MTD Kingston Saratoga Deluxe Bass Guitar
By Ara Ajizian |
New for 2015 from Michael Tobias Designs (MTD) is the Kingston Saratoga Deluxe bass guitar, a jazz-style monster that's not only a tonal powerhouse but a superbly playable instrument as well. Essentially a beefed-up J-bass at its heart, by combining the advantage of passive/active switching, MTD has crafted an instrument suitable for really any style of playing and any genre of music.
The Saratoga Deluxe takes many of its cues from its popular, non-Deluxe sibling: carved basswood body; a one-piece, bolt-on maple neck with an asymmetrical profile; Buzz Feiten Tuning System; MTD quick-release bridge; sealed die-cast tuners; shielded electronics and both 4- and 5-string options with choice of rosewood or maple fretboard. The model I was sent for review was a 5-string with maple fretboard and gloss transparent black finish. The fit and finish were exceptional and the bass was set up and ready to play right out of the case.
Last year I decided to upgrade the stock pickups in my aging Fender® Jazz Bass, after I introduced an active instrument (an Epiphone Thunderbird Pro V) to my lineup and wanted a little more balance between the two when switching instruments during a performance. After a little time with the Kingston Saratoga Deluxe, I feel like it's the spawn of those two instruments, combining the best features of both in one. That's because with the flip of a switch, the Kingston Saratoga Deluxe goes from passive to active, with a comprehensive control set that makes getting the right tone as easy turning a couple knobs.
The controls are as follows, going counter-clockwise from the knob closest to the bridge pickup in the image below, which is a stacked volume and tone control (for passive setting): bridge/neck pickup blend, active/passive selector switch and low, mid and high tone controls for when you're in active mode. The result is an instrument that offers a huge palette of sounds and the flexibility to access them all on the fly.
Let's start at the base level, which is the Kingston Saratoga Deluxe in passive mode. It is, quite simply, a beast. The stock hum-canceling pickups are beefy and deliver incredible warmth and fullness, while at the same time cutting through in the midrange and upper registers with clarity. For general rock playing, I found the passive mode to be quite formidable with plenty of punch. A little EQ adjustment on my Ampeg combo and I had plenty of volume and dynamic tone to work with. I like to dig in when I play and hit the strings pretty hard, and dialing back the tone knob cleared out any unwanted pick noise from my (lack of ) technique, without entering into muddy territory.
Switching over to the active circuit really opens up what the Kingston Saratoga Deluxe can do and shows what a tonally diverse instrument it truly is. The 3-band EQ controls affect a broad spectrum of frequencies to suit any number of playing styles and techniques. One of the things I enjoyed most about playing this bass in active mode was being able to tweak quickly when engaging effects. I use an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Bass Big Muff Pi, which already has loads of settings, but you can't exactly stop playing, bend down and start changing those settings mid-song. Using the active EQ controls on the bass, I was able to effortlessly address any areas that needed it once the effect was on. The delay I use sounds great, but it can suck a bit of life out of a less-formidable bass. With the Saratoga Deluxe, simple adjustments were all it took to beef everything back up. All-in-all it makes for a very satisfying playing experience, knowing that any nuance you want to coax out is at the ready. True tonehounds will be happy to know that MTD offers a Bartolini upgrade option on the pickups.
There are several features of the Kingston Saratoga Deluxe that make it a very comfortable bass to play. The carved basswood body is sleek and contoured for great balance and feel, and avoids being a back breaker in the weight department. I haven't had much experience with asymmetrical necks, but quickly realized why they're becoming more and more popular. The overall feel is that of a low profile, but the thickness of the neck is variable—thicker behind the lower strings and thinner on the bottom portion of the neck. At first the difference from a traditional neck is subtle, but the more you play, the more you feel the benefits of reduced fatigue and enhanced accuracy.
More for less
Michael Tobias Designs has really packed a ton of killer tone into this instrument. With an active circuit available at the flick of a switch and a passive circuit full of vintage thump, there's no limit to what you can pull out, and it's easy to tailor to your exact taste and style. On top of that, it's a pleasure to play even for extended periods of time thanks to design elements like the asymmetrical neck profile, contoured body and lighter weight. With reasonable pricing options for both 4- and 5-string models ($819 and $899, respectively), the Kingston Saratoga Deluxe is a fantastic option for players who don't want to compromise quality for price.
Ara Ajizian, Harmony Central's Editorial Director, has been playing bass and guitar as well as singing since he was 18, and soon that love of music combined with a passion for writing; launching what's now a decade-long career immersed in the gear world. He's thrilled to be back on the Harmony Central team after two years as Managing Editor for Musician's Friend covering gear, bands and events and gigging in the Los Angeles area.