REVIEW: CORT M200P

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.

Buy Cort guitars at Green Meanie Guitars – enter the code IHEARTGUITAR for an additional $10 off!

REVIEW: Rex Bassking

The story of the Rex Bassking sounds like a legend, or at the very least a Da Vinci Code style tale of investigation, serendipity and discovery. The amp’s origins lie in the 1930s when the late Frank Lamberti arrived in Australia from Italy. Working at the Astor radio factory in Melbourne, where he assembled valve radios and communication equipment for the Australian military, Mr Lamberti transferred these skills to his own company in 1946 when he teamed up with his brother Anthony to form Lamberti Bros. The company’s North Melbourne workshop began producing valve radiograms, televisions and a range of guitar amplifiers beginning with a 6 watt amp released under the Rex brand name.

The company continued to make amps over the next 15 years, ranging from the original 6 watt designs to 50 watts. But rising labour costs led to the difficult decision to cease production in 1974. But before the doors were closed, Frank had his small team, working under the name of General Music Company, manufacture a final run of 100 the 20 watt Bassking amps, with an improved design. But these amps were never sold, and remained left in their shelves until they were discovered by Frank’s children after his passing in 1996. They resolved to release the amps in memory of their dad, and over the past two years, Frank’s son Joe has worked with one of his father’s original technicians to fine tune the design to be more guitarist friendly. Joe explains. “Originally dad designed the Bassking as a versatile amp which could be used for guitar, bass or keyboard. Dad started off as a radio technician. He couldn’t play guitar and simply tested his amps striking open strings. His aim was to amplify without distortion. Nevertheless, he designed some great amps and I’m sure he would be more than pleased with what we’ve done with his last 100.”

So this brings us to today. The Bassking is a simple but undeniably classy looking combo. The review model was finished in vintage red vinyl which was found in the workshop along with the amps. The two channels, Bass and Normal, each have their own dedicated pair of inputs, and controls for volume, bass and treble. A Celestion G12H twelve inch speaker has been fitted as part of the redesign. High quality electrolytic capacitors have been fitted, and matched valves from Electro Harmonix form the heart of the amp’s power and tone. The Bassking is driven by two 12AX7EH valves in the preamp and two EL84EH valves in the power section. There’s a jack on the back panel for an additional speaker cabinet, and I would love to see a matching extension cabinet built in the same cosmetic style.

I first plugged into the Bassking’s Bass channel with a Cole Clark Guardian. The tone was extremely clear and warm, with a tight yet thick low end and a rounded high end. Nudging up the treble control added a little bit of musical sharpness to the signal, and plugging in my Telecaster I was immediately reminded of blues legend Albert Collins’s famous “icy” tone – clean, loud, sharp, expressive and musical. Bringing down the treble again, this channel was great for jazz lead lines and chords, and its high headroom ensured there was no distortion to muddy up the purity of the tone.

The Normal channel has a similar basic character to the Bass channel, but the low end is more subdued, the highs are glassier, and the midrange is a little thinner, resulting in an almost acoustic guitar style shimmer to chords and double stops. With a little experimenting, I managed to coax an authentic recreation of Mark Knopfler’s “Sultans Of Swing” tone from the Cole Clark, while slightly edgy blues tones were also on tap in an almost Steve Ray Vaughan vibe. I then tried the amp with a DigiTech Bad Monkey overdrive pedal to see how the circuit and speaker handled dirtier tones. Again the sound reminded me of Stevie Ray, this time his slightly edgier tone from “Pride & Joy.” The absence of a midrange control on the amp didn’t prevent it from exhibiting a perfectly voiced midrange to fill out the pedal’s tone, and the combination of a particularly responsive overdrive pedal, playing dynamics and the Bassking’s great preamp meant changes in phrasing were reproduced with expressive accuracy. It’s great to plug into an amp that doesn’t just compress and distort every note, and by carefully choosing how hard you pick any particular sound, you can get a huge variety of sounds without even touching the tone controls.

In the 1960s a lot of amps, such as the Marshall Super Lead, had two channels with twin separate inputs like the Bassking, and players soon discovered that running a small patch cord between the inputs of the two channels allowed them both to be used at the same time. I set the Bassking up in this way, and the resulting tone was amazing. There was a pleasing natural compression, and the tone fattened up considerably. The ability to set separate bass and treble frequencies for each channel, then blend the volumes of each for the perfect mix, allowed me to create a thick and deep tone that still had huge amounts of treble. This sound would be particularly useful to bands with only one guitarist, because it allows you to stake out a huge amount of sonic real estate.

The 20 watt Rex Bassking is the great lost amp of Australian music history, and you can hear the history and heritage with every note. It’s fun to play, looks great and is built to a very high quality standard. It’s bound to be an Australian classic and I can’t see the limited edition run of 100 lasting long in stores before being snapped up by boutique amp collectors and blues and jazz guitarists.

SPECS:
POWER: 20 watts
ELECTRONICS: Bass and Normal channels, 2 12AX7EH preamp valves, 2 EL84EH power valves.
SPEAKER: Celestion G12H

For more on Rex Bassking amps, check out OzValveAmps.com.

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