May 31, 2022 8 min read
Our Cottonwood Correspondent this month is Nick Greer, the founder of Greer Amps. For those not familiar, Greer Amps is a pedal manufacturer that hand-assembles some of the most esteemed distortion pedals on the market. We asked a few questions to get a perspective of someone who creates the gear that we're all interested in!
How did you get started building? Was there anything that really sparked your interest in creating things?
I started building because I had some pedals that kept breaking, and decided that if I was going to have to do the work to keep them afloat, that I might want to design my own circuit. I wound up buying some parts from RadioShack and put together a simple single transistor drive pedal based on a circuit I found on an old message board. I really liked the way that sounded, so I put it into an enclosure and took it to the music store that I worked at, and let people hear it…I also played it on some gigs, and some folks decided they wanted it…so I started building those for other people. I kind of fell in love with the textures you can generate through electronics and that was what really pushed me into doing what we do—I’m still obsessed with the textures of sound.
What’s your favorite pedal to play with? Your favorite that you build?
Honestly, my favorite pedal to mess around with is our Lightspeed—it’s my favorite one that we build at this point in time, as well. It’s simple in what it does, as it leaves a lot of frequencies alone, and kind of just adds gain in some ways…leaving the frequencies alone and not shifting things all over the place is much harder than most people realize…it’s easy to shift a frequency range, and way more difficult to keep it where it is in the original signal. That characteristic of the pedal really makes it stand out in my mind.
What keeps you motivated to keep innovating and developing new builds?
My motivation really comes from my obsession with textures. When I hear a song or an album, I find myself kind of dissecting the sounds that I’m hearing. One example is the album Dulcinea by Toad the Wet Sprocket. That album has some amazing drive tones, and rarely gets talked about in that regard. I’ve been chasing some of those sounds for years…it’s not just the pedal tone, but the sound of the pedal combined with the amp, plus all the post production stuff that happens…that’s what I’m always trying to go for—how do we get the total sound that we hear on the album!? That’s my obsession these days, and not just on that album, but on a lot of different ones that are full of these complex and layered tones.
What’s your favorite part of the build process?
My favorite part of the build process is always development…when you really can get down into a circuit and analyze what each component does and how it shifts things…you can get very granular in that aspect, to the point that you spend too much time obsessing over this or that, and it can slow things down quite a bit, but…when you’re done with a product, and you’ve tweaked it to the point that it’s “right”, it’s so very worth the time investment.
Is there anything that inspires you musically?
A ton of things inspire me, musically. The most inspiring thing, for me, though, would likely be the sound of driven rhythm…lead tones are great, and I do love a good solo, but I rarely find people that hum the solo of a song—usually people remember the rhythm, and that’s where I tend to push my attention, and what tends to drive me…the sound of a driven G chord or A chord can send chills down my arms if it’s right!
How would you describe your music preferences?
My musical influences are all over the place. I listen to a lot of rap, and love love love Afrobeat (William Onyeabor is amazing) and Saharan blues style music (Tinariwen and Tamikrest are awesome in this genre), as well as a lot of stuff like Foxing and The Dangerous Summer and stuff like that. I also tend to obsess on some of the new-wave-meets-dark-wave sounding stuff that’s coming out of Eastern Europe, like Molchat Doma, as well. I’m kind of all over the map on music, and my music apps always seem a bit…confused. I do love a good, awesome rock album, though, like The Darkness’ album Permission to Land—that album doesn’t seem to get the credit it deserves.
Is there anything about your pedals that you’re proud of or would like to showcase that you think people might normally overlook?
Oh boy…I think that the thing that I am most proud of with our pedals is that we focus on and spend our time on nailing down a sound…I always tell my employees that we are selling a sound, not a pedal…it takes a while to dial that in, and I don’t think that people know how long and how many tweaks we do to get things finalized. I’ve kind of started to show that on Instagram by showing some prototypes in the works, and people are constantly asking for info on when an item is coming out…the honest truth is that it will launch when it’s ready, and that can take a while, because I’m very picky. When a product has your name on it, you need to make it right from the jump…there may be times where your name is all you have left in this life, so it’s important to do right by people, by making sure that when you put out a product, and you tell people what it is, they can believe you.
