If there’s one place you’re unlikely to find Diego Garcia—the Spanish-born guitarist better known as Twanguero—it’s in a rut. Combining European, classical, flamenco, Latin American, and North American influences, this Latin Grammy winner is always ready to explore. Both his playing and approach to composition are richly diverse—yet they’re cohesive enough to come across as the personal expression of an artist who, in his own words, “tells stories with six strings.”
But even for someone celebrated for his fluency in different genres of guitar playing, from steel-string acoustic to nylon-string to electric, the latest Twanguero album, Carreteras Secundarias, Vol. II (Back Roads, Vol. II), is something of a departure.
The studio? A Costa Rican jungle. That venue would be challenging enough without the added factor of the instrument he used: a nylon-string made to the specifications of one of the earliest guitars ever built. While the album teems with nature sounds captured as ambience, the music itself isn’t locked in one place or time. Instead, it’s like a journal, a reflection on both a brilliant guitarist’s technique and on the meaning of place in a world that, at the time, was isolated by Covid lockdowns.
I connected with a Twanguero, who currently lives on a houseboat in southern California, during a visit to his family hometown of Valencia, Spain. In a video call, he talked about the recording and guitar techniques behind the project, as well as the Torres replica he brought with him.
One of the unique things about the record is where it was recorded. Tell us about your “studio.”
I went to Costa Rica for more than three months and rented a cabin in the middle of the jungle. Right before the pandemic, Ramírez, the classical guitar maker in Madrid, built me a special guitar [a tablao], based on one of the first guitars ever built, by Antonio Torres. They made me a model from Central America wood and brought it to me at the NAMM show in 2019.
The original idea was to do an album of Latin American music while traveling; I wanted to go to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, go down to different studios. But the pandemic arrived. I stayed in California for a year—I live on a boat there. And when I finally decided to travel, Costa Rica was the only place I could go.
My idea was doing an offering to the trees for this beautiful gift they gave me. I wanted to do this experience of recording outside—basically, just me and a nylon-string and all this Latin American stuff I’d known for years.
Were you recording existing material, or were you composing in the jungle?
The compositions were what I really wanted to do. It was practicing every day, early in the morning in the middle of the jungle. I was just practicing and composing and listening to get inspiration from the sounds of the jungle. I basically wrote all of the pieces there. And then at some point, I had this collection of music.
Did specific sounds of nature influence you?
Yes, actually—the birds. There were some birds that were literally singing in D. So I said, “Maybe this is the key of the jungle.” I mean, there’s no science based on this; it’s just pure instinct and emotion. I also realized that I could control the cicadas—when I played guitar, they slowed down and almost turned off.
When I was just by myself, the sound of the jungle was a symphony. It was monkeys everywhere and birds. But I found a place near to my cabin to sit down to practice, and the whole sound of the rainforest dimmed. I don’t know if it was listening to me, or I was an intrusive element, but the animals slowed down and it was pretty quiet when I was playing.
Did you record everything on the nylon-string?
Yes, it’s 100 percent nylon-string. I had to grow my nails strong because of the humidity. I was eating a lot of avocado and fish—that was key. The way I was eating in the jungle, my nails got very strong, more so than when I’m in the city.
Was it hard to keep the guitar in tune?
It was, especially at the beginning. At some point, the guitar got used to it—at least in my romantic mind [it did]. I think that at first the guitar realized that it wasn’t in its natural environment. After a week or so, it stabilized, but at the beginning, it was a nightmare—especially since it was based on an instrument made around 180 years ago, down to the old-style, violin-like tuning pegs.
Talk about the first song, “La Leyenda de Cañaveral.”
It’s about a cane field, a very rural environment full of birds. That song is in 6/8 and is a typical Central American huapango. It’s in dropped D, which was a tuning that was better for the guitar—don’t ask me why. But having the sixth string dropping to D kept the tuning better than standard.
