MTD: Enter the Nebula
To put it simply, Michael Tobias Design (MTD) Handmade USA basses are like people, each with their own unique qualities and defining characteristics. Visually, they are a sight to behold-- smooth transitions, custom colors, hand stained finishes, and a little bit of...what the French call… I don’t know what. Aesthetic mastery aside, each bass carries a phenomenal sound to match, designed specifically for each player. The end result is a voice and combination of tonal characteristics, unheard of in any other instrument-- even other MTDs. These instruments are truly born, not built.
Meet the "Nebula Bass," a 535-24 (five string, thirty-five inch scale bass with 24 frets)-- Ash body, with a poplar burl top. Mike describes the Nebula as being warm and clear, with an articulate bottom end, good growl, and even mid-range, with a bright sweet treble tone-- Mike-speak for absolutely amazing. After hearing the Nebula, I couldn't agree more.
If you want to tap into the Nebula, you better know how to play! You will hear everything, especially if you play it through some good amplification (in my case, a TecAmp Puma 1000 with an S-212 cabinet). The bass is incredibly versatile and can go deep and muddy, crisp and clear, and everything else in-between. The instrument is so sensitive, that simply lifting your hands off the neck can sometimes produce harmonics, yet when you start to play, the bass goes quiet and only the sound from each individual string is heard. Sure, some of this can be attributed to technique (and not playing with a pick… because you’re a bass player), but all-in-all, it's magic!
The overall feel of the Nebula, when coupled with an MTD leather strap, is reasonably light and incredibly sturdy. No fatigue here! (I know, I wore it for an hour while, while trying to set up the computer). The Nebula arrived with the action set to "Low and Buttery" prior to shipment, which was perfect, requiring little to no force, to get a sound out of this instrument. The (MTD custom) soap bar Bartolini pickups are wide enough for slim or wide fingered players to feel comfortable playing across all five strings, with ease. I can honestly say that this bass would be perfect to play on a gig, with little to no adjustment.
The neck is amazing. To get into detail, it's a five string with an asymmetrical design that allows the player to move freely across the fretboard, without feeling hindered by the curvature on the underside of the neck. I play with my left thumb on the bottom of the neck, as far as it will go without slipping off, which leaves my fingers parallel to the frets. The neck only needs to be consistent in feel and not too sticky or slippery. The finish remains dry throughout bass play and the fretwork is so smooth, it's barely there. The finish is also impervious to finger marks and scratches, so you can feel confident that the bass will continue to look as great as it sounds, provided you stick to the upkeep regimen, using the recommended Dunlop products.
I play all of my MTD’s with the EQ flat, but decided to make an exception for the Nebula-- holy moly. I turned the bass knob forward about 3 centimeters and the mid about half way, pressed the “Bass Boost” button on the Puma, and I literally brought down the house. Dust and pieces of plaster from the textured ceiling rained down on me, as the Nebula's sound pumped through the speakers. It was time to put the Nebula away and pull out the vacuum.
The E-String produced amazingly mean tone, in regards to depth and growl, when playing in first position. The recording was played completely within the first and third frets, using open and fretted notes. While rushed, feel free to critique as you will, especially around 00:13. It's played with no click and done in one take, much like a live performance. No effects were applied to the recording, the EQ was set to flat, and the mic was placed a foot away from the cabinet.
I took a moment to look at the bass one more time, before securing it in its case. The beautiful grain of the ash back was all but hidden by the deep purple color. This is truly one of those basses that makes a player want to get better, so as not to be outshined by such a stellar instrument-- but with a name like Nebula, is that even possible?