Cort A5-Custom Z

CORT GUITARS IS WELL KNOWN for producing instruments for several prominent brands—its own among them—with a primary focus on affordability.
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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


Street $905
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
Fingerboard Rosewood
Pickups Bartolini MK5CBC
Electronics Bartolini MK-1
Controls Volume, blend, 3-band EQ, active/passive switch
Hardware Hipshot
Scale length 34"
Fingerboard radius 15 3/4"
Weight 9 lbs

Made in Korea
Warranty Lifetime limited


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LeCompte Acid J-5 and CBXSC-6

IN TERMS OF BASS MAKERS, LeCompte Electric Bass is still a babe, but, since 2004, founder and one-man-show Bud LeCompte has wasted no time in producing a host of custom basses that run the spectrum from traditional to anything but. The Acid J-5 and the CBXSC-6 provide a clear picture of this luthier’s versatility, and despite their disparate designs and appeal, each bass demonstrates LeCompte’s commitment to excellence in sound and workmanship, as well as his keen sense for the varied taste among today’s bass players.