The Girl with the Telecaster Tattoo: Tone Talk with Nina Diaz

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 21 – Fall 2022

I started writing my own original music at 13 years old, and at that age, I was the frontwoman for Girl In A Coma ( Joan Jett’s Black Heart Records). After over 20 years’ experience as a songwriter, performer, and producer, I built the confidence and attitude to see what would happen if I tried making my second solo album from home. Turns out I love getting lost on this side of the board! Studio engineer is something new to add to my name, and there’s still so much to learn. I am currently promoting this album I made I Could Be You, You Could Be Me and building my studio space BeatGirlProductions here in my hometown of San Antonio, TX, so I can start to share what I’ve learned and record other artists. 

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
Funny thing about how my ears decipher tone. When I recently got my ears molded for my IEMs, it turns out that my right ear hole has a piece of flesh that kind of mimics what some singers do when they try to find the note by sticking a finger in their ear! Ya know what I mean? When I focused in on that, I noticed how my hearing on the right side does seem a bit more funneled, like it super hyper focuses on the tone of a song or amp. 

Just recently have I come into my confidence of considering myself a legit guitarist. I guess I used to put singer first, then guitar. But after learning so many different cover songs to help make ends meet (during COVID, I basically busked online for fans), it’s like I went to music school and bursted outside my comfort of what my musicality was set to be. I learned how to play guitar by ear and whatever info my big sis felt inclined to share with me. The best two things she ever taught me were 1) Easter Bunnies Get Drunk At Easter (tune), and 2) The power punk chord. Any song can be transformed into a punk song if ya know those powerful chords! 

Alternative music like Nirvana, Stone Temple Piolets, and all the amazingness of ‘90s grunge for sure made an imprint on my ear to what I considered to be a badass tone. Raw, distortion, maybe a splash of reverb. Not so staticky that you can’t make out the notes, but just enough to make you want to jump around. Sonic Youth and their jamming can seem a bit intense when you are on the outside listening, but when you are making music like that yourself, getting lost in the frequency of sound, you totally get why they clash such tones together.

Now that I have embraced the studio engineer/producer in me, tone is very much a day-to-day trial and error. I chase a sound in my head, and sometimes I get super close to it. Sometimes it sounds like crap. I listen, but I also feel, I know, cheesy. But for realz, there’s a certain like buzz that happens in my third eye chakra when a tone strikes me just right. 

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
I finally got myself an Orange amp!! I just always loved the way these sounded, and one day I was like YOLO! It’s an Orange CR60. My pedals are always adjusting; sometimes, I am a minimalist with just a tuner and distortion, then I can have my BOSS Loop Station or my POG to add some extra weird flavor. I adore my Rat distortion pedal, and lately, I have been really into Delays. I’m actually going to a shop tomorrow to look at some to maybe add to the gang.

Fender is like my natural pairing. I straight up have my first Squier Telecaster tattooed on me! And luckily, I work with Fender now, so I have been super blessed to try some different guitars out. Currently, I am loving my Kurt Cobain Jag-Stang. It has a few less frets, so it makes it a little smaller, which helps when I am rocking out, ya know. Not to mention the kill switch it has and different tones for whatever mood I am in. If I am playing a ballad or a punk song, it’s got me covered. 

What about strings?
So when my former band Girl In A Coma was on tour with Morrissey, Boz Boher (guitarist/music director for Morrissey) turned me onto Dean Markley’s Blue Steel Electric guitar strings. And dang it!! These are actually being discontinued because idk? I use a gauge 10 or 11 because I don’t really solo; I am more of a strong rhythm. But these strings last waaaaaayyyyyyyy longer than other strings I have tried, and they sound great! I play pretty hard, so I used to have to change my strings like every other show before I was turned on to these strings. Now I only change ’em like once every eight shows to be safe. 

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
My studio days in the past followed the scratch guitar/bass/vocals to a click, then drummer jams, then we lay the final real sounds. For this new album I made, a lot of the songs were still being written, so instead, I laid down the scratch guitar/bass/vocals to a click and then went back to finalize those sounds and had my drummer play to them instead of me play to him. He was playing to a click track anyways, and I wanted him to focus on my energy more so than me focus on performing against his. I do my best to get takes as perfect as possible, so there doesn’t have to be soooooooo much editing after. I am still finding what my new technique is now, but I do know that the less people in the space, the better in order to capture a genuine raw vibe. 

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
My sound consistent on stage? Well, um, I make sure everything is plugged in!

What does your practice consist of?
Since I am a two-piece now (guitar/vocals-drummer), I am utilizing an SPD-SX drum machine to play backtracks consisting of bass, drum machine, second guitar and synths. So a big chunk of practice was me studying and making mistakes on how to execute this album and new setup. I even used Main Stage for a second and mixed the backtracks as stereo to come out of eight mono channels L/R. Mind was for sure blown and burnt out! I decided to take a step back and just have fun using the SPD-SX and a DI to front of house in the meantime till the time comes to get a full human backing band again. I have us run through the set, and I make notes as we move along if I need to adjust anything in the backtracks, i.e., EQ, effects.

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play guitar?
I guess Johnny Marr from The Smiths inspired me to pick up the guitar or Telecaster more so. The way he would switch from a string plucking rockabilly song to a ballad to a fast-paced punk-type riff.  But really, my big sis played guitar first, and there was just something about it that called to me. The first song I remember learning that I really, really wanted to learn was the single string playing on “Daisy” by Stone Temple Pilots.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
Listen to what you want and what kind of artist you want to be more than what other people say you should want or be. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or ask questions. 


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