Witness how the self-proclaimed World's Best American Band values pragmatic workhorses over rock 'n' roll excess.
Tired of pretentious music? Are you looking to just have fun and rock out? The good-time, make-you-move-and-groove medicine you're after is what White Reaper dispenses.
The band's core was formed in 2012 when Louisville high schoolers Tony Esposito (guitar/vocals) and Nick Wilkerson (drums) started jamming as a duo. Then Nick recruited his twin brother Sam (bass) and Esposito added friend Ryan Hater (keys). And the fearsome foursome released their rowdy, ripping 2015 debut, White Reaper Does It Again, on Polyvinyl Records.
Carrying forward their blend of lo-fi garage rock and pop-punk hooks, the quartet added second guitarist Hunter Thompson in 2016, before recording 2017's (tongue-in-cheek) The World's Best American Band. The glee blossomed with shinier, poppier melodies that soared over harmonized guitars—think crossing Cheap Trick with Thin Lizzy.
The World's Best American Band graduated them to major label Elektra, where they earned studio time with producer Jay Joyce (Cage the Elephant, Halestorm, Eric Church, Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris). With Joyce providing a slicker, tighter sound, the quintet unveiled an even catchier package that employs the sheen of peak Cars and early Maroon 5 in danceable tracks like "Might Be Right" and "Eggplant." (The former earned them a No. 1 slot on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart.) But rock purists still got to stomp and howl with the hard drivin' "Headwind" and redlining "Raw."Hours before their headlining gig at Nashville's Exit/In, White Reaper's Esposito and Thompson checked in with PG to talk tone. The guitar duo showed us how the rigors of the road have impacted their touring gear decisions and why COVID-19 handcuffed one of them to the digital life.
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Come Fly With V
It's said rock 'n' roll is a young person's game. And while the garage-rocking gentleman of White Reaper have no plans of slowing down any time soon, guitarist/vocalist Tony Esposito already knows the importance of a strong back. The combination of lumbar-compressing Les Pauls and thin leather straps resulted in soreness and welts that have forced Tony to keep his Lesters at home.
Above is the first of his lighter Gibsons: a 2000 Flying V he bought on his birthday in 2015. During the Rundown, he refers to it as the School of Rock guitar, since fictional student Zack Mooneyham played one in the film. Aside from Esposito's sweat, skin, and some dust, this guitar is completely stock.
This V stays in E-flat-standard tuning and rides the stage with either 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 2000s Gibson ES-335 isn't a backup. He's actually used it the most since playing live shows again, because the fly-date-heavy schedule worried him about the angular fragility of the V. He even revamped his amp and pedalboard setup to mesh better with the 335 (more on that in a minute).
Who You Calling Runt?!
Vox have been a big part of White Reaper's DNA, and both Esposito and guitarist Hunter Thompson (not from Louisville and no relation to Dr. Gonzo) have used them live and in the studio for years. "I loved the reliability of the AC30s, but I was using more pedals (than now) to essentially turn it into 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 that thing."While touring with the Struts he noticed how much guitarist (and Rig Rundown alumnus) Adam Slack loved his Friedman Small Box 50, so he did some research and landed on the 50W, EL34-glowing Runt. The Runt 50 hits a stock Fender Super-Sonic 60 2x12 extension cab that has its original Celestion Vintage 30s.
Dials for Dimebag
Passing time in the van by listening to Pantera's Cowboys from Hell, Esposito wondered how Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott set his Randall for the nasty breakdown during "Domination." He lucked out and found an old '90s Guitar Magazine article displaying Dimebag's Randall settings. He's since loosely adopted those for his own live tone, as seen here.
Simplifying Esposito’s Stomp Station
With less purposes for pedals, Tony Esposito's pedalboard has shrunk. Basically, he has the Way Huge Green Rhino MkIV for additional drive, and a Boss DD-5 Digital Delay and Jacques Meistersinger chorus for spacier sounds and occasional leads. The pair of Boss pedals—an NS-2 Noise Suppressor and GE-7 Equalizer—are in place to squelch any unwanted feedback from the 335 and to supplement any anemic backline amps he encounters on fly dates. Everything comes to life via a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus.
This Baldwin Baby Bison Burns
When White Reaper started, guitarist Hunter Thompson toured the world with this 1965 Baldwin Baby Bison. He stumbled across the guitar on Reverb.com and, after some homework revealed it was a choice instrument for Jeff "Skunk" Baxter when recording with Steely Dan, pulled the trigger.His favorite part of this peculiar 6-string is its Burns Tri-Sonic pickups (similar to the ones in Brian May's Red Special). They're stacked single-coils. Additionally, Thompson enjoys how the "tone" knob acts more like a presence control that "blends in the bottom pickup, allowing you to make the guitar's sound really gain-y or really clean." To take things to another level of weird, Thompson added a Roland GK-2A Divided Guitar MIDI pickup to have fun at home.
Can I Interest You in a Strat, Sir?
