Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review: Tobias 5 strings

I have owned this bass for about nine years now. I bought it in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2003. Is the previous owner out there?

The serial number shows that this bass was completed on the 13th
of May 1992. At that time Tobias had already been acquired by Gibson (on 1.1.1990) but basses were still made by Mike Tobias and original team at the Burbank Calif. shop. This makes it one of the last few basses built before the shop moved to the new facilities in Nashville, sometime in June I believe, which marked the end of Mr. Tobias collaboration with Gibson.


The body is Swamp Ash with natural finish. The neck is a five piece Maple/Purpleheart laminate and it's a bolt-on - the preferred choice for a punchy sound. Under the 24 frets Pau Ferro fingerboard is a double truss rod which can be adjusted removing the plate located at the end of the fingerboard. As you can see from the pictures woods have aged beautifully.

The neck is perfect, straight and very fast with the asymmetric profile that is Tobias' trademark. The action can be set incredibly low and is virtually buzz free. It mounts two Bartolini p-ups and on board 3 bands EQ.

One impressive feature of this bass is that it is extremely light, even lighter than its slick shape would suggest - lighter than most 4 strings actually. But the sound is big, with a warmth and a growl that speaks directly to your guts.

A few details are really a joy to look at. The MOP inlay of the intricate logo and the stark contrast with the black glossy headstock cover is a very tasteful touch.

The head stock's angle naturally holds the strings down without any need for the usual metal bar just above the nut.
Again, one cannot help but notice how all these details converge into a bass that makes inspired simplicity its style statement.

The scarfed headstock joint at the back is more pronounced than on most basses and is so beautifully sculpted that your thumb can gradually tell you when it's approaching the headstock. A very nice touch indeed.

The neck joint is shaped in an almost heel-less fashion. Even just visually this is a far cry from the chunky squarish heels of most bolt-on of the time - and not only. The neck screws sit into ferrules and are arranged in slightly open layout, with the bottom screws further apart from each other that the top two. This seem to suggest that the neck end is shaped slightly wider than the rest of the neck. I'm not sure. I haven't disassemble it.

Overall, the attention to details shows just how much love and expertise had been put into it.
Lets not forget, this was 1992 and this bass' price wasn't exactly at Alembic level.

Electronics and sound.

I particularly like the way mids cut through. Dialing in a bit more of the bridge P-U produces a sound that is beautifully nasal, perfect for soloing. Bartolini P-U and EQ are exemplary in their simplicity and effectiveness - V/B/bass/mid/treble. A little EQ goes a long way without changing the voice of the instrument. A toggle activates/deactivates the EQ.

In the off position the three filter won't work and you can only adjust vol and balance. Even without EQ the sound is beautiful and gutsy.
When the sound spectrum of two P-U is wide I tend to dial in an overall sound I like, then use the P-U Balance almost like a master Tone control.
I have developed this habit playing Wal. It works well with this bass.

I cannot find fault with this bass except perhaps that, it isn't the best bass for my slapping style. I tend to slap with my thumb perpendicular to the strings and the neck positioned horizontally. At this angle the 24th fret gets in the way. Many bass players actually like to hammer on the fingerboard. I don't - I don't like the harmonics it produces.

To be fair, this is an inherent problem I have when slapping with many 24 fret basses - except a Steinberger because of its unique layout and ergonomics.
For slapping I prefer a 21 or 22 fret board with a body layout that pushes the neck slightly forward.

Having said so, if the preferred slapping style is with the neck at an angle, then this bass is spectacularly balanced and ergonomic.

For finger style I just love it and it's one of those rare instruments which allows the player to access frets from 20th to 24th really comfortably - including on the B string!

In fact, the Tobias is designed in such a way that the bass position itself slightly more towards the player's right shoulder. This makes playing around the 1st/3rd frets quite comfortable. But aside the problem I mentioned earlier, I feel it makes
it a bit tiring for the right arm when playing at the bridge P-U for long time.

As a side note I will add that I have also played a number of Gibson made Tobias and the high end ones seem very good. However the Killer B I have played don't quite fell like this one.

This bass has sealed my respect for Michael Tobias' work and all the MTD (link provided below) I have played show how the vision has improved.

Thanks for reading.


In a nutshell:
+ Growling machine. Very light. Comfortable neck. Bartolini.
- Must like the ergonomics. Hard to find.




  1. Hi, I have the exact same bass in the same finish. I bought mine new in South FL in late 1992. Where did you find your serial number? The only number I could find is a handwritten #0205 under the plate by the truss rod where the neck meets the body. Thanks!

    1. Hi, the serial number on mine is in the same position. Cheers!