Cort. In the USA, the name conjures up images of… low cost instruments for the beginning musician. Certainly, nothing we’d care about at MusicPlayers.com. But we were intrigued when at the 2014 Winter NAMM Show, we saw a big cardboard cut-out of legendary jazz fusion bassist Jeff Berlin posing with his new signature instrument—a Cort bass (and later, a live performance by the master alongside guitar guru, George Lynch).
We were intrigued, and the striking sort-of-natural finish on an actual Cort Rithimic bass (as opposed to the cardboard display) made us stop for a closer look. The Babicz Full Contact bridge caught our attention next, and that’s when we knew that there was something different going on here. This was not our children’s Cort, but something entirely different.
Six months later, we come to the end of a review cycle, having had the Cort Rithimic Bass in our studio for a few months, played by multiple editors and staffers alike. Let it be stated: this bass should change all preconceived notions you have of Cort as an instrument builder. The attention to details in fit, finish, and appointments is great, it plays wonderfully, and it has a special sound just the way Jeff Berlin intended.
A pro bass for under $1,000? We almost never review instruments with a street price point beneath that mark, but the Rithimic measured up in every possible way, and while its sound isn’t appropriate for everyone, there is no denying the quality of this instrument and the joy it will bring to many of our readers. Our opinion of Cort has been significantly upgraded, and if you keep reading, we’re certain that yours will be changed, too.
The Cort Rithimic is Jeff Berlin’s signature instrument, but you won’t find any nameplates or silly, silk-screened autographs. You will, however, find one hell of a cool paint job that features a veneer top comprised of both Spalted Maple and Padouk on top of a solid Alder body. The multi-colored translucent finish is striking to behold.
The made-in-Indonesia (RoHS compliant) instrument weighs in under 12 pounds, and the body style pays obvious homage to the Fender tradition. The 34” scale neck is hewn from one piece of hard maple, with a rosewood fingerboard (12” radius) and twenty-one wide, medium height frets.
Hardware is top flight. Besides the aforementioned Babicz Full Contact FCH4 bridge (one of our favorite designs of all time for the bass), the Cort Rithimic features Hipshot Ultralight tuners, Bartolini Jeff Berlin custom, dual-coil (humbucking) pickups, a Graphtech Black TUSQ nut, and a very straightforward control group: Volume, Blend, and Tone. The instrument ships with DR DDT strings. Of note is that the instrument is entirely passive electronics-wise, so there’s no need to worry about batteries. Just grab this bass and go play.
The Cort Rithimic bass fits like an old glove and plays effortlessly. The neck and body feel most like a Fender Jazz, only a little bit lighter in weight, but with the same default hand position and balance. Further differentiating it, however, the Rithimic’s neck finish is more contemporary, with a polished satin feel that reminded us of a modern Strat neck finish.
The fretboard felt just right, with very smooth rosewood, low frets, low action (fantastic factory setup), and that satin neck finish all combining to enable supremely fast playing. The neck had great intonation, and when plugged in, the bass exhibited very even sound, both string to string and across the fretboard from low to high.
With only volume, pickup blend, and tone controls, operation couldn’t have been any simpler. The Rithimic proved a wonderfully comfortable, non-fatiguing, and fast instrument to play. It was also extremely easy to unleash our funk beast on the Rithimic, with the instrument making easy work of our slapping and popping.
We had the opportunity to test the Cort Rithimic bass in the hands of multiple players, and it was universally praised in all regards, including the quality of its sound. To draw specific comparisons, while you might assume that it’s going to sound like a Jazz bass, it doesn’t. And scratch Stingray from your list of popular reference models on the vintage front, too, because this bass is a bit more modern in its tone. We would compare it more to the sound of a Music Man Bongo, or some of the Prestige-series Ibanez basses we’ve reviewed.
The Cort Rithimic’s Bartonlini Jeff Berlin pickups are super quiet despite plenty of output: we would have sworn from the presence and clarity of the sound that these were active electronics, but the instrument is refreshingly passive: no batteries needed!
We particularly loved the bridge pickup, which definitely delivered that Jeff Berlin tone. By itself the pickup sounded similar to a Fender tone but throatier, and with more bite, which again is more typical of an active humbucker and not at all what you expect from a bass with passive electronics. It’s not warm enough for classic jazz, and not dirty enough for some rock guys, but it’s certainly true to Jeff Berlin’s tone and his style of play. The sound is great for fusion and progressive rock styles, and is voiced in such a way that it will easily cut through a mix. Bass players who are given liberties to step into the spotlight now and then in their bands will really enjoy the sound.
With the tone knob fully down (bass) and balance set to just the neck pickup, there’s still a slight brightness to the tone, which we liked. Even after rolling out all the treble, there was still some high end coming through. We’d call the tone more neutral than warm. Again, it was very clean and silent, with great note clarity and sustain, but if you need the sound of an upright like you can almost achieve on a Jazz bass, you won’t find that sound in here.
But in another nod to the Rithimic’s custom Bartonlini pickups, the bass does a good job of picking up tone off your fingers, whereas the single coil tone you’d get from a Jazz bass typically delivers a bit more string sound and less finger tone.
Documentation and Product Support
The Cort website has specs for the guitar and its minimal controls, but there is no documentation provided concerning care, setup, maintenance, etc. (Jeff provides a high-level adjustments overview video here, which also provides an opportunity to listen to the sound of the instrument).
Be sure to visit the Babicz Full Contact website here to watch numerous videos and instructions regarding how to adjust the bridge (and to learn why the design has so many players—and us, excited).
The Cort Rithimic bass (MSRP $1,400) sells for just under $1,000 without a case. It’s a great value, with quality throughout, and a striking finish that’s sure to turn heads. So, if you’ve tested positive for the fusion or prog gene in your bloodstream, or you just want a bass for rock and pop music that doesn’t sound exactly like the “familiar” choice, we can easily recommend putting this one on your short list.
Cort Guitars & Basses
Overall Rating - Product Summary