MICHAEL TOBIAS DESIGN LUTHIERS OF SOME OF THE FINEST HANDCRAFTED AMERICAN INSTRUMENTS
Michael Tobias Design (MTD) specializes in the creation of custom basses and guitars, with a great emphasis on sound, playability, and of course, the look of each instrument. Every instrument is built-to-order, built to last, and built to meet each player’s needs.
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My challenge is maintaining the standards I was raised with about our building process while continuing the need for innovation in what my family does, and the goal is to keep those ideas that were instilled in me be my father and continuing to change and evolve in design, tone, and playability.
AI – Hello Michael and Daniel, thank you both for taking the time from your incredibly busy workshop to take part in this interview, and for sharing your experience with the readers here at Andy’s World of Bass. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you both, and fallen madly in love with the USA Saratoga Jack 5 string model, an incredibly well crafted bass, that fits me perfectly.
MT – I am glad. It is yours.
AI – The first question is geared towards your personal ideals and the importance of individuality in creative design. MTD basses stand out, they are unique, there is a long list of special things you do which make them identifiable, in both appearance and in performance. Will you please share a bit on the subject of creating your own unique look and voice?
MT – First, an electric instrument is still acoustic and has to sound good acoustically before you can amplify it. Second thing, maybe the most important, is that you shouldn’t have to fight with your instrument to play it. It should fit you, they should feel comfortable and it should allow you to express yourself without having to think about it.
AI – Woods are clearly the primary ingredients for any great instrument, and you have always, since your earliest days, found ways to create the perfect synergy of them, prioritizing both function and beauty. Will you please share a bit on the subject of tone targets via wood selection, and also give some opinions and insight as to the current state of availability as supplies of this precious resource diminish.
MT – I have always thought that the wood is the most important part of the instrument. Pickups and electronics can color anything you do and I have always tried to find the most transparent pickups and electronics available so that the wood is the defining feature in making the voice of the instrument. Good wood unfortunately is becoming more scarce. Wood that is cured properly and treated well before we build instruments is definitely at a premium. It becomes more important every day to use our resources wisely.
Traditional tone wood’s are harder to get and I have always been on the lookout for alternative wood to take the place of things we normally use.
The most interesting thing about making instruments to me was trying to match the customer’s expectations of tone to the wood combinations we used to get there. By combining different wood combinations we have been able to over the years, learn how to match customer’s request for the voice of their instrument.
AI – The fact that your brand finds favor and loyal dedication from wide variety of players representing all imaginable musical styles indicates they are incredibly versatile. Have you been influenced by your players throughout your evolution? and can you share a bit regarding a few specific examples?
MT – We are always influenced by what our players tell us. They are the ones that have the stage experience and the recording experience to give us the feedback we need to continue creating a viable instrument. Years ago when I did play, I played mostly live and had very little studio experience. Some of the things I learned from our recording artists about what works best on tape have been very influential in changing our instruments we’ve developed over the years.
AI – A family business is a beautiful thing, and to see Daniel’s eventual stepping in to continue what could respectfully called the MTD legacy is very exciting. First Michael – To watch your son learn and grow in the craft, and to take interest in your passion and life’s work certainly must give you a special sense of pride. Will you please share your feelings on that?
MT – Absolutely. It is a joy, pleasure and an honor to have my son become so involved in being a part of and taking over what I have worked on for so many years.
AI – and to Daniel, as you will carry the company forward how do you feel about the challenges you face, and what are your primary goals moving forward?
DT – The challenge and goal are two sides of the same coin. My challenge is maintaining the standards I was raised with about our building process while continuing the need for innovation in what my family does, and the goal is to keep those ideas that were instilled in me be my father and continuing to change and evolve in design, tone, and playability. I was very lucky in that I grew up with a great mentor in my father and Chris Hofschneider and was granted the opportunity to learn as much as possible from them. Working for the family business can be messy for some but I’m fortunate in that I truly love everyday I get to spend learning from my dad and using that knowledge to grow and make new basses. Being able to see the instruments that come out of our shop get used by players to express themselves and make their art is one of the greatest joys in what I do.
AI – Thank you both for taking the time to do this interview, and also for supporting Andy’s World of Bass, it’s truly a pleasure to play and feature your outstanding instruments. My black Saratoga is among my faves and finds it’s way into my gig bag often and onto the bandstand in my hands.