“Sometimes we have too many things to play with, and that can be a drag,” says Fantastic Negrito. “So on my albums, from the production standpoint, I try to be as simple as I can be. I find a guitar I like for a song, and I plug straight into my amp. I don’t use any pedals at all.”
But from that point on, anything goes. Fantastic Negrito, whose birth name is Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, and whose game is blending blues, soul, R&B, rock, hip-hop, and psychedelia into sprawling and magnificent freestyle works like his new Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?, then opts for plug-ins to add a kaleidoscope of colors to his guitar tones and mixes. This strategy helped his two previous albums win Best Contemporary Blues Grammys.
These days, the amp he prefers to generate the canvas he can paint as he wants in the studio, and that provides a tonal backdrop for his high-energy live performances, is an Orange TremLord 30 combo. “I really like this thing and played it all over Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?,” he says. “I was playing the Black Deer Festival in the U.K. in October, and I first heard the TremLord. I was like, man, this deep tremolo is sick and the spring reverb is like what I was trying to emulate on the early Fantastic Negrito records. It was beautiful, rich, warm, and deep.”
So he switched from the custom-built Cave Valley amp he’d been using to the TremLord 30. “With the Cave Valley, I was using plug-ins for the reverb and tremolo I wanted, but with the TremLord, I plug in and … it’s freaky!”
Orange introduced the TremLord 30 at the January 2019 NAMM show. It’s essentially the company’s update on the classic gut-bucket amps made by U.S. outfits like Valco, Gibson, and Fender in the 1950s—with more clarity and headroom, and other new-school elements. The latter include switchable 30-, 15-, 2- and 1-watt power settings, plus output-power switching between four and two EL34 tubes. Playing at lower wattages drops the headroom, to generate dirt without flooring the TremLord 30.
Other golden-era aspects include tube-driven reverb and tremolo—both footswitchable. And there’s no master volume. Back on the modern side, there’s a tube-buffered effects loop. The single 12-inch speaker is made by Italy’s Lavoce and is engineered to have a warmer top end while still achieving sparkle. The controls are basic: volume, bass, treble, tremolo speed and depth, and reverb. There’s also an extension cabinet option. It’s no lightweight, at 53 pounds, and the street price is $1,299, but there’s also clearly a lot the TremLord 30 can do, and Fantastic Negrito says he takes advantage of all of it.
“I don’t have any regular settings,” he notes. “I like to change it up constantly, just like I do with my songs. The song decides the basic guitar sound I have in mind when it’s time to record. And anywhere I put the knobs, the TremLord is sick.
“I like to make albums like they did in the ’70s—experimental and taking chances. Sometimes I go dry; sometimes I open up the reverb. It’s got to sound organic no matter what kind of song I’m playing. It’s got to match the vibe, and the vibe can be anything. Like in ‘Chocolate Samurai,’ it’s so clean and funky—it’s the shit!
“The thing I’ve heard the most when people criticize my music is that I’m all over the place,” he continues. “That’s good! I never want to be a slave to sameness, and I like being where I’m at and being experimental, and not letting anybody else try to tell my story” … with the Orange TremLord 30 as his megaphone.