Everyone knows that being in a band is, for all intents and purposes, awesome. Literally, just think of the word ‘band,’ and all the glorious images come to mind like touring, meeting your heroes, recording a masterpiece, etc…
These are all fantastic, fully-valid ambitions, and for the most part, they’re actually far more achievable than you might think.
But once you build up a certain momentum, it’s a never ending bullet train that you can barely keep up with, let alone depart from. As your loved ones, health, and mental fortitude are routinely sidelined in the shuffle, it’s no wonder that after a while, artists find themselves asking “why do I do this?”
It’s an important question – of course you do it because you love it, but perhaps you’d love it even more if you could do it on your own terms. And that’s exactly what Nick Diener, formerly of The Swellers, has been doing the last few years.
Diener made an impressive wave in 2020 with his newest project Oneder Effects, which took his love of recording and and engineering to a new level. After a swath of simple but effective copies, he struck gold with an original – the Oneder Drive. While it’s true that perfection for just about any overdrive pedal is adding grit and clarity to guitar tone without sacrificing the defining characteristics of the amp, the Oneder drive did it with a level of effectiveness that saw it selling out in record time.
Perhaps Diener had simply gotten lucky – after all, who wasn’t absolutely obsessed with tweaking their knobs during the pandemic? But within months, he followed up with a damn near perfect sequel – the Red Ryder Distortion. Widely heralded in the pedal community for its versatility and authoritative bark, it was at this point that we first started hearing about Oneder, and saying to ourselves, “damn, those look pretty good.” It also established that Nick was more than just a hobbyist – he was a pro.
As of all of that wasn’t enough, Nick’s newfound balance of production, family life, and design gave birth to yet another creative adventure, which officially kicks off this weekend – Oneder Guitars. Nick was kind enough to take a moment to respond to some extremely nerdy questions from us about gear and musicianship, but also some left fielders about life, happiness, and pursuing your dreams in unexpected ways.
FB: It seems like The Swellers always had a really decent guitar tone from the very beginning. How old were you when you started playing, and who were some of your most important influences? Did any of them have particularly great tone?
Nick: I was 10 when I started playing guitar. 90’s radio rock was at the forefront of my influences but punk rock and southern rock both had their place on the boombox in my bedroom. Some had incredible tone, others had TERRIBLE tone in hindsight, but songwriting and tightness always seemed to matter most to me.
FB: What kinds of guitars did you find yourself gravitating towards when you were young? Did your tastes change as you and the band were on tour?
Nick: I wanted to be Kurt Cobain. Then Eric Clapton. Then Gary Rossington from Lynyrd Skynyrd. Then Billie Joe Armstrong. So I had a Jag-Stang, Strats, a Les Paul.. I wanted everything and ended up covering lots of bases. When The Swellers started, we ended up scoring an endorsement deal with Ernie Ball/Music Man, so anything with a humbucker in the bridge from them and I was set. Pretty much only played their guitars, a Gibson Explorer, and an Ampeg Dan Armstrong in that band.
FB: What are some key things you learned from about labels from the period of time the band transitioned from Radtone to Search and Rescue, and Fueled by Ramen Records?
Nick: I didn’t retain much knowledge about the music industry other than knowing that labels won’t make you big. You need to put in the work. Haven’t heard the name Radtone in awhile! That was our Japanese label. They were awesome and we got to go to Japan once. But only once in 2006, then sadly never again!
FB: At what point did you get into recording and audio engineering? Is production where the Oneder brand began?
Nick: I have been recording since The Swellers started in 2002, doing our own demos and such, even though I was horrible. But I learned a bit more as the years went on and eventually switched to a Pro Tools/Computer setup in 2011 or so after recording at the Blasting Room. After a few years, I gave my studio the name Oneder Studios and that was the beginning of my dumb name.
FB: Thematically, it seemed like the band knew that the clock was ticking by the release of 2013’s Light Under Closed Doors. Had the band been thinking about hanging it up for a while, or did it come on suddenly?
Nick: It came up pretty suddenly. We hadn’t talked about it until a couple weeks before we announced it. I think burnout was just happening really hard and we didn’t think taking a break was an option. It was all or nothing. Thematically on that record, I’m sure we were just tired and longing for a regular life.
FB: How long would you say it took you to adjust to ‘life off the road?’ Was it ever difficult to play music once you returned home?
Nick: I would say I didn’t feel right for 3 or so years. The birth of my son was huge in shifting my brain in the right direction. He was what mattered, not my silly hopes of returning to the stage someday. I played in a band I truly loved called The Apology Tour for a couple years, so I at least got to get out some more songs and play a few shows. I haven’t made music of my own in 6 or so years, and I’m strangely cool with that. It’ll happen again someday I’m sure.
FB: Did you ever experience moments of confusion when it came to normal tasks like laundry and dishes, because you were used to a totally different lifestyle?
Nick: Not little tasks, but things like going on vacations or just relaxing. I always had an itinerary, a free place where we could crash on a couch. My wife had to teach me to chill, actually spend some money, and enjoy life.
FB: At what point in the Oneder Studios timeline did the idea for Oneder Effects start to take hold?
Nick: Moments before the pandemic began! I was learning how to solder, built a couple of simple circuits, and thought maybe it’d be a fun extra thing to toss in. Build my friends some pedals, sell some online, and eventually put out a “studio pedal” of sorts.
FB: Once you started to move forward with Oneder Effects, was it difficult to strike a balance between work and home life in the same ways it was with a band?
