By Art Thompson
Though Cort has long been synonymous with budget guitars, the company has elevated its status considerably in recent years with a series of high-end models that bear the signatures of pros such as Larry Coryell, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Joe Beck, and Hiram Bullock. The M1200 ($995 retail/$699 street) is yet another reminder of Cort’s ability to deliver “custom shop” quality at a very reasonable price. Featuring a lovely maple top, a two-piece mahogany body, and a set mahogany neck with an intricate, tree-of-life inlay, the M1200 is a beautiful instrument by any measure. But, unlike many dolled-up imports, the M1200 truly plays and sounds like a pro guitar.
The M1200’s workmanship leaves little to complain about. The honeyburst finish is deep and glossy, with just a couple of small blurry spots on the back of the guitar. The arched top is nicely carved, and it features inset routs that keep the controls straight on the curved surface. The exposed-edge “binding” (which reveals a little color bleed here and there) shows the top’s center thickness to be a tad over 3/4". The control cavity is paint shielded, and it features an anodized aluminum cover plate.
The mahogany neck meets the body in a Gibson-style glued-in joint, and the 22 lightly-polished jumbo frets are properly crowned and rounded on the ends for a silky feel. The complex inlay runs the full length of the rosewood fretboard, and despite a tiny bit of epoxy filler visible here and there, it’s quite well rendered.
Playing the M1200 is about as easy as it gets—thanks to the neck’s medium thickness and wide, 12"-radius fretboard. The light-gauge strings bend with a buttery smoothness, and the twin cutaways and deep bevel behind the heel provide unlimited access to the upper frets. String buzzing was minimal, and the guitar intonated sweetly in all positions. The chunky nut has some sharp edges that should have been removed, but that’s a small item on an otherwise great-feeling neck. At 8.6 lbs, the M1200 is no lightweight, but it balances well enough that you hardly notice it.
With its exposed-coil Duncan pickups and coil-splitting function (activated by pulling on the tone knob), the M1200 is both potent and flexible. In humbucker mode, it dishes out loud, aggressive tones that offer strong bass and crispy highs. The neck pickup is clear and full, and it sounds excellent for rhythm playing and creamy leads. The bridge pickup packs a healthy wallop, making it easy to obtain maximum overdrive from a reissue Fender Bassman. Through the highest-gain channel of a new Marshall MODE FOUR, the M1200 delivered blistering grind and ungodly low-end—especially when tuned down to D or C. Even at the scorching volumes this amp can produce, however, the pickups exhibited hardly any squeal. The tone control provides predictably darker textures until the last bit of rotation (where the sound becomes overly muffled), and I also noticed a slight amount of treble roll-off when the volume was reduced. Oddly, the volume control felt quite stiff at either end of its rotation.
In single-coil mode, the M1200 sounds crisp and ringing—especially through a Vox AC30. The dual-pickup setting is particularly striking because it takes advantage of the active coils being their widest distance apart. The single-coil bridge setting puts Tele-style hair on country licks, and the neck position provides a bright, warm tone that brings richness and detail to fingerpicked passages. Thanks to its maple top and solid hardware (which includes a top-loading bar tailpiece), the M1200 sustains
superbly. Notes sing out with just a little distortion behind them, and you can coax great feedback textures at higher volumes.
Offering many of the fine cosmetic and workmanship details of guitars in the over-$3,000 class, the M1200 is a great choice for anyone who yearns for a flashy custom at a Wal-Mart price. But unlike one of those disposable Tag-Heuer lookalikes that grandma slips into your stocking at Christmas, the M1200 performs like the premium deal. It’s usually a dumb idea to buy a guitar based on looks alone, but if the M1200 catches your eye, rest assurred it’ll totally satisfy your other senses.