With Tobias basses now owned by Gibson, the companys founder is doing his own thing and he hasnt forgotten the affordable end of the business. Review by Gareth Morgan
MTD, or Michael Tobias Design, is a phoenix born out of the flames of Gibson‘s 1990 buyout of Tobias’ first company, which he left in late 1992 after Gibson moved production from Hollywood to Nashville.
After a year’s gardening leave, Tobias re-emerged with the MTD brand and created the Kingston line of basses as an affordable sideline to his US-built boutique offerings. All the Kingston basses are built in Korea to Tobias’ specifications, including these rather natty Artist and Z models.
Positioned in the middle of the affordable active bass strata, the Kingston Artist (KA) has a subtly sculpted offset body complete with forearm chamfer and ribcage indent. It’s made of four pieces of basswood and finished in a glossy transparent cherry stain.
The bolt-on maple neck is super-slim and plays like a hot knife through soft butter. There’s a strengthening bulge beneath the nut, and the scarf-jointed headstock – shaped like a distorted arrowhead – is kicked back for string break-angle purposes.
The tuners are finished in cool gunmetal grey to match the rest of the hardware, and these send the strings over a black composite nut and a zero fret to a rosewood fingerboard housing 24 medium jumbo nickel frets with position markers on the top edge only. MTD uses the Buzz Feiten Tuning system, a way of combining nut position with bridge saddle offsets for improved intonation in all registers. The electronics are active and there’s only one pickup, an MTD exposed-pole alnico-magnet Music Man-style unit with Volume, Bass, Middle and Treble controls.
While the Kingston Artist doesn’t offer any pickup configuration options, if you’re after the Music Man type sound, you don’t need them. The Artist delivers: it’s not as extreme as a real StingRay, but it’s got much of the same crystalline quality.
The lows are pugnacious and growly, the midrange is even, and the highs are fizzy and laden with harmonics. Adding trebles from the active EQ provides slicing cut and attitude. If you find this setting a little thin, bass EQ is the antidote – the extra width it adds is mightily impressive, making the business end really practical without killing off the aggressive intent.
Introducing the Middle dial gets you a moderately nasal gurgle that’s just the ticket for modern funk.
The KZ is a decent bass with good, practical sound options. The burled maple coat it wears is an appealing detail - but given the competition from the likes of Warwick in this price range, it may not do quite enough to justify its price. The Kingston Artist gives you a good approximation of a Music Man in more voguish clothing. It may not be hugely versatile, but it does what it does with aplomb and at an agreeable price.