MTD Kingston Rubicon 6-22
Intuitive, player-oriented design, prime materials, and first-class execution distinguished Michael Tobias’s work even before he began concentrating on innovative electric basses in the late 1970s. And let’s not forget Michael Tobias Designs (MTD) helped introduce the newfangled term “ergonomic” to electric guitars and basses.
The Kingston Rubicon 6-22 is a perfect example of Tobias’s forward-looking designs. This six-string/22-fret instrument (as its name suggests) features an alder body with a flamed maple top for a bit of added mass, not to mention added class. The curvy two-horn design with belly cut and top-edge bevels is visually unique, with the diminutive treble bout just big enough to ensure a comfortable sitting position.
The distinctive look of the Rubicon’s body is echoed in the offset headstock, a modified snakehead with an attractively detailed crown. The neck is constructed with a scarf joint at the E tuners (with an overlay for extra strength and good looks), and is joined to the body with a tightly fitted four-bolt system at the tapered heel. The flat-sawn maple neck on the test model, which showed a nice curl that complemented the figure of the maple cap, was finished in natural catalyzed polyester, while the body was an attractive dark cherry satin called “Dr. Brown’s Burst,” Dr. Brown’s being a soft drink dating to 1869 (for true vintage lovers).
The Rubicon’s OEM tuners and Graph Tech ResoMax bridge (an adjustable wraparound bolt-mount design) feature a dark finish, while the designer’s inclination to asymmetrical detail on the headstock and body extends to the neck: The rosewood fingerboard is a compound radius with a 25.5″ scale, while the neck profile is a touch thinner on the treble side, and fatter on the bass.
The Rubicon’s electronics are as straight-ahead and sensible as the hardware, neck, and body. Two coverless proprietary humbuckers are height-adjustable in their bezels, with individual string voicing possible through six pole pieces. Single tone and volume controls and a three-way selector are augmented by two mini switches for parallel and series output. Though the single-coil/humbucker switching remains a popular feature of many guitars, on the Rubicon this option is noise-free, as the pickups never leave humbucking mode. The skinnier parallel sound, with the two coils wired independently to their output, offers the lower output typical of a single-coil, while the fatter-sounding series wiring, with the two coils wired consecutively to their output, delivers a humbucker sound more familiar to electric guitarists.
Any gigging player who has had to cope with extraneous noise due to lighting, electrical issues, and single-coil pickups will appreciate the 60-cycle hum-free response of the 6-22, as well as the versatility of the eight discrete pickup tones. Plugged in through an early-’80s Mesa amp with a 12″ Fender Eminence speaker, the Kingston Rubicon 6-22 sparkled even in the beefiest settings, providing excellent note separation even with the master volume dimed. The parallel settings on both pickups were forceful enough to drive the amp nicely, and flipping the switch to the series option gave an extra solo boost that threw the amp into full-tilt Boogie mode.
The pickups came adjusted for a distinct balance of volume, and the middle selector switch position was only a touch quieter due to the typical frequency cancelation that occurs when two pickups are played together. The several tones available through manipulation of the switching system were all musical, helping build the dynamics of a solo section by shifting to higher output settings as the music developed (or you could use your fingers, of course).
The easy setup and compound radius fingerboard made rapid single-note lines and extreme bends equally accessible, and Lenny Breau-inspired arpeggiated passages came through cleanly even with the amp in overdrive. Not even several effects chained together – an original MXR Dyna Comp, an Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-808, a Holy Grail reverb, and a Boss Digital Delay – could muddy the waters, making the Rubicon 6-22 an excellent choice for pedalboard-oriented guitarists. And thanks to the Buzz Feiten Tuning System, the Rubicon 6-22 played in tune in every position.
Although Michael Tobias achieved his greatest success with his bass designs, he’s been a guitarist from day one. The MTD Kingston Rubicon 6-22 finds him crossing back over to where he started. And that’s our good fortune.
This article originally appeared in VG May 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.