First off, I don’t know if you can even buy these guitars new any more. I wrote the first version of this review for Mixdown back in 2006, and haven’t seen any of these axes in stores for a while. But maybe this review will help out somebody who stumbles across a used one for sale and needs some more information.
Cort guitars have enjoyed a massive surge in popularity lately. The company, formed by Jack Westheimer and partner Yung H.Park in 1973, was originally established to promote Japanese and South Korean made guitars, which were gaining prominence and reputation at that time. The brand name Cort actually came from the Japanese acoustic guitar brand Cortez, which Westheimer had contracted. When the opportunity arose, the Westheimer and Park took the plunge and went from distributing other company’s guitars to making their own.
Park remains with Cort to this day, and the company’s factory in Incheon, South Korea, has attained a world class reputation not only for the manufacture of Cort guitars, but also guitars for many other top brands. The company has been able to take this design and manufacture experience and incorporate it into their own work, and we’re seeing guitars coming out of Korea today that are every bit as good as the Japanese output of the 1980s. Artists such as Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies bass player Billy Cox, Steve Vai/Pretenders bass player TM Stevens, Hiram Bullock, session legend Larry Coryell, Blues Brother Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Neil Zaza and Ricky Garcia are all proud Cort users. Several Cort basses were also my instrument of choice when I was teaching bass and guitar at World of Music – I knew I could just reach for a Cort on the wall and chances were it’d be pretty good.
The M200P is a unique hybrid guitar, based on the still-available M200. Its general outline is somewhere between a PRS and a Line6 Variax. The carved agathis body is extremely heavy, and the subtle arch of the fretboard results in a Les Paul style neck pitch. Picking the guitar up from the treble side cutaway, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re holding a set neck guitar, but the M200P is a bolt on. The neck joint itself also feels like a set neck, and it all adds up to making the guitar feel sturdy and resonant.
The 22 fret mahogany neck is just a touch on the smaller side of medium depth. Fretboard width is relatively small, which is a huge benefit for speedy legato techniques and general long-term playing comfort. The tip of the headstock has a small semicircular bite out of it which creates a distinctive shape and creates a contour for the “Designed by Cort Research” logo to follow. The larger screened Cort logo sits between the unbranded tuners, and the model number is stamped on the back of the headstock and on the headstock’s truss rod cover.
A pair of uncovered black humbuckers form part of the M200P’s sonic arsenal, but by far the most impressive inclusion at this price point is the Fishman Powerbridge – a unique addition for the Australian market by special order of distributors Lamberti Bros, and no doubt the ‘P’ added to the M200P name. This little beauty features piezo elements in each of the bridge saddles, connected to a preamp and integrated with the guitar’s existing magnetic pickup system. It’s a huge advantage to have the ability to summon acoustic tones on demand at a gig without having to deal with lugging an acoustic guitar and dealing with feedback woes.
The aforementioned thin neck width, combined with a flattish fretboard radius, the angle of the neck pitch and the subtle carves of the top, contribute to making the guitar easy to play for long periods despite the heavy body weight. The frets are relatively low in profile and highly polished, which further enhances the playing experience. The neck on the review model was perfectly straight and the action was low and buttery, inviting wide bends and slippery smooth slides and position shifts.
The pickups sound quite rich and full, with a decently high output. The bridge humbucker emphasises pick attack and just loves to be pelted with harmonics. The neck humbucker has an almost single coil vibe, but with higher output and no noise. The single coil effect increases the harder you dig the pick into the strings. The middle pickup setting sounds great for vintage Santana style leads or warmly overdriven classic rock rhythms.
Flipping to the Fishman Powerbridge, the M200P yields a very usable approximation of an acoustic guitar tone. By definition piezo pickups can’t replicate the warmth of an acoustic guitar’s body and wood, because they only transfer the string vibration itself, but this particular preamp seems to impart a little warmth, playing down much of the ‘quack factor’ inherent in piezo pickups. It’s interesting to note that when you switch to acoustic mode, the M200P feels like a completely different guitar. I found myself playing it quite differently to when in electric mode, yet still getting just as much out of it. The thickness of the humbuckers gives way to the clean note separation of the piezo, and the tighter than usual grain of the rosewood neck contributes to a rounded tone, free of neck dead spots.
Best of all, though the M200P only features a single output, it’s actually a stereo output combined in a single jack, and using a stereo Y cord you can split the acoustic signal to one amp and the electric signal to another. This is a great way of adding huge amounts of texture, especially in a band with only one guitar, and opens up a whole world of processing tricks. It also allows you to maximise the potential of the piezo tone by sending it to a dedicated acoustic guitar amp or to the mixing desk via an appropriate preamp. This is a great alternative to just using an electric guitar amp’s clean channel, which isn’t designed to reproduce the tonal range of an acoustic guitar.
The M200P is a killer utility guitar, suitable for everything from nu metal to classic rock, Chicago blues to modern FM radio stuff, and that’s even before you flip the switch and turn it into an acoustic capable of covering country, jazz, pop – maybe even classical with a judicious tweak of the tone control. The stereo output is an especially nice touch, and contributes to the M200P being one of the most versatile guitars for the price. You may have a hard time finding one internationally, but if you’re here in Australia and you look hard enough you just might be in luck.