Back in 1958, when Gibson unleashed its now legendary trio – the Explorer, Flying V, and Moderne – its designers probably had no idea how big the shapes would become.
Certainly, the response to these innovative guitars at the time gave no indication. They tanked pretty quickly. No one has ever even seen a real Moderne, and players didn’t warm up to the Explorer and V until the 1970s. These models even inspired at least two new American brands – Hamer and Dean – both dedicated to making “improvements” on the Gibson originals. Japanese manufacturers also picked up on the appeal of these designs.
One of Ibanez’s most successful early copies was its Destroyer, which debuted circa 1975. Indeed, some of the most desirable ’70s Ibanez guitars are the so-called “Korina” versions of the Explorer, Flying V, and Moderne introduced around the same time.
Building the Destroyers/Explorers continued to be a successful strategy for Ibanez for at least another 10 years, culminating in guitars like this 1985 Ibanez Destroyer II DT-250.
The first burst of interest in Explorer-style guitars in the 1970s, led by players such as Rick Derringer and Sammy Hagar, was followed by a hiatus at the end of the decade when guitarists followed an Alembic-style lead. However, natural-finished neck-through guitars with sophisticated electronics didn’t cut it with the heavy metal bands that became more popular in the early 1980s with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the subsequent American response, chiefly out of Los Angeles. Poofy hair and skin-tight spandex begged for guitars with in-your-face style. The radical Explorer shape was perfect for making the right kind of personal stage statement. Manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon. Baby Deans, Ibanez, Aria, Cort… Even Gibson offered Explorers in cool custom graphics.
Slightly ahead of the curve, in 1980 Ibanez revived its Destroyer as the Destroyer II Series. Indeed, the Destroyer’s “goosebeak” headstock shape would soon become the company’s trademark head. These first Destroyer IIs came in a variety of options and included bolt- and set-neck models that evolved over the next four years. The set-neck models had bound flamed maple tops over mahogany bodies and are exceptionally fine guitars. In ’84, the series introduced the high-end set-neck DT-555 Phil Collen Model, named for the fiery Def Leppard lead guitarist and modeled a little more after the Dean ML that had debuted in ’78, a kind of hybrid of the Explorer and Flying V shapes – basically an Explorer with a V notch in the butt.
In ’84, Ibanez revamped its Destroyer shape to become more like the Phil Collen. Ibanez rolled these new Destroyer IIs into its X Series, which featured several ultra-pointy guitars, some like the XV-500 in daring two-tone metallic finishes.
Which brings us to this 1985 DT-250. While it sports the tail notch, the shape is a little more sleek and diminutive than the comparable Dean ML. The lower front bout is extended to be almost symmetrical with the diagonally opposite bass wing. The treble-side lower bout is shortened, giving the whole guitar a tasteful offset-X shape… X Series. To add dimension to the shape, Fuji Gen Gakki added “crystal cuts” to the edges, basically code for angled bevels.
There were actually two bolt-neck DT-250s, both with basswood bodies and the very nice locking Powerocker vibratos. The regular model came in black or white and had a rosewood fingerboard. Well, a little boring. But the Transparent Red TRs came with a maple fingerboard stained red. Yes, that’s what we’re talking about! If you’re going to have a red guitar, you ought to have a matching red fingerboard. Hard maple, made slick with the red polyurethane.
Actually, red fingerboards were all the rage among Japanese makers about this time. Several Matsumoku-made Westones sold by St. Louis Music also had the red maple ‘boards in ’85/’86.
The Ibanez DT-250 is a perfect guitar for shredding. The basswood is light so you can run all over the stage, jump off your stack, and still have energy to dive-bomb. Even do the splits. Notice that was a “you can.” These were outfitted with a pair of blade-pole V5 humbuckers, produced toward the end of Japanese-made pickups, before Ibanez started working with DiMarzio. They are smokin’ hot! This guitar almost leaps out of your hand when you plug it in. The Japanese improvements on the locking vibrato were also impressive, and this combines the precision of a Floyd Rose with the feather touch of a Kahler.
Along with the DT-250 was a DT-350, available in both a solid finish and, later, with a flame top.
Alas, the DT-250 was more of a punctuation point than a sign of the times. Or maybe it was a sign of the times. The Phil Collen model (minus his name after ’85) and the flametop DT-350 made it through 1987, but this DT-250 lasted only from ’84 to ’85. Unfortunately for this heavy metal monster, pointy guitars were already on the way out when it appeared, about to be eclipsed by the Superstrat craze that would dominate the rest of the ’80s. While these redboards do not really qualify for rarebird status, they’re not all that common. Over the course of their production, only 1,432 were built for worldwide distribution.
Explorer-style guitars dropped off the radar after the mid 1980s, but were revived again under the influence of late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott toward the end of the ’90s. Weird shapes were back, if anything can ever be said to be “back.” What goes around comes around. There’s clearly an algorithm going on that originated back in 1958!
Still, it’s unlikely that the DT-250 will ever come around again, despite its excellent quality. Especially with a groovy red maple fingerboard made by the great Fuji factory in Japan! Rock on!
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.