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Tobias basses, who knows about 'em?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Mr Matt, Nov 19, 2006.

  1. Mr Matt

    Mr Matt Supporting Member

    Jan 18, 2005
    Washington State
    I'm looking into getting a Tobias bass here in the near future.
    Who out there can tell me what to look out for, I've read about some issues with the first (couple?) Gibson years Michael Tobias has mentioned on his site. How do you look up their serial numbers to find the year & such? I played one long ago and the sound continues to ring in my head. Thanks in advance!
  2. BassManPatsFan

    BassManPatsFan Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2004
    San Francisco
    I don't know about which serial numbers are the Gibson ones, but I think the general consensus around here is that they are way overpriced and poorly built. The old ones made by Michael himself are supposed to be great.
  3. guy n. cognito

    guy n. cognito Secret Agent Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    Matt, I highly recommend that you do a search. The Gibson-era Tobias has been discussed to death.
  4. tycobb73


    Jul 23, 2006
    Grand Rapids MI
    get the serial # off of a bass and call Gibson.
  5. Fealach

    Fealach Guest

    Apr 23, 2003
    Gone to a better place
    From the MTD site, the words of Mr Tobias:

    Tobias Guitars was started in Orlando, Florida in April 1977. The first serial number was 0178 - January 1978. After 578, I went back to 179. My first shop name was The Guitar Shop. I sold that business in 1980 and moved to San Francisco to be partners in a short-lived manufacturing business called Sierra Guitars. We made about 50 instruments. I left S.F. in May of '81 and started a repair shop in Costa Mesa, Ca.

    I stayed in Costa Mesa for several months and then moved to Hollywood. The first California serial number was 240 and it was a solid mahogany 6 string guitar. The first South Cal number was 250. It was one of four mahogany LP junior style neck thru.


    After several attempts to move the business to larger, better equipped facilities, I sold Tobias Guitars to Gibson on 1/1/90. The first Tobias Gibson serial number was 1094. At that point, Gibson was instrumental in moving us to a bigger shop in Burbank and setting us up with a great spray booth and dust collection system. We finally met So Cal safety codes. Basses built during 1990-1992 era were built initially by the same crew that had helped establish Tobias Basses as one of the most sought after basses on the planet. We added several people during 1990 and ended up with a great 10-man shop.

    Business was still very good and we were not able to make anywhere near enough basses to fill the orders. Instead of trying to jack up production, we tried to get outside vendors to build for us. We had 110 "Model T" basses made for us by a very fine builder in New England, and then we got the Terada factory in Nagoya, Japan to make the "Standard" bass for us. This was and is a great bass, but the $/yen ratio killed the project. There were about 400 Standards.

    Late in 1992, it was decided that in the best corporate interests, Tobias would move to Nashville. After much deliberation, no one from the original Tobias Guitars crew went to Nashville. The final LA Tobias/Gibson serial number is 2044. Despite Gibson's ownership of Tobias, all of the basses made up to 2044 were built by the my regular crew. The first production from Tobias/Nashville consisted of about 60 basses that were not numbered or finished by this crew.

    I left the company in Dec '92 and was a consultant for Gibson for the operations they set up in Nashville. They had some trouble at first, but have since done a fairly good job making Tobias basses.


    S/N 2044 or before = made by Mr Tobias and/or his crew, but anything 1093 and under is "Pre Gibson."

    Standard and Model T not made by Tobias crew, but still made while M.T. was with the company, or "Pre Nashville."

    The "Nashville" designation refers to basses made after the Gibson buyout, when Gibson moved production to Nashville from CA. No Tobias employees made the trip, after this point it was strictly a Gibson operation.

    These were made for a while, mixed reviews. Personally I had a Nashville Killer B that was flawless.

    Production in Nashville stopped (90's some time?) and the only Tobias basses made were the "Toby" lines from Korea, sold through Musicyo.com; budget basses, but generally thought to be excellent for the money.

    Gibson recently started production of high end US basses in Arkansas. Again mixed reviews, I have been unimpressed with these, except for the price tag which is IMO steep, but some feel it's worth it. Toby line discontinued, then reappears briefly, then disappears again.

    Both pre and post Gibson models included Basic, Classic, and Signature.

    Standard and Model T are in a grey area, not manufactred by Tobias crew or Gibson crew.

    Gibson only products: Killer B, Growler, Renegade.

    Besides the serial numbers, there are obvious physical differences in the models, and even within the same model that are tipoffs. For me, there's also some hard to quantify sense or feel the old ones have that the the newer ones I've played lack. I have not played an Arkansas era neck through, however.
    Wstrindade likes this.
  6. Fealach

    Fealach Guest

    Apr 23, 2003
    Gone to a better place
    One more thing - original era Tobias basses are getting exceedingly rare as more people hold onto them. Do you homework! There are ignorant and sometimes devious sellers who will sell a Gibson era claiming it to be Pre Gibson. Ebay sellers have taken to calling Nashville basses "vintage" to further add to the confusion. Expect a real Pre Gibson to cost in the neighborhood of $2000 and up, depending on condition, features, etc. If you can't get a clear pic of the serial number from an online seller, and are not familiar with the physical differences (which are only helpful up to a point anyway) realize you are gambling.

    As usual, I may have missed something... but I own an early Tobias and I did my homework.
  7. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Let us know how much you want to spend, Mr Matt, and that will determine what you can/should buy.

    My two favorite basses I own are post-Gibson Tobiases, a Killer B 6 and Renegade 5. My Renegade has been my main bass for years now- sounds incredible live, very easy to play, is easy to maintain, and requires very little adjustment when traveling around.

