Electric guitar

Electric Guitar – Premier Guitar

The core of the band was formed in 2012 when Louisville high schoolers Tony Esposito (guitar/vocals) and Nick Wilkerson (drums) began jamming as a duo. Then Nick recruited his twin brother Sam (bass) and Esposito added his friend Ryan Hater (keyboards). And the fearsome foursome released their rowdy and heartbreaking debut in 2015, The white reaper begins again, on Polyvinyl Records.

Continuing their mix of lo-fi garage rock and pop-punk hooks, the quartet added second guitarist Hunter Thompson in 2016, before recording 2017 (irony in cheek) The best American band in the world. Joy blossomed with brighter, poppier melodies that soared over harmonized guitars – consider crossing over Cheap Trick with Thin Lizzy.

The best American band in the world graduated them from major label Elektra, where they gained studio time with producer Jay Joyce (Cage the Elephant, Halestorm, Eric Church, Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris). With Joyce providing a smoother, tighter sound, the quintet unveiled an even catchier package that uses the sheen of Peak Cars and early Maroon 5 in danceable tracks like “Might Be Right” and “Eggplant.” (The first earned them a #1 spot on the Billboard Alternate Song List.) But rock purists should still stomp and howl along with the harsh “Headwind” and redlining “Raw.”

Hours before their headlining gig at Nashville’s Exit/In, White Reaper’s Esposito and Thompson checked in with PG speak tone. The guitar duo showed us how the rigors of the road impacted their touring gear decisions and why COVID-19 handcuffed one of them to digital life.

[Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard: https://ddar.io/xpnd.rr]

Come fly with V

They say rock ‘n’ roll is a teenager’s game. And while the garage-rock gentleman of White Reaper has no plans to slow down anytime soon, guitarist/vocalist Tony Esposito already knows the importance of a strong back. The combination of lumbar compression Les Pauls and thin leather straps resulted in soreness and welts that forced Tony to keep his Lesters at home.

Above is the first of his lighter Gibsons: a Flying V 2000 he bought on his birthday in 2015. During the Rundown, he calls it the school of rock guitar, as fictional student Zack Mooneyham played one in the film. Aside from sweat, skin and a little dust from Esposito, this guitar is completely original.

This V remains in standard E-flat tuning and takes to the stage with a custom set of Augustine Spectras (.011–.052) or Ernie Ball 2226 Burly Slinkys (same gauge).

Light as a feather and ready to rock

Not wanting to show favoritism, Esposito is quick to note that this Gibson ES-335 from the 2000s is not a backup. He actually used it the most since replaying live shows, as the hectic schedule of flight dates worried him about the V’s angular fragility. He even revamped his amp and pedalboard setup. to better integrate with the 335 (more on that in a minute).

Who are you calling Runt? !

Vox was a big part of White Reaper’s DNA, and Esposito and guitarist Hunter Thompson (not from Louisville and no connection to Dr. Gonzo) used them live and in the studio for years. “I liked the reliability of the AC30s, but I was using more pedals (than now) to make it a plexi,” says Esposito. “I had a compressor, Tube Screamer and EQ pedal that were always on, but when I switched to the Friedman Runt 50 it was already this thing.”

While touring with the Struts he noticed how much guitarist (and former Rig Rundown student) Adam Slack liked his Friedman Small Box 50, so he did some research and landed on the Runt 50W, shiny EL34 . The Runt 50 hits a Fender Super-Sonic 60 2×12 extension cab that has its original Celestion Vintage 30s.

Dials for Dimebag

Passing the time in the van listening to Pantera Cowboys from Hell, Esposito wondered how Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott prepared his Randall for the bad breakdown during “Domination.” He was lucky and found an old man from the 90s Guitar magazine article displaying Dimebag’s Randall settings. He’s since loosely adopted them for his own live tone, as seen here.

Simplifying Esposito’s Stomp Station

With fewer uses for the pedals, Tony Esposito’s crankset has shrunk. Basically, it has the Way Huge Green Rhino MkIV for extra drive, and a Boss DD-5 digital delay and Jacques Meistersinger chorus for more spacious sounds and occasional leads. The pair of Boss pedals – an NS-2 noise suppressor and a GE-7 EQ – are in place to muffle any unwanted feedback from the 335 and to complement any anemic backline amps it encounters on flight dates. It all comes to life via a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus.

This baby bison from Baldwin is burning

When White Reaper started out, guitarist Hunter Thompson toured the world with this 1965 Baldwin Baby Bison. He came across the guitar on Reverb.com and, after some homework revealed that it was an instrument of choice for Jeff “Skunk” Baxter while recording with Steely Dan, he pulled the trigger.

His favorite part of this particular 6-string is its Burns Tri-Sonic pickups (similar to Brian May’s Red Special). These are stacked single coils. Additionally, Thompson likes how the “tone” knob acts more like a presence control that “blends into the bottom pickup, letting you make the guitar sound really gain-y or really clean.” To take things to another level of weirdness, Thompson added a Roland GK-2A Divided Guitar MIDI Pickup for some house fun.

Can I interest you in a Strat, sir?

Aside from the aforementioned Bison, Thompson normally rocks Les Pauls or Teles. However, he recently marked this lightly worn Nash S-63. For his talking voice, he opted for Lollar Sixty-Four single coils. And you’d think the tonal differences would bother Thompson a bit, but he said the biggest transition to a 3-pickup guitar is being careful not to rake the middle single coil with your hand and/or pick. This S-63 remains in standard E-flat tuning, but Thompson opts for a lighter set of D’Addario NYXL (.010–.046) and hits the strings with Dunlop Tortex Flow .73mm picks.

Ready for your profiler?

White Reaper was in the middle of a US tour supporting the 2019s you deserve love when COVID-19 hit and the world shut down. The band’s gear went with the Kentuckians to Louisville, but Thompson retired to his home in Austin. For the first few months, he hid in the Lone Star State with his only electric sim and some shitty office sims. Wanting to play electric and be creative, he ordered a Kemper Profiler. Its diverse sounds and intuitive interface have inspired Hunter to play guitar more than ever. Everything he needs is saved on a USB drive, and his entire rig fits in a laptop bag.

“When it came to shooting again, using the Profiler was a practical decision,” admits Thompson. “Not the coolest rock ‘n’ roll decision [laughs], but until someone else sets up my gear, I’ll probably take the Profiler.” And most of his profiles are built from a 13-fold model that’s brighter than Tony’s and sits a bit higher in the mix.

Attention: Booth at work

Thompson runs a direct line to FOH, but he also craves stage volume, so he splits the Profiler into this ValveTrain PowerTrain Stage 50, an all-tube powered monitor (6L6GC) designed to work with digital modelers. It has a flat EQ, single level knob and comes with an Eminence Legend EM12.