Steve Shelton copyright © 2013
Greg 'Greedy' Williamson is the man behind West Seattle based Greedtone, makers of custom guitar pedals and amplifiers. The gear is used by well known musicians across the nation.

Local tone hound builds a better sound: Greedtone's fame is growing

By Simone Alicea

Greg Williamson is so obsessed with sound that he taught himself to build musical equipment when everything else failed to meet his standards.

Greg “Greedy” Williamson, 44, started building guitar pedals from scratch in 1992, and opened up shop as Greedtone in 2001. When Williamson began building amplifiers in his West Seattle shop earlier this year, his sound caught the ear of Queens of the Stone Age frontman and guitarist Josh Homme

“Josh was laying in a friend’s bedroom practicing [on the and calls me the next day with a 14-day deadline,” Williamson said. “Then we drove down to LA to hang out with Josh in their studio.”

Williamson’s work table is scattered with a number of half-finished pedals and tools. There’s also a computer lurking in the back featuring a rock-lover’s musical library.

Photo by Steve Shelton copyright © 2013

Williamson, a Denver native, was a bassist and singer himself for some time before switching more permanently to sound engineering when he came to Seattle in 1988. Greedtone’s name comes in part from Williamson’s old band’s name Positive Greed and his own nickname.

Looking at each pedal is like looking at a little piece of art. While he talks, Williamson continues tinkering, tucking away stray wires and making sure each piece of the circuit is in place.

While two weeks may seem like a long time, Williamson hand builds every part of the amp in-house, designing the circuitry and soldering each piece into place himself. He and his building partner, Todd Baker, worked nonstop for those 14 days.

Todd Baker and Greg Williamson - Steve Shelton photo
Photo by Steve Shelton copyright © 2013

“Our shortest day was 12 hours and our longest was about 22,” Williamson said. “We averaged out at about 18.”

According to Williamson, the extra effort is worth it. Most of the reviews are very technical with lots of sound jargon, but one UberProAudio reviewer put it very simply: “The sound that came out of that pedal was what a gear head like myself would call beautiful.”

The biggest complaint people have about about Greedtone’s products is the price. The original Greedtone Overdrive pedal will set you back about $300, and the JHI-100 amp will cost quite a bit more.

But Greedtone’s products are not for the casual musician. The work that goes into the pedals and amps are for so-called tone hounds like Homme and Williamson himself.

“If you’re not good, the amp tells you,” Williamson said, laughing.

Greg Williamson and a Greedtone pedal - Photo by Steve Shelton
Photo by Steve Shelton copyright © 2013

Until switching to Greedtone for good, Williamson said Homme had been using the same kind of amp for most of his 17-year career. Seeing Queens of the Stone Age with a Greedtone logo behind them on David Letterman this spring sent a clear message to tone hounds everywhere.

Tone hounds are defined by their quest find the perfect balance between rocking distortion and tone clarity. For Williamson, that means Black Sabbath, Cream and AC/DC have to sound good at every volume, even if that means filling books with new designs or convincing partner companies to try something new.

“Greg is willing to go to the furthest extent to get what he wants. Period,” Baker said. “You’ll never buy another amp again.”

Because everything Greedtone makes is handmade, each product is slightly different on the inside. Williamson says that you can’t hear these differences when you play. In fact, Williamson is so confident in his product that anything he builds includes a lifetime warranty.

“Our motto is ‘Anything less is everything else,’” Williamson said.

For now, Greedtone has suspended new orders until they can fill current ones. With the publicity from Queens of the Stone Age coming out of Los Angeles, Greedtone is starting to get orders from as far away as New Zealand.

“Demand is crazy, but supply is small,” Williamson said.

“But that’s a good thing,” Baker added.

Williamson is working on a prototype for a new bass guitar amplifier in addition to the JHI-100.

Greg Williamson working on amp- Steve Shelton photo
Photo by Steve Shelton copyright © 2013

When he’s not working on Greedtone products, Williamson runs a recording studio in Georgetown called the Killroom and making other custom products through Greedtone’s parent company The Bionic Ear.

“I just wasn’t happy with the gear,” Williamson said. “They weren’t doing what they could. Why not buy this once and be done with it?”

About the photos

Photographs for this story were taken by internationally known photo journalist Steve Shelton who also lives and is based in West Seattle. While he often travels on assignment Shelton operates a professional portrait studio here. Seattle Fine Portraits prides itself on craftsmanship and tradition. Steve Shelton has been photographing people professionally for over 20 years and today has developed a trusted reputation in fine portraiture.

"Whether I'm shooting classic black and white portraiture for families, or head shots for models, executives, or burgeoning artists, each day my goal is to inspire an authentic portrait that surprises, brings joy to a client's face, and celebrates their unique personality. That makes me smile!"
Steve Shelton can be reached at (206) 817-7924.

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