The Maker: Gabe Williams’ Smokin’ Amps Company, Boaz
At an age when most kids are listening to the radio, Gabe Williams was fixing them. “I started repairing radios and cassette players when I was 11 or 12,” he says. “Electronics always fascinated me.”
The Boaz youngster later picked up a bass guitar, and even though he eventually played in bands around north Alabama, his thoughts kept returning to circuits and wires.
“I became obsessed with how things like stereos, amps and guitar effects pedals worked,” he says. He built a few guitar effects pedals and started getting requests for others from customers of the music store where he worked.
Then he gathered an old cigar box, some electronic parts, a soldering iron and a few other tools, and created his first handmade amplifier. He crafted some for his musician friends — and the sound (and the word) got out.
“I started selling my cigar-box amps on Etsy,” Williams says from his small workshop near Snead State Community College in Boaz. “And I didn’t realize it at the time, but nobody else was making things like cigar-box stereos.”
As his cigar-box products began to catch on, Williams expanded his business. Now he crafts about 100 specialty guitar effects pedals, amps and stereos a year and sells them around the world.
His customers range from Mark Hill, bass player for Reba McEntire, to Sean Kipe, lead guitarist for the rock band Course of Nature. Recently, he’s worked on a project with Jesse Wood, founder of the We Play Bass website, and Roo Chapus, guitarist for the band Reign Over Obscurity and creator of the Roo Guitar instructional videos.
“Musicians tell me what they need, and I build something to fit their circumstances,” Williams says. “My products aren’t just factory kits put in a box. Everything is handmade, so you can talk to the guy who actually made it. That’s very time-consuming and sometimes a little tricky, but from the beginning I wanted this to be about more than just electronics.”
As Williams’ childhood obsession with electronics has grown, he’s had to give up the music gigs. “I kind of had to pick between playing music or making electronics,” he says with a smile. “But if the right offer comes along, I’m always ready to play bass again.”
The Product: Hand-made stereos, as well as amplifiers, overdrives, switch pedals and other electronic gear for musicians. Guitar effects pedals range from $40 to $200.
Take Home: A hand-built “A/B foot switch” that allows a musician to play one guitar through two amps, or two guitars through one amp. $30.
Alabama Makers explores the artisans, craftspeople, carpenters, cooks, bakers, blacksmiths, designers and others making original and extraordinary items in our state. If you know an Alabama Maker, let us know at [email protected]