Cort Guitars is well known for producing instruments for several prominent brands—its own among them—with a primary focus on affordability. Lately the company has been making a name for itself, perhaps most notably with the Gene Simmons Signature Axe Bass. (If you missed it, check out the August ’10 issue for a review of this “pinnacle of all rock instruments.”) While many of Cort’s budget basses hover in the $300–$500 range, the company’s Artisan series offers high-end models for players who want to tap into classy features but still leave enough in their wallet to pay for gas to the gig. For under $1,000, the A5-Custom Z does just that, boasting exotic woods, superior construction, and quality electronics.
The A5-Custom Z sports a dramatic zebrawood top. It gives the bass a bold look that might be too audacious for some, but I dig it. Zebrawood is a heavy and hard wood with a somewhat coarse grain; like most exotic tops, on basses it works best as a thin veneer laid over a more sonically productive body. For the A5 body, Cort chose a well-established, warm-sounding wood, mahogany. Interestingly, they also added a zebrawood back as well, a nice surprise; I don’t find many basses where the back is as pleasing to the eye as the front. The matching headstock ties it all together, making the bass look good topto- bottom, front-to-back.
On the A5’s five-piece maple/wenge through-body neck, 24 frets run the length of a rosewood fingerboard that has abalone side markers. The bass begins and ends with Hipshot hardware, from tuners to bridge; I was especially impressed with the bass’s heavy-duty metal knobs. Bartolini electronics and pickups top off the A5, again showing that Cort knows how to choose triedand- true materials for its Artisan series.
Before amplifying the A5, I took a couple of days to evaluate its acoustic character; the absence of amplification focuses my attention on the kind of things that volume sometimes obscures. I was liked the vibration and sustain of the notes, the warmth of the acoustic tone, and the instrument’s balance. I also enjoyed the slim feel of the modern Cshaped neck, especially for a 5-string.
Satisfied with the A5’s acoustic merits, I took it to an informal jam to see how it faired live. The venue provided an SWR Black Beauty 1x15 combo (a sweet-sounding setup), and I was delighted with the result. Everything that sounded good acoustically carried through into the amp. An amp tends to color an instrument’s sound, but I ran the EQ on the amp flat and tried to let the bass do the talking. The B string resonated well without being too thumpy or cloudy, and the other strings proved well-balanced across the fingerboard and up the neck. The Bartolini MK-1 preamp offers a volume, blend, 3-band EQ, and EQ on/off switch. With the EQ turned on, the bass performed as anyone familiar with Bartolini pickups might expect: crisp highs, nice mids, deep lows. Even with the EQ switched off, I could easily replicate the most pleasing characteristics of the Cort’s acoustic sound.
Switching between the EQ settings, I noticed the only problem with our test model. Often, but not always, flipping the switch resulted in a loud pop. A look inside the electronics compartment revealed a not-so-tidy wiring job; jiggling things around made for some improvement, but offered no permanent solution. The problem here might be more anomalous than systemic, but I would still like to see a bit more order in the wiring.
Perhaps the best compliment that I can offer Cort on this bass is that halfway through the jam, I forgot about the bass altogether and just played, which is saying a lot. Often when playing a new instrument, I find myself tweaking things or adjusting to the feel, weight, or shape of it throughout a gig or rehearsal. Not the case here. The bass was comfortable, played well, sounded great, and let me focus on the music—that’s what a good bass is supposed to do, right? For the money, you’d be hard pressed to find a neck-through instrument with an exotic wood top (and bottom) that feels and sounds this nice. So, if you’re on a tight budget—as many of us are these days— check out Cort’s line of basses. If you’re more the artisan than axe type, the A5- Custom Z might be the way to go. Just don’t tell Gene Simmons that I told you so; he’s a bit unpredictable, and wields a bloody axe. —ROD TAYLOR
CORT A5-CUSTOM Z
Pros Neck-through construction and high-end features for a fair price
Cons Control cavity less than tidy
Body Mahogany with zebrawood top and back
Neck Five-piece maple/wenge
Pickups Bartolini MK5CBC
Electronics Bartolini MK-1
Controls Volume, blend, 3-band EQ, active/passive switch
Scale length 34"
Fingerboard radius 15 3/4"
Weight 9 lbs
Made in Korea
Warranty Lifetime limited