Inheriting the best from its MTD American-made parents!
The first time I played MTD Kingston basses was in the Dana B. Goods booth at the 2008 Summer NAMM Show. I have been a longtime fan of Michael Tobias and his incredible instruments so I made it a point to play through his Kingston basses while wandering the show floor. That was time well spent on my part.
As luck would have it, the first Kingston that I picked up was the Heir bass. I have always been a sucker for the humbucker/J pickup combo and I was anxious to hear what Michael had done with that configuration. Since there we no amps available (the booth was packed with people at that time) I played the Heir acoustically for a while.
The feel of the bass is simply amazing. For those of you who do not know, Michael's necks have an assymetrical curve to them, where the neck is thicker on the bass strings side and thinner on the treble strings side. This shape is incredibly comfortable for your fretting hand and the overall neck is very fast. The bass that I played that day had a maple fingerboard, which was flawless in appearance and perfectly setup.
When an amp finally became available I was able to plug the Heir in and hear the bass amplified. The tone was undeniably Michael Tobias! If you have never played an MTD bass before, they are famous for amazing clarity and deadly punch. The slap tone is massive, with lows that are fat but not muddy and highs that are present but not harsh. The fingerstyle tone was well defined while maintaining its warmth.
If you have ever been to a NAMM Show you know that the ambient noise makes it difficult to really hear the subtleties of an instrument's tone. So I was able to make arrangements for an Heir bass to be sent to me so I could conduct a more extensive bench test on it. Needless to say, I was anxiously awaiting that delivery!
When I received the Heir bass for the review I was pleased to see that it had a rosewood fingerboard on it. Since I had a chance to play an Heir bass with a maple 'board at the NAMM show this would give me a chance to try out the rosewood. The bass was a 4-string model with the Translucent Cherry finish. I went over the finish with the proverbial "fine-toothed comb" and could not find a single flaw or blemish.
My methodology for testing basses is always the same. If the bass has active electronics I zero out the EQ controls, push the volume to the max and, when the bass has two pickups, I set the controls so that both pickups are in play. This is exactly what I did with the Heir. There are 5 knobs on the Heir bass: a volume, a pickup pan, and individual treble, mid and bass boost/cut controls. When I first plugged the bass in I maxed the volume and centered al of the other knobs.
For the first test sequence I plugged the Heir into a 250-watt combo with a 15-inch speaker and a high frequency horn. I nominalized the EQ on the amp and set the input gain so it barely triggered the peak level red led when I played the hardest.
The tone of the Heir is incredibly full, with tons of bottom end without losing any clarity or definition. The position of the pickups, 3/4-inch string spacing at the bridge and the low action made slapping on the bass very easy to execute. I am struggling for words to describe the natural slap tone of the Heir bass, but it is somewhere between Marcus Miller's and Nathan East's tone. Tasty.
I switched to fingerstyle next and started by playing some traditional walking Blues lines. I returned the the EQ knobs to their center position (flat) and centered the pickup pan knob. In it's natrual state the Heir has a good, fat, modern Blues bass tone. (Think Roscoe Beck on Robben Ford's "Talk to your Daughter" CD.) By cutting the treble just a bit and boosting the lows a tick I achieved a classic Blues tone that is less defined but very warm.
Switching to some Jazz walking, I was very pleased with the tone of the Heir. My favorite Jazz tone came from isolating the neck pickup, cutting the treble quite a bit and nudging up the lows and mids a bit. The resulting tone was very lush. Of course, by centering all of the knobs you can get a more modern, electric Jazz tone that is very hip.
Next I grabbed a medium pick and went to work, Heavy Metal-style. I must admit that I am not the best pick player on the planet, but I can usualy hold my own. Since I play very close to the bridge when using a pick, I was happy with how comfortable the MTD quick-release bridge was to palm mute with. Once again with the tone and pickup pan centered and the volume maxed, I played some of my favorite metal bass lines. For tones similar to the 80's Hair Metal sound, the natural tone of this bass works perfectly. If you want to get the older metal sound, you can dial in about 70 percent of the neck pickup, back of the highs and boost the mids. (This setting was PERFECT for Kiss' "God of Thunder"...which I played about eight times in a row...)
It was time to take this bass into the field, or at least to a band practice. The amp rig I use for this band is a 1,000-watt, solid state head and two 4X10 cabinets. On this particular rehearsal I left my pedal board at home. This band is a cover band so I was able to play it through a variety of rock songs, from Sublime to Journey to Elvis. I was very happy with how the bass played, sounded and felt when worn on a strap. My band loved the Heir. Our singer said that he could hear my bass lines much more clearly and the guitar players both commented that my sound was punchier and cleaner. (This was a nice change from them always telling me to turn down...)
My last stage of testing was to record with the Heir. I pulled out my trusty Tascam 2488 Digital Workstation and recorded short samples of a variety of styles. Needless to say, the Heir recorded beautifully. When I test basses one of my favorite exercises (which MANY basses fail) is to max the volume of the bass and all of the tone knobs. I then record the bass with the it sitting in a guitar stand. Unfortunately, many basses hiss and generate low-level noise when you dime them and not mute the strings. The Heir, however, was absolutely, dead quiet. It was so quiet that I thought the cable was faulty, but that was not the case. Michael Tobias NAILED these electronics!
On a whim, I decided to record the Heir directly into my new Roland Fantom G6 keyboard, which allows for audio recording directly into the keyboard. I thought that maybe recording into the Fantom might reveal a weakness with the Heir, but that just was not the case. The Heir sounded great, with no noise and a very high-def tone.
This was the single greatest bass test I have ever conducted. I usually try to point out some flaws or weaknesses in the gear that I review just to give readers some pros and cons to consider when they are shopping for a new bass, but the Heir is as close to perfect as I have ever encountered. The quality of construction, design and materials are wonderful. The tone and playability are excellent. Best of all, the price is amazingly low (I even called multiple stores to just make sure the pricing that Dana B. Goods gave me was accurate, and it was.). The only complaint that I can make is that the Heir is only available in two finishes, Translucent Cherry and a Tobacco Sunburst. It would be cool to have a sexy gloss black finish and maybe another translucent color or two. But I am nit-picking here.
The MTD Kingston Heir is a great bass at a great price. Well done, Michael Tobias!
- Dale Titus