Download Example 1
All controls on 10
Download Example 2
Chords - neck 10, bridge 5, tone 5
Download Example 3
Slap-happy - neck 10, bridge 5, tone 5
Clips recorded direct from the bass to Presonus Firestudio into Cubase. No plug-ins, EQ or effects.
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 mind.

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 indeed.

Fingerstyle runs, heavy slapping, and chords sound big and have a harmonically rich sustain that rivals some neck-through designs.

Sound Spanning
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.