    But, both required modification to get them to where I wanted them- I had to add an ABM bridge to both, and a Bartolini 3-band to the Renegade, which completely changed the sound. The Killer B is a little more modified, with an ebony fretboard, zero fret, and a black ebony top. It's pretty nuts.

    I can't imagine ever getting rid of either. If anything, I'd get more of them!

    I did also own a Growler at one point, and hated it. It was fretless, and no matter what you did it would NEVER cut through the mix well, even in small group settings. I'm glad that thing is gone and I will never touch one ever again! Played well, though.

    For what it's worth, I've had a fund saved up for the last about 3 years such that if a very specific pre-Gibson Tobias comes up for sale, I can nab it. I played an almost all purpleheart Signature 6 with an ebony fretboard, and it was the best sounding bass I've ever played, bar none, above all, no question. It was something like $6000 though- couldn't afford it then, still can't. But, I've got some saved up in case a similiar one ever does come up that strikes my fancy.
  8. jdlwareagle


    Nov 13, 2005
    Mobile , AL
    I used a Gibson-era Killer B 5 as my main bass for years before moving on to a G&L L2500 a couple of years ago . Solid construction , modern sounding electronics and the most comfortable compound radius neck this side of my Peavey Cirrus 5 . Never needed a fret job even after 10 years of 4-5 nights / week play .
  9. evilgus

    evilgus Supporting Member

    Feb 27, 2006
    Sydney, Australia
    I've had a Gibson/Nashville Killer B-5 as my main bass for around 8 years now and it's been a reliable and solid instrument with a great sound. I bought it new in '98, serial #6225, in case that helps anyone. I even (recently) kept it over buying An Alembic Essence as the Essence just wasn't twice as good to justify twice the price! The only two things I could ever fault on the construction is that the plastic truss-rod cover is not perfectly square (slight gap) and there's a tiny neck-join gap that doesn't affect strength or playability in any way.

    Although I expect a pre-Gibson Tobias would be the absolute Bees Knees, I'm happy enough with the earlier Gibson ones that I've just ordered a '94 Classic 5. After buying/trying out a number of higher-priced neck thrus and still preferring my KB-5, I decided to stick with what I know and love. I'll probly even keep the KB-5 and defret it, should work well as a fretless.


  10. nad

    nad 60 Cycle Humdinger Commercial User

    Sep 22, 2005
    Not Mars
    The Overlord of Nordstrand Pickups
    Gibson doesn't keep records of the Tobias serial numbers, at least that is what they told me when I contacted them. They were very helpful other than that, gave me several diagrams and stuff.

    Anyhow, I have a Gnashville Growler and it's the best 5-string I've ever played. I believe it's from the early-90s, but I don't really know.

  11. evilgus

    evilgus Supporting Member

    Feb 27, 2006
    Sydney, Australia
    I've just received my '94 Tobias Classic 5 and I'm extremely happy with it! (Serial # 2491.) It has an alder body, wenge centre and zebrawood top, looks awesome! :) The workmanship is very good, not quite up to Alembic-level quality, but noticeably better than on my '98 KB-5. There are a few places where you can *just* feel the edges of the laminate joins on the body, but the neck laminate joins are perfectly smooth, so I'm hardly ever going to notice it. Sound-wise, the 9V Bartolinis are doing an excellent job, it has a sweeter and more refined sound than my KB-5, probably due to the different pickup placement. The KB-5 with 18V pups still sounds fatter, but the Classic has far more tonal variety and more spunk, just what I was after!


  12. atrapp


    Dec 4, 2006
    Taichung, Taiwan
    I had a 96 Growler, liked to play it but HATED the sound.
  13. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I know quite a few dudes who have Orlando Tobias basses that they bought back in the 70's. They're really sharp. A couple of them have managed to keep them ding-free. I don't know how they did it, but they did. Not my style of bass, but I can understand the attraction.
  14. 73jbass

    73jbass Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2004
    I just got a Killer B 6 off evilbay last week,and couldn't be happier with it.I don't know what all the talk is about poor quality,etc.. Look at the quality of CBS Fenders.My 73 jazz has neck pocket gaps that you could drive a Mac truck through,but everybody wants one. The Tobias I got is a 2900 serial number,so I have no clue when it was made. The build quality is exellent with no flaws that I can see. The playability is great,and the tone is wonderful. It sounds to me like a few bad ones got past inspection,and ruined the entire line. The Japanese made standard models are supposedly worth looking into.
  15. musiqisme26


    Jan 11, 2007

    heres my nashville kb5 i have listed in order for me to get a neck thru tobias. i have called gibson and gave the rep my serial number 3122 and he was able to tell me when my bass was made and the date it was purchased and email me the info. as i understand from his email any tobias serial under 3200's were still made while mike tobias was a consultant at gibson.
  16. musiqisme26


    Jan 11, 2007

    your bass was constructed in 1994
  17. I have a Tobias I bought new in the Autumn of '94. The number on the back of the headstock is 0707093. This doesn't match anything I've read about Tobias serial numbers pre or post Gibson. Can anyone tell me about this?
  18. I would take an MTD over a Tobias any day. Just personal preference, but I think they're better built.
  19. Not a lot of info to go on, but that sure doesnt look like a pre Gibson serial number, and if new in 1994 that would also indicate post Gibson. I doubt anyone but Gibson could tell you more than that based on the serial # alone.
  20. I would take an 80's Tobias over an MTD. Just personal preference, but they're perfect.

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