Cort Sunset 1 ($1195 list, about $800 street) exudes vintage vibe. The body is reminiscent of the slightly squat body of an Epiphone Emperor from the days when the company was independent, the slash-shaped soundhole is clearly Rickenbacker influenced and the pickups and Bigsby give the guitar Gretsch tonality. Still, the instrument seems to be an original rather than a mere mashup.
But perhaps the coolest part of the Sunset is that all of the components have already been upgraded: Actual Grover tuners, TonePros bridge and TV Jones pickups make this guitar stage-ready for professional musicians… and the base price makes it accessible to the working class hero.
The semi-hollow body is made in a way that has become increasingly popular: a solid piece of mahogany is routed creating sound chambers, leaving strategically placed solid blocks for reinforcement beneath the bridge, pickups and tailpiece. This forms the back and sides and is capped with a top of maple. While most other semi-hollow bodied guitars sport an arched top, the Sunset 1’s top is flat. The flat top (along with the slash-shaped soundhole) is another Ric tribute. (Along with a way of keeping build costs down.)
The body and set mahogany neck are finished in a metallic candy apple red (at least on my review unit. It’s also available in black.) The finish is flawlessly applied and dimple free. The top of the body is bound with five-ply binding which is a nice counterpoint to the beveled, artistically shaped white/black/white pickguard which gives a classy appearance.
There are a couple of back plates which provide access to the controls and three-way pickup selector. Once the back plate is removed, the interior lip of the cavity reveals the only real disappointment of the Sunset guitar. The lip is rough and looks as though no consideration was given to brushing the sawdust off before applying the finish. This, however, is a minor complaint that has no effect on the appearance of the guitar – even the back – when the cover plate is screwed into place.
The appearance of the Sunset l is further enhanced with the double-block pearl inlays on the rosewood fingerboard which features a overlaid 3-D effect. The fingerboard is also bound with black side dots. The frets are nicely polished and provide a smooth feel as the player’s hand slides up the neck.
The 24.75” scale neck is topped with a three-on-a-side headstock with a script Cort name and MOP and Abalone ornamentation that resembles an elegant stick pin set into the facing. The truss rod is accessible from the headstock (covered with a plate engraved with “Sunset l” in script), but the neck was perfectly straight from the factory so there was no need for adjustment. Real, honest to goodness, Grover tuners work as they should and the strings glide effortlessly through the finely cut Graphtech Nubone nut (another typical instrument upgrade).
As with most semi-hollow guitars, the tone chambers don’t increase the un-plugged acoustic volume of the instrument; the Sunset l is no louder than any unplugged solid body guitar. The feedback resistant blocks inside the body restrict the top from vibrating the way an acoustic instrument would.
But, once plugged in, it is apparent what the chambers are for. There is an essence of wood and air…and attitude. Actually a downright nasty attitude for the TV Jones Classic Plus bridge pickup (a TV Jones Classic is in the neck position). The burly replica—or rather an updated version of Ray Butt’s original pickup created for Chet Atkins and used by Gretsch—registered 7.19 ohms when hooked up to our multi-meter. This output sufficiently drove the front end of our medium-powered amp to create the coveted pushed amp sound.
It also didn’t hurt that the low neck angle allow for the entire pickup to be placed in close proximity to the strings which increases mid-range frequencies and punch.
The more humble (4.1 ohms) neck pickup still had enough volume and character to hang with the bridge pickup, and also offered leaner, cleaner tones with a flick of the pickup selector switch.
Of course, the neck pickup can exhibit cleaner, less driven tones – and a bit more twang – when the volume control is backed off a bit.
Tone-wise the guitar is somewhere between a vintage Gretsch and a P-90 equipped Gibson Les Paul Junior. Setzer-type overdrive-on-the-verge-of-distortion from the bridge pickup is what this guitar excels at…well, that and Leslie West Mountainious Mississippi Queen tone.
Quite obviously this guitar will hold appeal to Rockabilly rebels, as the hot rod look seems to have been created with them especially in mind. Classic rockers, especially those that hold dear to their heart George Harrison’s Country Gentleman days will find this guitar a natural as it covers that ground easily, as well as a little of John’s Casino.
Heavy rocker, Metal dudes and Jazz cats might not find the Sunset l visual appearance their cup of tea, and the output of the bridge pickup, considerable in vintage terms, does not have the output of modern Gibson-type humbuckers.
That being said; Cort also has released the Sunset ll…with TV Jones Ltd. conventional humbucker pickups and a stop tailpiece, but otherwise sharing the same design and features of the Sunset 1.
The Cort Sunset l does provide the goods in a cost efficient package and intriguing looks which will surely draw the attention of other guitarists. It is nice to have the top-grade components already installed: the cost of the instrument doesn’t come with the common complaint of “I wish it could have…” It already does.
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– Jake Kelly