Aside from the aforementioned Bison, Thompson normally rocks Les Pauls or Teles. However, he recently scored this lightly worn Nash S-63. For its speaking voice, he opted for the Lollar Sixty-Four single-coils. And you'd think the tonal differences would throw off Thompson a bit, but he said the biggest transition to a 3-pickup guitar is being careful to not rake the middle single-coil with his hand and/or pick. This S-63 stays in E-flat-standard tuning, but Thompson goes with a lighter set of D'Addario NYXLs (.010–.046) and hits the strings with Dunlop Tortex Flow .73 mm picks.
Ready for Your Profiler?
White Reaper was in the middle of a U.S. tour supporting 2019's You Deserve Love when COVID-19 struck and the world shut down. The band's gear went with the Kentuckians back to Louisville, but Thompson retreated to his home in Austin. For the first few months, he hunkered down in the Lone Star State with his one electric and some crappy desktop sims. Longing to play proper electric and be creative, he ordered a Kemper Profiler. Its diverse sounds and intuitive interface prompted Hunter to play guitar more than ever. Everything he needs is backed up on a thumb drive and his entire rig fits in a laptop bag.
"When it came to touring again, the use of the Profiler was a practical decision," admits Thompson. "It's not the coolest rock 'n' roll decision [laughs], but until someone else is setting up my gear, I'll probably be taking the Profiler." And most of his profiles are built off a Divided by 13 model that's brighter than Tony's and sits a bit higher in the mix.
Caution: Cab at Work
Thompson does run 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 (6L6GC) powered monitor designed to work with digital modelers. It has a flat EQ, a single level knob, and comes stock with an Eminence Legend EM12.
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Slowhand guitar tech Dan Dearnley takes PG through the guitar god's stripped-down stage setup.
At age 76, Eric Clapton remains a major presence in guitar. He's touring again rather than simply resting on nearly six decades of laurels, and with Slowhand's blessing, Dan Dearnley—the legend's tech for a dozen years—showed us his boss' setup before a September 21 concert at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. Three Signature Strats, Martins, and not much else. Dig in!
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One and Done
Clapton has owned some of the most sought-after guitars ever built, but these days he tours with just three of his Fender Custom Shop signature models. Dearnley explains that he usually plays only this guitar, his current favorite, onstage all night long. All of Clapton's signature Strats have Fender's Blocked American Vintage Synchronized Tremolo, Vintage Noiseless Single-Coil Strat pickups, and a TBX active tone circuit, with a middle tone knob to roll off treble, plus a mid-boost. The only difference between these three and what you would buy in a music store is that Clapton swapped in an old-school 3-way switch. They're all strung with Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys (.010–.046). Since Clapton is a car enthusiast, he went with classic sports car colors for his trio of 6-string hot rods. No. 1 has a dark blue finish you'd find on a Porsche.
The Other Signature
Fender Custom Shop master builder Todd Krause built all three of Clapton's touring Strats and signed their headstocks.
Mr. Bond, Your Guitar Is Ready
The main spare is an E.C. signature that was one of five made in 2019 to celebrate Slowhand's five-night stand at Tokyo's Nippon Budokan arena. It is decked out in a head-turning metallic almond green that was exclusively used by British car maker Aston Martin.
A Rare, Modern Martin
Currently Clapton's favorite acoustic is his Martin 000-42K Goro Custom Tribute model, which was part of a run built to celebrate the life of Japanese designer and craftsman Goro Takahashi. This guitar has no electronics. For the show, Clapton used two DPA 4011TL cardiod microphones mounted on a single stand.
Clapton's Goro Martin has a remarkable flamed koa back.
A Class Act
In a flourish that recalls the subtle elegance of Takahashi's own designs, the bridge of this Martin is adorned with a bit of golden flare.
The Martin Goro's Italian alpine spruce top is set off by beautiful, sea-water turquoise binding.
E.C.’s Acoustic John Hancocks
Of course, Clapton's cache of acoustics also includes his own Martin 000-28EC signature model. This East Indian rosewood guitar has an undersaddle pickup, but he prefers the instrument's natural acoustic sound miked up.
Here's a detailed shot of E.C.'s signature at the 12th fret and a peek inside the soundhole where you can see another Clapton autograph on the inside label above C.F. Martin IV's.
In the Presence of the Lord’s Pedal
For pedals, Clapton—who, along with Hendrix, immortalized the wah-wah—is a minimalist. His guitar plugs into a switch pedal made by Mike Hill, which splits the signal. It divides into a Dunlop Cry Baby GCB95F Wah and to his amp. When the wah is engaged, that signal also goes to a Hammond Leslie 122XB rotary speaker for a supercool swirling effect.
Amped Up Amps
Clapton tours with two Fender '57 Bandmaster custom series amps, but these have a twist. They were built by Alexander Dumble specifically for him. The guitar hero runs one and keeps the second as a miked-and-ready spare. Both combos are blasting into a Audio-Technica AT4047/sv, while the main Bandmaster has an additional Audix i5 Cardioid Dynamic on one of its speakers.
Clapton asked Dumble to make the amp's sweet spot come alive when all the controls are set to 7.
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