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This article was originally published in issue #40
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MTD Guitars (the initials stand for Mike Tobias Designs) began life in around 1993, but for those not in the know already, Michael Tobias has been proving his expertise in the bass arena since the late '70s. MTD is a small company hand creating instruments in Kingston, New York. Like most boutique makers, however, the cost of Mike's instrument is prohibitive for many players, so Tobias has launched quite a large series of Chinese made basses under the MTD label. Of these, the Kingston series is said to be among his most popular. It comes in four, five and six string versions, fretted or fretless and we were loaned a five string fretted model for this review.
This 35” scale bass features 24 ‘medium jumbo’ sized frets that are mounted to a naked rosewood fretboard. The one-piece asymmetric neck takes no time to get used to at all and as a further plus point to comfort is the satin polyester finish on back showing off a nice maple grain. I love that the model also gets the full works with the inclusion of the Buzz Feiten Tuning System too. This system, if I may borrow directly from Buzz’s website, “eliminates sharp notes at the first three frets” and is used for “creating balanced intonation over the entire fingerboard”. A technique that doesn’t look any different to a non-Feiten instrument to the casual eye and playability is just the same, which is of course a good thing but certainly adds to the demand for such a bass having attention lavished upon it. Oh, and I’m pleased to see that the bass uses a zero fret - I’m just a fan of them. Some say it’s ‘better’ to get the sound of a fretted note even on the open strings, but I like it as the string height is optimally set as it rests on a fret, the same as, well, any other fretted note on the neck (see our review of the Zero Glide retrofit zero fret system, which is available for basses too, in GI 39 - Ed).
Moving down the nicely finished fretboard, you cannot possibly miss what is a rather tasty finish! Cherry Burst looks great when it is glossy and rich and on this instrument it is no exception. Over the top of the body face, a maple burl slice is responsible for the grain through the translucent finish. The carved mahogany body is comfortable on the knee and, you could say it is downsized in comparison to a vintage P bass - so it’s is likely to be more comfortable for those with a smaller frame.
Hardware comprises 19mm spacing on an MTD quick release bridge which is functional, but not of the heavy high-mass variety. Then we move to the pickups. I’d like to pause for a moment to just focus on these particular models. Not for what is inside them, which would be my usual discussion point, but what is on the outside. Yes, wood covered pickups. They look ace! Now, this is personal preference, but for me, it’s a bit like colour matched wing mirrors on your motor. Sometimes plain black is functional, but you’d prefer matching collar and cuffs right? Yes, I know there is a cost overhead, but matching covers more closely to the instrument colour scheme I think would be really cool
So that’s the looks done, how does the KZ5 sound? Untethered from an amplifier it is clear and resonant but not massively loud. A clear, modern tone that is assisted by its active electronics. Yes, the pickups are passive soapbars but they feed a five knob pre-amplifier providing bass, middle, treble, balance and master volume. All this is in a shielded cavity which ensures no extraneous noise and we certainly didn’t have any problems under our studio lighting. Have a listen to the video clip and enjoy the tones from this KZ5.
It’s back to that usual place in my review when I have to round up, which can sometimes be difficult when pretty much everything we receive is worthy of a pat on the back. The MTD KZ5 is certainly a contender, though in this instance, compared to some other instruments we've had pass through the Bassment recently (the Dingwall five stringer looked at in GI 39, for example or even a five string Mayones as reviewed in this issue) I wasn't quite as blown away as I'd expected to be. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing about the MTD that is bad or below spec and it certainly looks great and plays well, but this is now a very hotly contested area of the market, so if I were spending this sort of money I would want to visit a specialist dealer and spend some time comparing as many instruments in this price bracket as I could. If I did, I'm not sure I would walk away with this one.