The Current's Guitar Collection: White Reaper's Hunter Thompson, 1965 Baldwin Baby Bison

Hunter Thompson's 1965 Baldwin Baby Bison
Hunter Thompson's 1965 Baldwin Baby Bison (Nate Ryan | MPR)
White Reaper - The World's Best American Band (Live on The Current)
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When Louisville, Ky., rock band White Reaper visited us in studio recently, the guitar being used by the band's Hunter Thompson piqued our curiosity. After the session, we got to ask Hunter about guitar — and he was more than enthusiastic to talk to us about it.

Here's what he had to say.

What kind of guitar is this?

It's a Baldwin Baby Bison. I think it's a 1965, and it's made by Baldwin, the piano company, right before they merged with Burns. So all guitars that used to have the Baldwin logo up till '65, I guess that's when they stopped putting that logo on there. Then it got taken over by this guy named Jim Burns.

Actually, I kind of got this guitar just because I thought it looked really cool on I was reading a lot about it, and it's actually the choice studio guitar for Jeff Baxter, the guy that played in Steely Dan and did a lot of the sessions for Doobie Brothers. When Baxter recorded with them, he kind of just plugged it directly into the console, because the pickups are really cool. They're unique because they're stacked single-coils. So the tone knobs aren't tone; they're like presence, so they blend the bottom layer of the pickups. So you can get it really gain-y or really clean. But it's also kind of a pain in the ass to play because the frets are all really spread apart and it's kind of got a shreddy neck.

Everything about it is really weird, but it looks badass. That's also like a tremolo, that Rezo-tube brick. It's like a solid-body bridge that kind of warps up or something like that. But the intonation on it was totally screwed up, so I just kind of sanded these down to have like an acoustic guitar gradient on the bridge.

1965 Baldwin Baby Bison
Hunter Thompson's 1965 Baldwin Baby Bison, showing the Rezo-tube tremolo. (Nate Ryan | MPR)

I also like how it has such a long neck. It's almost like a Gibson SG in that sense. The whole neck is accessible with the double cutaway. It's just like a cool hybrid of a Strat and a Gibson SG, and then also like a weird random '60s guitar. It's like the only vintage guitar I've ever owned, but I feel like it's in awesome shape.

I took off all the pots, I've looked at everything and it's just awesome. And it's cool just because it's the last one that had the Baldwin piano logo on it, before they kind of conceded to Burns.

But I really just thought it was cool because Jeff Baxter played it, and I'm a huge Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers fan. So I was like, "Yeah, I'm going to go ahead and get that one." It's a cool guitar.

Reverb is affiliated with Chicago Music Exchange. Did you get it in Chicago?

I bought it from some guy in Canada. This was like the cleanest one. I got it for a deal, man — I got it for like 900 bucks or something, and it's in awesome shape. It has that really cool checkered, kind of broken-up lacquer. And it just sounds awesome. It gets really gain-y, but it can also be super clean. It's really dynamic. All the pickups sound equally awesome. It's a pretty low output, but that's what's also great about it because you can drive the amp. It's really just a transparent guitar if you want it to be, and you can effect it a ton if you want that, too. It's a rad guitar.

I was just searching for stuff, and I had seen Baldwin guitars — I'm from Austin, Texas, actually — and there's this place called Austin Vintage Music, and they had some other Baldwins there. And so I was kind of looking in that category, but didn't see anything like this. Once I read about the pickups and their characteristics and about Jeff "The Skunk" Baxter, I was like, "Yeah, I'm going to go ahead and do that."

How is it on the road?

It's been beat up pretty good. It just got a new nick in the neck from [bandmate] Sam Wilkerson slamming his bass head into the back of it. Took a nice chunk out of it. And then last tour, Sam broke off that tip up there on the headstock. So I mean, it's been battered but I still take it on the road.

There's no cases for it because they're studio guitars. They don't stay in tune well. It doesn't travel well. But it's also just to have fun to have guitars that only you know how to play, and any time somebody picks it up, they're like, "I don't know how you play this." [Bandmate] Tony Esposito will play it, and he has a brand-new Les Paul, and he's like "I don't know how you play this" because it is kind of a piece of s**t, but it looks cool. That's the most important thing, is how you look, you know? That's critical.

So there are a lot of guitars like this and cool basses, too. I never knew they existed until I got one, and now I see them everywhere. It was kind of one of those things like once you get a certain car, you notice other people driving it. You know who else plays a Baldwin — or maybe he plays a Burns — is John Dwyer from Thee Oh Sees. We were just playing the Norman Music Festival in Oklahoma, and he plays that transparent whatever the hell you call that thing, I don't know what material that it is. He also has an old Baldwin, too.

And somebody just told me that this band, EZTV, from New York, they have this guitar, too. So you know, it's apparently not that unique, but I like it.

I've got a lot of info on this guitar because I'm pretty obsessed with it. I need to get a new nut for it, though, that's kind of the next to-do, because I guess the old one broke and somebody just took a random nut that doesn't fit so the strings kind of slide in there. It doesn't stay in tune too great, but who cares? I bend into the note, so it doesn't really matter all that much.


White Reaper - official site

Burns Guitars

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3 Photos

  • Headstock on Hunter Thompson's 1965 Baldwin
    Headstock on Hunter Thompson's 1965 Baldwin Baby Bison; one of the points is damaged following an onstage knock with bassist Sam Wilkerson's instrument. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • White Reaper perform in The Current studio
    Hunter Thompson of White Reaper performs in The Current studio, playing his 1965 Baldwin Baby Bison. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Hunter Thompson's 1965 Baldwin Baby Bison
    Hunter Thompson's 1965 Baldwin Baby Bison (Nate Ryan | MPR)

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