Michael Tobias is one of the most
revered bass builders working today.
His instruments have always been smartly
designed, tonally groundbreaking, and
of the highest quality, as their high resale
values attests. The Tobias brand name
was sold to Gibson in 1990, and after his
contractual obligations were fulfilled at the
end of 1993, Tobias started MTD (Michael
Tobias Design) as a vehicle for his latest
innovations. MTD’s newest basses, like the
Kingston Series Saratoga reviewed here,
prove he still designs with the player in
The Kingston Series is a line of more
affordable instruments designed by Tobias
and produced in China. Given Tobias’ deep
passion for his instruments, I expected these
basses to be much more than the products
of an anonymous, unsupervised handoff
to an offshore manufacturer. And in the
form of the 5-string Kingston Saratoga,
it was nice to see my hopes confirmed.
The Kingston basses are a diverse group
of instruments, ranging from entry-level
models to higher-end pieces featuring custom
pickups and finishes. The Saratoga is
among the less expensive models, but it’s
an instrument of quality and integrity and
capable of challenging many more expensive
basses head on.
Comfortable and Classy
Our review Saratoga shipped with a tobacco
burst finish (it’s also available in a high-gloss
black) that was striking right out of the box.
The finish was clean, and the carved basswood
body felt comfortable and perfectly
balanced when strapped on. The instrument
hugs the body like a nicely balanced J bass,
and feels more like an extension of the player
than a slab of wood around your neck.
The 4-bolt neck joint has a smooth heel,
and the 34"-scale neck itself is capped by a
rosewood fretboard (maple and ebony are
also available) that complements the beautiful
tobacco burst finish. It also features the
Buzz Feiten tuning system.
Closer inspection revealed several nice
touches that are typical of Michael Tobias
design. The gunmetal gray tuners, jack
plate, and controls lend a modern visual
touch. So does the matching quick-release
bridge. I noticed that the truss rod cover
doesn’t sit completely flush, but it’s a purely
cosmetic concern, and if that’s the biggest
problem on this instrument, it’s a good sign
Fingerstyle runs, heavy slapping, and chords sound big and have a harmonically rich sustain that rivals some neck-through designs.
The first thing I like to do with any electric
guitar or bass is take a dry run without an
amp. This bass is remarkably smooth and
easy to play, so right out of the gate fingerstyle
runs, heavy slapping, and chords
sounded big and harmonically rich with
a sustain that rivals some neck-through
designs I’ve played.
Those accustomed to narrower 5-string
necks might find the neck width and the
19mm string spacing a bit wide. That said,
the MTD’s neck doesn’t have the garage
door feel of some 5-strings out there, and
the asymmetrical neck carve is generally
quite comfortable and smooth. The neck’s
low profile makes playing this bass a breeze,
but if you are used to a thicker neck, you
may have to make some adjustments.
The Saratoga’s electronics are built
around two passive J-bass-style pickups, two
volume controls, and a passive tone control.
To test its amplified tones, I ran the Saratoga
through a Warwick CCL 210 Combo
with the EQ flat. For the first go-round, I
cranked both volume controls and had the
tone rolled halfway off, which summoned
a tight, focused sound that would be at
home on modern rock records. It’s a tone
that works exceptionally with the tight and
responsive low-B string. On 5-string basses
the low B can sometimes feel a bit loose and
buzzy, but even with the most aggressive
runs, the Saratoga’s low B sounds pure and
big. For you players that love to ride the low
D, you will be right at home.