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Hear what a $198,000 guitar sounds like

man playing guitar
Jeffrey Renton plays a rare Gibson Explorer worth almost $200,000 in the amplifier room at Elderly Instruments. (Bridge photo by Dale G. Young)
  • Elderly Instruments in Lansing earned the U.S. Small Business of the Year award in 2023
  • The store sells new and used instruments, appealing to musicians of all abilities, including professionals
  • Among the Elderly inventory are some very expensive instruments, like a rare Gibson Explorer priced at $198,000

LANSING — Within what looks like a regular old guitar case lies a wood and steel masterpiece, resting on crushed blue velvet.

Meet the atomic-age Gibson Explorer, once thought too ugly for a mass-market electric guitar and now the most expensive — far exceeding a $125,000 mandolin — at Lansing’s Elderly Instruments.


Pricetag: $198,000.

Related: Elderly Instruments thrives as Michigan’s ‘magical land’ for musicians

Jeffrey Renton, Elderly’s sales team manager, leapt at the chance recently to pull the instrument out of the room the store calls “The Vault,” to show it to a visitor.

And after lovingly carrying it into the store’s amplifier room, he fired it up to show the finest guitar sound that money can buy.

The Explorer, made in the late 1950s, “was a giant flop” after fewer than two dozen were made. Renton said. 

Years after the guitar (which was modified at the factory for even purer sound) was discontinued for not looking the way 1960s musicians expected a guitar to look, the rarity became among the most desired instruments among musicians. 

The Explorer dates to Gibson’s days in Kalamazoo, before the guitar company moved to Montana and Nashville.


The instrument’s value is based on many factors: Rarity, desirability, and as Renton demonstrated, sound clarity.

“Guitar players are geeked about the way they sounded 60 years ago and they want the new ones to sound just like that,” Renton said.

The Explorer is on consignment at Elderly, with little known about its pedigree, such as whether famous musicians once owned and played it.

“So that’s the Explorer,” Renton said, as prepared to lay it back on the blue crushed velvet. “A beauty. I could play it all day.”

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