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.
With a body that’s identical in shape to the KA including the sculpting and chamfers, the KZ outshines its mid-priced sister thanks to a sumptuous gloss-finished burled maple veneer that sits on a carved mahogany core.
The 24-fret neck is still made of maple and it’s just as playable, but this time the fingerboard is maple as well, and the blonde look sits well with the burled top. In terms of hardware, the bridge is the same, as are the tuners and the Buzz Feiten system.
Again, the KZ has active electronics, but this time but the pickup configuration is different and possibly more versatile: a pair of MTD soapbar units with covers made from handsome wood (possibly mahogany or bubinga, but nobody’s telling).
The twin pickups are abetted by Bass, Middle and Treble controls, plus Volume and Blend. In terms of specs, the KZ just about justifies the large price difference between it and the Artist.
Dialling the Blend knob to the central spot, the KZ‘s two pickups combine for a clean, full-range sound with a slight high mid twang. The front pickup exudes a more guttural rasp with pleasing P-Bass qualities and a solid, clear-speaking midrange, and the bridge pickup gurgles in the expected manner – but it’s a fraction bass-light, so the thinner strings are a little snappy.
The solution is in the EQ. Adding bass improves matters, with warmer lower registers and moderated nasal detail further up the spectrum. There’s a bit more substance to be had from adding extra middle, but boosting middle or treble too much causes unwanted honk and spikiness; adding measured amounts increases the impact and focus of the neck pickup’s raspy bark and emphasises the acoustic elements.
Add treble and you’ve got a nasty, slightly retro rock tone which snarls and wheezes as you grind out eighth notes. The top end is open with no feeling of compression or any cardboard edge, and this EQ setting gives a good slap tone in twin mode, though it’s a little brittle for fingerstyle.
Adding bass to both pickups improves the KZ‘s all-round nature, adding warmth and width without losing bite. Extra middle darkens the sound, giving a snappy, punchy, more upfront tone that’ll cut through the mix.
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.