When one of the world’s most experienced mainstream guitar makers teams up with one of the finest custom luthiers, cool stuff is bound to happen. Words by Peter Hodgson.
The case of Cort Guitars is a very interesting one. Over the years, the company has made guitars not just for their own brand, but also as an OEM supplier plenty of other big names such as Ibanez, G&L and Squier.
Their Parkwood line of acoustics was eventually spun off into its own brand, and more recently, the company has partnered with luthier Hugh Manson of Manson Guitar Works, perhaps most famously known for the instruments he has crafted for Muse’s Matt Bellamy and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones.
Cort has never really tried to establish any one shape as its definitive model, but since Manson came on board with the Matt Bellamy series a few years ago, Manson’s vaguely Tele-ish outline has become a little more closely associated with Cort. They’ve now partnered on a new line in the form of the Classic TC and the M-Jet, which are not exactly re-spec’d Bellamy models – the outlines look a little more squeezed and rounded than the guitars in that series – but are still quite clearly Manson‑derived.
While the M-Jet is designed with high-output pickups for heavier styles, the model on review here is the Classic TC, which is available in Scotch Blonde Natural and Ice Blue Metallic finishes.
CORT ON THE RUN
The Classic TC is designed from the ground up by Manson and his team in the UK, and it screams “custom guitar” with a series of very distinctive design tweaks. Manson himself worked on the body styling, with a specially sculpted tummy cut on the back of the guitar which is designed for maximum comfort, while also minimising the amount of wood removed. Ditto for the forearm contour, which isn’t as steep as on some guitars, but is more carefully angled.
The control plate and hardware aren’t your standard off-the-shelf Tele type; there’s a three‑way blade switch inbetween the volume and tone pots, and Manson even specified the exact travel distance of the switch. A similar level of attention was paid to the bridge saddles, which might look pretty standard from a glance, until you get up close and notice how finely they guide the break angle of the string to eliminate extraneous noises and enhance intonation accuracy and height adjustment.
These aren’t just any stock standard OEM pickups, either: Manson designed and voiced them with the goal of making sure they go beyond the standard Tele sound you may expect, pushing things into a little more of a modern direction with the understanding that players who buy this guitar will most likely spend as much time running through overdrive or fuzz as they will through a pristine clean setup.
The other major tweak here, compared to standard designs, is a spoke nut hotrod truss rod which is adjusted at the body end of the neck. It’s similar to the method those at Ernie Ball Music Man employ.
The body is made of ash with a Canadian hard maple neck and a rosewood or jatoba fingerboard, with a compound radius that goes from a slightly curved 12-inches at the first fret to a noticeably more shred-friendly 15.75-inches at the 22nd fret. The scale length is your standard 25.5-inches, and the fingerboard inlays are simple dots.
THE HAUNTED MANSON
True to Manson’s intensions, the Classic TC sounds a hair more modern than a traditional Telecaster; the pickups feel a little higher-powered and more controlled in the treble range. The middle pickup selector setting is particularly fun, with a perfectly balanced mix of neck-pickup smokiness and bridge‑pickup spank.
The neck pickup sounds a little dark by itself, which is common for Tele-style pickups, and is maybe better suited to clean and semi-dirty tones rather than a really in-your-face noodly neck pickup. You can get a bit of that bluesy edge by digging really hard with the pick, too.
But the bridge pickup is the real star here. It’s extremely reactive to your picking and phrasing choices, in that “I’m a session player for Steely Dan” kind of way. And the tone control is really effective and musical.
The neck is also ridiculously fast. Traditional Telecasters can be somewhat punishing for players who are used to more modern guitars, but the Classic TC really takes care of that with the compound radius and superbly finished frets. And again, in keeping with Manson’s design requirements, the forearm contour and tummy cut are very comfortable.
It’s also a nicely balanced guitar to play sitting down or standing up. In fact, it’s almost like the forearm contour and treble-side cutaway are intentionally designed to remove specific areas of drag, so that the lower bout can gently weigh the guitar down into a more ergonomic and natural position.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Although a lot of players tend to think of Cort as a budget brand, their association with Manson seems to have lifted their profile and market perception.
This is a very versatile instrument that’s very much suited to advanced players as well as those on a budget. And while it’s priced well above the typical beginner’s entry point, it would be a heck of a guitar for those willing to splash a little extra cash for their first electric.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Ash body
• Custom-designed pickups
• Compound radius fretboard
• Compound radius fretboard
• 22 frets
• Really, really playable neck
• Uniquely voiced pickups
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