V, James fully restored this and played it on “Death Magnetic” in 2008.


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