What do the initials on your pedals mean?
The initials on our pedals that you’re talking about are on the back of the pedals, at the bottom…at least that’s what I am assuming. This gets a little dark, but, it’s the truth. NWP is a nod to an old friend of mine that passed away in a car wreck when we were 15 years old. His name was Hal. Hal was a great friend to me, and we grew up together in south Georgia. I have a photo of him on my work desk in my office, and I look at it daily. When the wreck happened, I told his father that I would make sure that I always remembered him…his father and I remained friends until he passed away not too long ago, and we would often talk on the phone, with Mr. Dean (Hal’s father) calling to check in on my wife and I, like we were part of his family. I don’t tell anyone what NWP means, as it was something that Hal and I kind of used to joke back and forth about, and it’s “ours” in a way…he was a catcher when we played recreation league baseball, and we never wound up on the same team, so every time I would get up to bat, we would talk smack to one another…I remember at one point, we kept yelling at each other while I was in the batter box, to the point that the umpire was laughing so hard he had to take a break, but the pitcher kept throwing…life was fun growing up with him around, and I miss him daily.
Greer pedals prominently feature “product of Athens, Georgia” on the front - why did you choose Athens as the home base for Greer? Is there anything significant about it to you?
I wound up in Athens because I went to the University of Georgia. I’m proud of the fact that our shop is located in Athens, and our small crew that build the pedals all live there. Athens calls itself “the classic city”, but it’s really a small town with a big university in it…it is quirky and fun, and full of creative people, and the music scene can be awesome in Athens. It also has some great venues, and is a pretty chill place to live…a lot of that suffered during the pandemic, but Athens is going to come back to something like what it was, as we emerge from this all. It’s a cool place, and it has a lot of good people in it.
Are there any other insights into the building process, Greer Amps, or yourself that you would like to share?
As for other insights into Greer Amps, I’d just like to let people know how grateful and thankful I am to be in the position that we are in. I never in my life thought that this would become a career for me, and never imagined doing this for as long as I have (24 years on May 13, 2022—that’s crazy!)…I’m very very very appreciative of all the support that we’ve had over the years, and I’m thankful to those that believed in us…I’m even more thankful to those that told me this wouldn’t work, and that I couldn’t do this as a job…they truly did push me in ways that I didn’t see in those moments…for that, I am grateful!
One more thing that I want to add that I would love for our customers to know. All of our pedals are assembled by hand…it’s time consuming, but it puts each circuit into the hands of someone that looks it over multiple times before it goes into the enclosure. The switches and potentiometers and all of the through hole components and such are soldered into place by hand, as well. This means that there’s a level of Quality Control that mass produced pedals do not always receive. Each pedal is then tested 2-3 different times, at different points in the production process, before they get boxed. We often get asked why we have a wait time on pedals and on production—it’s simple, really…we do things in a way that takes a bit more time, and in doing so, I believe that it yields a better product. While we’ve had offers to license circuits, or even have our pedals built elsewhere in higher quantities, I personally think that we build a better product by doing things the way that we do them. Our demand has increased, and with it, we have tried to scale some, but we are seeing order volumes go crazy. I’m thankful for all of these orders, and for the patience of our dealers and customers as they wait for their pedals to be built. We strive to build the best product at the best price that we can.
About: When Nick was young, he asked his grandfather a question about life, and how to know what you were supposed to do in life. His grandfather Allen's response was a short one, "You'll know...you just know when it clicks." Allen Greer was an amazing man, full of wisdom. He never said a lot, but what he said was to the point. "Pick one thing--do that really well, and you'll go far." Nick alwayscarried those words with him.People often ask why Greer Amplification makes so many distortion pedals. The answer is simple. "I picked one thing. I didn't like the sounds I was hearing, so I decided I could do it better than some other companies." That one thing is distortion (overdrive and fuzz included). Nick has built the signature sound for many guitarists by designing truly unique circuits of his own, and by taking vintage circuits and adapting them, modifying them, and tweaking them so that they hardly resemble their predecessors. So...why do we build so many distortion based pedals? Simple. Nick picked one thing--Grandpa Allen never said you had to do that one thing one way, and each of our pedals have their own unique flavor to add to your tone recipe!
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