It’s hardly a secret that you can spend a fraction
of what a high-end or boutique electric guitar costs, and still end up with
an instrument that will serve you well for gigs, practice, and recording.
Heck, some of the best blues music was made on circa-’50s and ’60s
guitars from Airline, Danelectro, Harmony, and Silvertone. And when you
consider how little guitar designs have fundamentally changed since then,
what’s the big deal about going on the cheap when looking for a guitar
that can cut it for your gigs?
Sure, a 6-string budget special won’t boast the fine woods, painstakingly
reverse-engineered pickups, and fine fretwork and setup that a
top-ender touts, but, unlike an acoustic guitar—which depends so much
on the quality of its woods and construction—the solidbody electric is a
far more forgiving platform when it comes to shaving production costs.
By far, the biggest ding that can be leveled against many of today’s
lower-end guitars is that they are made from woods that haven’t been
given the time to become fully dried before they’re tuned into bodies
and necks. And once sprayed with a coating of polyurethane—a process
that effectively seals in that moisture—those woods will likely never
attain their full vibrational potential. In some cases, necks can also suffer
from being slapped together from woods that aren’t correctly matched,
dooming them to being inconsistent in stiffness (it never hurts to check
the neck flex on a guitar you’re considering), and more susceptible to
warpage and other maladies that can cause tuning and playability headaches
for the buyer.
But setting those factors aside for a moment, provided that the hardware
is solid, the tuners do what they’re supposed to, and the pickups
sound good and don’t transmit squealing feedback when subjected to
some volume, you’ve got a good chance of getting a guitar that will satisfy
your needs without blowing the budget. As always, it’s smart to try
before you buy, but if that isn’t possible, at least check to see what players
and forums are saying about the guitars that have caught your attention.
Electric guitars in the sub-$500 category often pack substantial bangfor-
the-buck, and, as we’ve found in this group, there are some clear winners
that can truly stand up to scrutiny when it comes to tone, playability,
and construction. We tested the guitars though a range of amps from Carr,
Dr. Z, Fender, Marshall, Line 6, Little Walter, and Vox. —Art Thompson
If you’re in the market for a
low-cost LP-style guitar, make a note on your
shopping list to give the CR230 a try. This model
features all-mahogany construction, and with its
gloss black finish and flawless cream binding it
exudes the timeless appeal that Gibson’s “black
beauty” has always had for rock players. The
workmanship all around is of high quality, and
you can feel it right away in terms of playability.
The neck has a good amount of heft—perhaps a
bit too much for some hands—and the smoothly
finished frets made for easy bending with the
stock .010-.046 strings. The fret ends aren’t at
all spikey either, making it easy to slide up and
down the neck. The intonation is musically pleasing
too, and once pulled to pitch with the diecast
machines, the CR230 stayed in tune quite
well during a spell of particularly dry California
weather we were experiencing during the testing
phase for this roundup.
This guitar has the sonic range afforded by
a pair of humbuckers and independent Volume
and Tone controls, and it offers increased flexibility
via push-pull Tone pots that split the
coils of the pickups for some cool single-coil
textures. The passive EMG HZ SRO humbuckers
have plenty of output and girth, so being
able to split them provides a quick way to get
more sparkling sounds with a modest reduction
in output. Activating this function on the neck ’bucker when in the dual pickup setting, I
found some great rhythm tones, and by varying
the levels of each pickup, the CR230 offers
up quite a lot of useful sounds.
The bridge unit by itself travels from sturdy
rock crunch to searing lead tones, all of which
can be easily adjusted to suit the amp by dialing
back the Tone controls. Going from a Fender
Deluxe to a Marshall PA20—and using an Alairex
HALO pedal for higher gain sounds—the CR230
was consistently tuneful and satisfying. I brought
it along as a spare guitar for a recent gig playing
jazz-based instrumental music, and it cut it well
for both clean and overdriven tones, garnering
a few compliments for its looks in the process.
The EMGs can do just about anything you
ask of them—from light to heavy with lots of
cool points in-between—and they certainly contribute
to making the CR230 a good choice for
players who want the natural sustaining qualities
of a Les Paul (albeit one without a maple
top) with the enhanced tonal range needed to
cover a wide swath of styles.
So even if Cort isn’t a name that immediately
comes to mind when thinking about affordable
electrics, they have a large product line with a lot
of worthy contenders that come in at surprisingly
low prices. Definitely a brand to consider when the
budget is tight, and the CR230 certainly proves
its abilities in that arena. —Art Thompson
PRICE $369 street
NUT WIDTH 1.69"
NECK Mahogany, set
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.75"
scale, 12" radius
FRETS 22 large (2.7 mm)
TUNERS Die-cast chrome
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style
PICKUPS EMG HZ SRO humbuckers
CONTROLS Dual Volume, dual Tone
w/push-pull coil taps,
3-way pickup selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL 110, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.36 lbs
KUDOS Looks great. Plays well.
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