Nick: I still haven’t figured out the work/home life balance. I’m a dad first and foremost, and I don’t mean that it’s just most important, I mean that it takes up most of my time and bandwidth. It was tough especially at the beginning since we were all couped up in the house during lockdown, but hard now because the business has grown so much and so have my kids. I never considered the band work, and it was pre-kids, so life was easy. I can’t imagine having that much free time or freedom!
FB: How difficult was it to build your first pedal? Were you satisfied with the end results?
Nick: It was incredibly easy. Shocking, even. It was so satisfying and made me immediately ready to build two or three more. Those pedals, however, did not work. That got me ready for the ups and downs of this business pretty early on.
FB: New takes on the ‘dirt’ pedal are pretty popular common, almost absurdly so. Did you start with overdrive and distortion in mind for Oneder?
Nick: It’s my favorite. It’s my world. I have a pretty good ear when it comes to tonal differences and I dig my taste, so I knew it’d be a sweet place to start. Start, and stay for the next 3-4 years.
FB: How did you stumble upon the magical ingredients for your first hit, The Oneder Drive?
Nick: One part “I have no idea what I’m doing” and one part “change shit till it sounds good.” I didn’t need to throw out the rule book because I didn’t even KNOW the rules. I’m just happy that folks liked it as much as I did!
FB: How would you compare the Oneder Drive and your most recent overdrive pedal, Old Blue?
Nick: Completely different flavors. I think the Oneder Drive, which by the way, was discontinued and is coming back under a new name eventually, is more of a distortion. I think the name Drive made people expect something low to mid gain, but it is a pretty heavy and loud fuzzy distortion at its max. Old Blue is definitely an overdrive, a tone sweetener. Sparkly, girthy, sweet.
FB: Is it true that the initial idea for the Old Blue was getting the entirety of Weezer’s Blue Album into a pedal? Are there any other “album in a pedal” models out there you’re excited by, or albums you’d like to put into a pedal? I know Keeley has a couple cool ones, and I think MXR did one for Dookie which I’m still looking out for haha.
Nick: Not true at all! Maybe you’re thinking of the Cameltone Electronics Nard pedal? That’s sorta their thing. Blue Album in a box. Old Blue is just my trusty, faithful overdrive. I’m not too familiar with many album-related pedals, but I dig when bands do signature pedals. There’s something really cool about that.
FB: How has collaborating with other pedal companies been important to you as you continue to build your brand?
Nick: So many people from different pedal companies have helped me out, whether it’s free advice, or me paying them to help design my circuit boards or even do artwork for me. It’s a really rad community. I haven’t done a collab with any companies on a particular pedal, yet, like a co-release, but something like that could be really fun.
FB: After all of this, when did you first start thinking you might take on guitars as well?
Nick: I wanted to have a guitar company long before I ever started making pedals, I just didn’t think it was in the realm of possibility. This whole Oneder thing has me thinking if I am crazy enough, I could make something happen. Now we have 3 guitars that exist in the world that I designed and I’m excited to get even more out there!
FB: What were some of the inspirational guitar shapes when designing your Sharpshooter prototypes?
Nick: The Sharpshooter design is a comfortable amalgamation of some of my favorite body shapes. Very 70’s, it’s a little on the larger side, and even has some lines and contours inspired by some of my favorite Music Man guitars I played for years.
FB: What are some of the customization options you’re most excited for people to try out?
Nick: We haven’t quite narrowed down our custom order list, but things like pickup config and bridge type are going to be huge in making each guitar something wildly different, if that’s what the customer wants. Little changes can go a long way.
FB: Which was more surreal – holding your first guitar prototype or holding your first pedal prototype?
Nick: The pedals I built myself, the guitars I just designed and oversaw production. Matt Tunney and Chris Bloom are my partners in the guitar world, and I trust them way more than I’d trust myself to build, machine, paint, etc. Holding the first guitar was more surreal since it was essentially like having someone custom build me a guitar that I drew up from scratch, with my specs. Once things are up and running, I’ll be a larger part of the build process.
FB: Speaking of, before we let you go, apparently you’re ALSO working on two other pedals right now – what’s next, amps?? Not that we’d complain…
Nick: Amps are definitely a dream of mine, but after how time consuming pedals PLUS guitars has been, I think I’ll put that one on the back burner. If I ever get bored, though..
FB: Lastly, when The Swellers were breaking up, did you ever predict that you’d be so fulfilled in music through these other means? You know, other than the constant grind of writing, performing, and touring, etc.
Nick: It’s so hard to say. I figured I’d still be recording in my studio, and had no clue I’d ever make a pedal let alone start a pedal company. It’s all very wild to me, but I’m so happy to have found myself here.
Once again, huge thanks to Nick for being willing to answer some questions for us, and thanks again in advance – because dude, we gotta get our hands on one of those Sharpshooters, pronto… and a Red Ryder. The Oneder Guitar Company officially launches tomorrow at Oracle Brewing Co in Saginaw, MI, so if you’re in there area, get on over there and let us know what it’s like! If you’re not in the area, you’ll just have to go to the website here. You can also buy us a coffee here but honestly we are going to have to switch to tea or something soon. We’re getting twitchy. Anyway, we’ve got a LOT more guitar and pedal specific articles coming your way, as well as news on the upcoming East Coast // Midwest… mainly that we survived the release of the West Coast // Pacific Northwest compilation, and are excited / pre-exhausted to put together round two. So enjoy the weekend, gaze at the pedals / guitars, and thanks for reading!