Was dropped D that the only alternate tuning you used? And did you also use some standard tuning?
I did some standard tuning in a few songs. But I did a lot of the detuning for that song and another one called “Samba De La Jungla.” I also used dropped D on “Pampa” and “Iguazú,” which is in 6/8. There’s a dominance of 6/8 rhythm, characteristic of Latin American music. I played it fingerstyle [sings rhythmic pattern] with an alternating bass line, which has a lot of things in common with the Chet Atkins thing.
One of the things that stands out on the record is your use of texture and dynamics within the rhythms. It’s so fluid and textured, instead of just loud versus soft. You know what I mean?
Absolutely. Each song is an attempt to tell a story. And when I tell a story to someone, there’s no intention to be dynamic, but the story itself has its own dynamic. It’s like reading a chapter of a book; the story comes with a melody. And naturally, I find those elements. Especially in the first song, I tried to tell the story of the conversation with the birds through music, relaying that conversation to human beings. It’s hard to explain, but for me, that’s the most important thing—telling you a story with the six strings of a guitar. So it has to be dynamic and in the moment.
Part of the reason it works is that you managed to capture those dynamics in the recording. What equipment did you use?
It was pretty simple: my MacBook with Pro Tools and an Apogee Duet interface, as well as a couple of [Neumann] KM 184s, a matched pair. I tried to isolate the guitar as if I were in the studio, and I added the ambience during the night after I had tracked the guitar, manipulating it a bit to make it fit the album and feel more romantic.
The record captures something that you have all the time in the jungle—those particular frequencies. Some friends of mine have the vinyl version, and they say, “For vinyl, I think we need less jungle.” And I say no, this is 29 minutes in the jungle, and that is the whole experience. Other friends have told me, “Maybe you should record the album in the studio, clean.” And I say, “No, man—that’s not the point.”
I’m guessing the performances would be different in a studio setting. There’s something very unhurried about your playing on this. Did recording on location contribute to that?
Right—there’s no rush. And maybe you do [push harder] in the studio. You know, last year I did almost 80 shows of this album. I went through the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. And now obviously the repertoire has changed, my performance has changed a lot. But when I was in the jungle, there was no rush in the songs.
One of the songs is called “Lullaby.” It’s a very long Debussy-inspired lullaby. Now when I listen to it, it’s like a meditation. I was in the cabin in the middle of the jungle and there were some wild pigs making noise all night long around my cabin. I said, “Okay, I’m gonna do a lullaby to make these pigs go to sleep!” So each song was definitely related to recording on location.
The tone on this record is very warm and woody. How do you approach tone and technique as a player who moves between acoustic and electric guitars and plays both steel- and nylon-strings?
In this case, I worked a lot with my right hand, but closer to an Andrés Segovia technique in terms of thumb and hand placement. My teacher [José Lázaro Villena] was a long-term student of Segovia—he is now 98 years old. He’s actually here in Valencia, and I’m going to visit him in a couple of weeks.
Segovia had a really powerful right hand, and I had to work again to try to remember the technique, because it had been a long time since I had studied it. My technique has changed a lot because I travel a lot. I went to Argentina, Brazil, and the guys there, the position is different when they play. And also, I’m a big fan of Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, who used a right-hand [technique] where you mute. So my classical technique was literally destroyed. If I see my teacher now, he will say, “What have you done? I didn’t teach you this right hand!” [Laughs.]
I tried to remember what my teacher used to tell me to produce that deep sound, where the thumb rests. It’s a hard technique, because you have to develop a real independence between the thumb and the rest of the fingers. It’s not like Mark Knopfler, where he rests his hand over the top. In classical, you cannot do that because you’re going to kill all the harmonics. The classical guitar position is not just an aesthetic thing—it also makes sense for the right hand—and I had to change that, too. I had to study for months before I went to the jungle with that old technique. I had to reinvent myself and kind of forget all the things I normally do.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.