Cort Sunset I review
Cort is one of the foremost Asian instrument manufacturers, responsible for products bearing many well-known brand names. The company's own catalogue is equally comprehensive, with electrics catering for price points from entry level upwards. New to the line-up is the Indonesian-built Sunset I, which as you can see borrows a few aesthetic ideas from the Gretsch camp.
Launched last year, the Sunset series' influence comes from an unusual model from Gretsch's recent past: the Spectra Sonic Lead. This retro-flavoured six-string was designed by US guitar builder and pickup guru TV Jones, who has continued to offer his creation after Gretsch ended its production run. Cort's interpretation embodies obvious similarities, with the association enhanced by the fact that the Sunset I sports humbuckers supplied by the man himself.
Cort's headstock is slim and quite elegant, the edges are unbound and tuning tasks are handled by chunky metal-buttoned Grover machineheads. The Graph Tech NuBone nut is cut well, while the bound rosewood fingerboard features 22 meaty frets, finished smoothly, but with some sharp ends apparent where they overlap the 'board binding. They're partnered by overlapping, staggered block position markers that make a novel change from the norm.
The Sunset I boasts a pretty beefy single-cutaway, slab-style body that combines mahogany with a maple top. Semi-solid construction helps keep the kilo count down and one of the internal airspaces can be seen through a Rickenbacker-ish 'slash' soundhole. The review example's high-shine black finish is contrasted by a vintage-tinted white scratchplate that's very similar to the one on the Spectra Sonic.
Resembling Gretsch Filter'Trons, the two humbuckers comprise a TV Jones Classic at the neck and a Classic Plus in the bridge, with the chrome covers boasting the name of their builder. The body-mounted controls keep things simple, with master volume and tone partnered by a three-way pickup selector located on the upper left bout. The pots are topped by black pointer knobs that look suitably old-style, but they're not exactly finger-friendly and are positioned inconveniently under the vibrato arm.
The Sunset I features a TonePros System II bridge featuring friction-reducing roller-topped saddles. This component is intended to complement the licence-built Bigsby B50 vibrato tailpiece, complete with integral string tension bar. The feel is fairly stiff and the tuning is somewhat inconsistent, especially after severe string bending, requiring a quick downward tweak of the arm to restore correct pitch. The roller saddles do help to alleviate string snagging, which points to the problem being up at the nut.
Acoustically, the Sunset I is quite loud, but sounds somewhat on the thin side. This doesn't impede amplified performance, of course, although output of the TV Jones humbuckers is sufficient rather than high powered.
The Classic at the neck combines an airy upper end response with a woody-toned bass, while the Classic Plus positioned by the bridge offers an interesting alternative, courtesy of an almost compressed-sounding snap, plus added twang and some honky harmonic overtones. Selecting both delivers a Gretsch-like blend of bass and treble, with typically tubular-toned definition.
The sounds on offer are somewhere between a fat-toned Tele and clear-edged P-90, rather than typical humbucker. This makes them ideal for country, rockabilly and other genres where clean is king, but being semi-solid, the Sunset I is also up for doing some dirty work.
The pickups work well with amp-induced overdrive, staying focused and punchy, even when subjected to quite sizeable dollops of distortion. This makes for a usefully flexible six-string that can ably handle blues, rock and other more aggressive styles. The pots play their part in this aural versatility, again being smooth and gradual, which allows useful operational subtlety.
Cort's re-reading of the Gretsch/TV Jones retro-styled original benefits from personal links to the original's creator via the pickups. The result is an individual, versatile instrument with refreshing, distinctive looks.
The high-quality components come at a cost, and so the Sunset I might be seen as expensive for an Indonesian-made guitar. Why that matters with guitars and not consumer electronics and clothes is starting to evade us these days: very cool guitar!