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Rig Rundown: Whitechapel

Rig Rundown: Whitechapel's Zach Householder, Ben Savage, Alex Wade & Gabe Crisp

With extended-range, low-tuned, riff riders from Aristides, ESP, and PRS, these deathcore-dealing Tennesseans ain’t playing country.

Tennessee has a rich tradition that has helped shape American music. Memphis was a big contributor to blues, soul, and early rock ’n’ roll thanks to Sun, Stax, and the influx of Delta musicians. Nashville has been the long-standing capital of country music, and more recently, has developed as a hotbed of Americana storytellers. The Smokies and the surrounding Appalachian areas have given us bluegrass and undeniable icon Dolly Parton. However, while metal has eluded the Volunteer State’s thumbprint, Whitechapel’s six roughriders from Knoxville are looking to change that by showing off something a little harder than peepaw’s moonshine.

Since 2006, the three-guitar stampede has dished out eight devastating albums that combine death metal, hardcore, and melodic black metal, proving the Smokies can slay. This spring, Whitechapel took to the road, playing their seventh album The Valley in its entirety, along with favorites from their earlier work. Originally, their final stop was slated to be Nashville’s Basement East, but after it quickly sold out, their promoters elevated them to Marathon Music Works (which, once again, sold out). And that’s where the Rig Rundown crew caught up with them to talk gear.

Whitechapel’s guitarists Zach Householder, Ben Savage, and Alex Wade and bassist Gabe Crisp invited PG’s Chris Kies sidestage to cover their signature guitars, the inner workings of their unusual Kemper profiles, and how flip-flopping DiMarzio humbuckers made all the difference.

Brought to you by D’Addario String Finder.

Evil and Angelic

The silhouette of Zach Householder’s Arisitides 070 gives his main 7-string the turbo appeal of a Porsche 911. The futuristic guitar is made from the company’s proprietary Arium material and cast from a one-piece mold that is initially liquid, then hardens to give the instrument its final shape. Householder comments during the Rundown that the Arium-built 7-string is “designed to mimic the porousness of wood without the imperfections, so its resonance is just angelic. It’s the most gorgeous-sounding guitar.” It features a multi-scale setup (25.7"–27"), Hipshot hardware, and Lundgren Black Heaven humbuckers.

Another positive of having a non-traditional electric guitar is the fact that it lacks tonewoods. Householder believes it’s the best instrument to test pickups because “you get the truest form of their sound without any coloration from the composite material.” This sleek machine takes a custom set of D’Addario EXL157 Medium Baritone strings (.011–.068) and it rocks drop-G tuning (G–D–G–C–F–A–D).

Baritone Buzzsaw

Zach’s signature ESP baritone 7-string has a 26.5" scale length on a set-neck construction that pairs a mahogany neck with a maple fretboard into a thick-bodied chunk of mahogany, capped by a quilted maple top. He originally had DiMarzio D-Activator 7 pickups in it, but found the set to be too dark and low-end rich to stand out among the band’s other two guitarists. He experimented with a batch of DiMarzio bridge humbuckers, but nothing was cutting it, so he tried putting a neck D-Activator 7 into the bridge slot. Presto change-o, the low-end fog was lifted: The neck model had decreased output, mids, and lows, but a higher top end compared to the bridge D-Activator 7. He then put the bridge humbucker into the neck slot, and it evened out the guitar.

The ZH sig handles drop-A tuning and is laced up with D’Addario EXL140-8 XL Nickel Wound strings (.010–.074).

Kemper with a Temper

Everyone in Whitechapel with a stringed instrument is running through a Kemper. Householder pulled back the veil and explained that both Ben and Alex are using a patch he created with a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier Rev G, but the preamp section going into the power section of a Diezel Herbert. The Shure SM57 capturing this setup was placed in front of a Marshall-voiced Celestion Vintage 30 speaker. Zach’s core patch is based around an EVH 5150 III 50-Watt 6L6 that was modded with old Mullard EL37 tubes. He ran that through a 16-ohm Marshall 1960AV 4x12 that had a pair of 8-ohm Mesa/Boogie Vintage 30s and used the Fredman miking technique (two 57s with one head-on and another 45 degrees off-axis of the cone).

Savage 7

Before Mark Holcomb and his SVN signature took over the 7-string ranks for PRS, the Maryland outfit offered a standard SVN 7-string guitar. Ben Savage’s main squeeze for The Valley tour was this custom iteration. For the model, he requested an eye-catching white pearl finish, an official Floyd Rose bridge, and a set of DiMarzio D-Activator 7 humbuckers. While recording the band’s 2012 self-titled album, Savage A/B’d a bunch of humbuckers and found the D-Activator 7 pair to have the most brutal yet retained string-to-string, note-to-note definition. So, he’s stayed loyal to them for over a decade. He upgraded the bridge and locking-nut components with titanium pieces from FU-Tone. It does come with a coil tap for the bridge D-Activator that gets pulled out for the opening of “Black Bear.” Similar to Householder, he goes with D’Addario EXL157 Medium Baritone strings (.011–.068).

Svn Heaven

Here’s Savage’s second PRS SVN that has a matte black finish and a standard PRS string-through, plate-style bridge. It also has the DiMarzio D-Activator 7s.

Baritone Bomber

Alex Wade trusted this ESP E-II M-II 7B Baritone EverTune model for the bulk of their Valley set. It’s formed with alder wings around a 3-piece, neck-through maple neck that’s matched with an ebony fretboard. It has a 27" scale length, 24 stainless-steel frets, a bone nut, Gotoh locking tuners, an EverTune bridge, and DiMarzio D-Activator 7 ’buckers. It handles all the drop-G material.

Wade's Warhorse

For all the material not on The Valley, Wade enlists his ESP LTD AW-7 Alex Wade Signature. Key specs include a swamp ash body, a 5-piece maple-walnut-paduak neck with bolt-on configuration, Macassar ebony fretboard, 24 extra-jumbo, stainless-steel frets, DiMarzio D-Activator 7s that are direct mounted to the body, and a striking open-grain, black-satin finish set off with gold hardware and pole pieces. He loved playing the previous E-II M-II 7B so much, he sent his namesake 7 to EverTune so they could retrofit it with its patented bridge system.

Rugged Raptor

Whitechapel cofounder and bassist Gabe Crisp tours with a pair of PRS SE Kestrel 4-string basses that feature custom paint jobs and a set of DiMarzio Relentless PJ Pair. The Kestrel’s other essential ingredients are an alder body, 5-piece maple-walnut neck, rosewood fretboard, neck-through design, and Hipshot hardware (TransTone bridge and HB6 tuners). If you look closely, the beefy 4th string can’t fit through the TransTone bridge, denying it the definition of a true string-through setup. Crisp hammers the Kestrels with InTuneGP Grip .88 mm picks.