Product Profile: The Saratoga

Michael Tobias Creates a Modern Vintage Dream

Most bass players love the soul and prestige found in vintage basses, but some older basses have been abused beyond repair or suffer from poor electronics. Michael Tobias wanted to create a vintage-sounding bass that delivered classic sound and feel, but with modern, studio-quality sound and performance. He did just that with the Saratoga bass.

When UPS delivered a Saratoga bass to my door, (the 5-string version with a tobacco sunburst finish and a maple fingerboard) I was very anxious to bust it out and put it to the test. I was not disappointed!

Appearance:

Right out of the box, the bass looked fantastic. Not all tobacco sunburst finishes are created equal - the transistion from the black edge to the tobacco center can sometimes be spotty, if not downright ugly. That is not the case here! The colors are rich, the transistion is smooth, and the high polish finish is drool-inducing.

The smokey black hardware and the sleek body design just scream quality and look downright sexy. I want to commend Mr. Tobias for his placement of the control knobs. In the past I have reviewed basses where the controls were so close to the G-string that I would constantly hit the volume knobs when playing. These controls are comfortably placed on the outer edge of the body - close enough to make quick adjustments but not too close to get in the way.

Electronics:

The pickups in the Saratoga are passive with open pole pieces, and the controls are very straight forward. There is a volume knob for each pickup and a passive tone control. On many of my old basses the passive tone control is worthless, but that is not the case with the Saratoga. When the tone control is maxed out you get the natural bass tone, which is bright and clear. Dialing back the tone control reduces the sheen, but keeps the lows from getting overly muddy. (I was able to get a wonderful reggae tone by completely dialing back the tone control and turning down the bridge pickup to about half.) In short, the pickups sound absolutely vintage, with

MTD Kingston Saratoga Product Profile

controls that are user friendly.

Construction:

It is no surprise that a bass with Michael Tobias' initials on the headstock is built so well. The carved basswood body is well balanced and very comfortable to play. The assymmetrical, one-piece maple neck has a satin polyester finish, which makes the feel of the neck very smooth. My bass came with a maple fingerboard with 21 medium frets. The frets were all seated perfectly into the fingerboard and the edges were nicely dressed. (If I cut myself on another poorly dressed fretboard I will freakin' lose it!)

When it comes to the fit and finish of any given bass that I am reviewing, I usually find something that is not quite right. I am happy to say that I cannot find a single flaw on this Saratoga. Nicely done.

Performance:

When you strap on the Saratoga it feels like you are simultaneously living in two worlds: the vintage and the modern. While jamming with a small funk combo I got a killer thumb sound that reminded me of Larry Graham during his Graham Central Station era. The tone was punchy as hell and the pops were not harsh, but nicely voiced. The finger tone was smooth and organic, making me want to play Tower of Power licks all night long.

I did get the opportunity to play some jazz duets with a local guitar player and the Saratoga was perfect for the gig. I usually play an active bass on this house gig, but the Saratoga simply sounded more authentic and blended better with the guitarists big jazz box.

Conclusion:

As you can gather, I am a big fan of the Saratoga. It is well built, sounds great and a joy to play. When I do a benchtest I request that the manufacturer does not give me the pricing. I want to evaluate the gear solely on its quality and performance. (I hate it when a review says "good for the price". It is either good or it isn't!) So you can imagine my surprise when I found out how affordable the Saratoga is. This is a great vintage bass that is priced for everyone.

I should also mention that the Saratoga comes in 4 and 5-string versions, with either a transparent black or tobacco sunburst finish. Players can choose between rosewood and maple fingerboard.

Recommendation: Two funky thumbs up!

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Previous Profiles:
The Heir