With its mahogany body, quilted maple top and sunburst finish, the Z-Custom 1 is clearly making a play for the traditionalist's heartstrings, but when you get your hands on it there's a feeling that it's all been a big ruse. It might not have the sci-fi quality of, say, the self-tuning Gibson Robot Guitar, yet the Z-Custom nevertheless feels modern.
"It feels modern and built for speed. Never mind where it took its design cues from, this is a guitar for now"
It's light, for starters - great news for your sciatica - with a slimmer, more contoured body profile than its sexagenarian design muse. The jack input is carved into the front of the body as opposed to mounted on the side. The glued neck joint is immaculate and ergonomically accommodating for upper-fret access; the three-piece maple neck, too, is whippet slim.
Pickup-wise, the Z-Custom is fitted with a pair of Seymour Duncan humbuckers - a JB in the bridge and '59 in the neck - with a coil-tap on a master tone pot, which allows you to access some Strat-style spank.
Cort fits a three-way toggle switch positioned down by the bridge instead of the customary mounting on the shoulder. This guitar feels modern and built for speed. Never mind where it took its design cues from, this is a guitar for now.
The spec sheet is impressive, the price modest, but the Z-Custom fails to fully convince. Sure, it's a breeze to play and the high-gloss finish good enough not to gum up when you sweat, while the TonePros bridge is a solid unit, and its clean tone is nice and bright - brighter still when the coil-tap is engaged.
But when the amp's gain is being throttled, the Z-Custom's voice is just a little too bright, a little brittle and hard to tame. Rolling back the tone helps to keep things under control, and it's not such an issue when the neck's '59 is selected, but for a lot of players, particularly those with a proclivity for thick distortion, the Z-Custom's tonal sweet spots can be pretty hard to find.
Also, maddeningly, the three- way pickup selector is configured back-to-front, which might catch a few people out, especially since rote intuition says that it should select the pickup that it's pointing towards. Having it mounted by the bridge only exacerbates matters, making on-the-fly pickup changes a risky business.
These bugbears are frustrating, because the Z-Custom has a lot of potential. It's hard not to love its playability and range of clean tones, many of which are great for chicken-pickin' and blues, and with the amp just overdriven, the Z-Custom has a great, gnarly classic-rock voice. But its gelded high-gain voice... well, that might just be the deal-breaker.