Gear Review: Cort Jeff Berlin Signature RITHIMIC Bass
Okay, bass lovin’ people, how about a bass that strives to be… plain? Well not completely plain, but just a basic, good bass.
Kind of refreshing since most new basses to hit the market usually make strides to separate themselves from the herd, and then ask us to believe it, then buy it at a premium. Not saying that Cort doesn’t want you to buy this bass, because there are others like it; it’s more about keeping things stripped down to what really matters and forgoing the latest trend or hype.
I admit my bias for funky exotics and the latest forward thinking in contemporary bass construction and design. Just as I’d love to have a Tesla for my transportation, but to be honest, I love my Toyota. I can afford it. It always gets me around. I can depend on it. It’s a well-made car, plain and simple. The same reality check applies to the new Jeff Berlin “Rithimic” bass made by Cort, visual elements aside.
I did my usual approach, which is to play the bass to look for what I like or dislike. Listen and look closely and all that sort of thing and then formulate an opinion and write it down in hopes of helping others find a bass that suits their needs. Or at least spare you wasting time running around with a mind full of marketing messaging. Then, I weigh my opinions against my biases and other reviews and see how it shakes out.
This bass is just as Mr. Berlin describes it in many of the YouTube clips about his signature bass. Go check them out. I can say he appears sincere, and after checking his new bass out, I can’t really add much more to his comments. My feeling after examining and playing the bass was that this is a fine bare bones bass. In fact I had to wonder at first glance what’s the angle here? No fancy active electronics. No super rare woods. No obvious attempt at esthetic recognition in body shape. Nothing. In fact, superficially speaking, for a production bass, it seemed a tad high in price for the $1,400.00 retail range. The “something” is the straight forward simplicity with little tweaks to the tried and true and the superb attention to set up.
Lets start with the body and the wood, which is an Alder core, with Padouk and Spalted Maple face veneers. Alder is a lightweight, resonant, warm sounding and oh so not exotic wood. It’s been a time tested wood for electric guitars for many a decade. I personally like lighter weight wood in basses, and Alder has a smooth warm tone that helps keep midrange harshness under control. The body styling is comfortable, contoured and balances well. The finish was smooth and glossy, no issues with fitting and details.
The neck is Hard Maple with Rosewood fingerboard and bolt on construction. There’s a typical Jazz bass taper to the nut, but very thin in profile with a satin finish on the back of the neck. This makes it easy to play – it feels good, easy to navigate. I liked the lower, flatter frets and the smooth feel they provide when moving across the length of the fingerboard. If you like thin profile Jazz bass necks, you’ll like this one.
I was really impressed at how well the bass was set up. The neck was damn near flat, and the action low – not stupid low, but right where it should be for a player with decent right hand technique, and without squelching string tone. This flat neck/low action set up can be a real mess if the fingerboard and fret work are the least bit “off’. Usually only the high end basses attempt to send out a bass with this kind of set up, because… well, they can take the time to do it because you’re paying for it in the sticker price. It’s the most time consuming aspect of bass production, hence the price tag of custom high end basses. Money well spent in any case, but you won’t need to have you favorite luthier do the finishing touch on this affordable bass. That was the first and most impressive feature.
Onward to the pickups, which are two Bartolini dual coil passive pickups with a generous spacing between them, giving a nice tonal separation. I like active for lots of reasons, and mainly it’s my preference. So sometimes to my ear, passive sounds lacking because many times it is. But these pickups are full, punchy and warm. There’s bite and mids to be had if you want, but that is not the tonal center for these. They’re not as aggressive as a set of J bass pickups, but plenty of definition and attack and note separation. Jeff Berlin approves!
Speaking of note separation, this is a good time to mention the slick design of the Babicz bass bridge. As it claims on the bridge itself: full body contact. The design allows for considerable surface area coupling from the string to the bridge and then the body utilizing a unique cam style design rather than a saddle perched on two setscrews. I really feel this bridge contributes to the sonic character of this bass in conjunction with these particular Bartolini pickups. Clarity and note definition was obvious and balanced. The only concern I have is with the adjustment screw backing out from vibration. There are two screws, one rotates the cam and the other locks the cam position in place. If you tension the cam adjustment setscrew a bit after locking the cam position, you might provide enough resistance to keep the cam adjustment screw from rattling out. My bet is that Murphy’s law will prevail. A nylon embedded setscrew would prevent this all together. So will the softer variety of Loc Tight bolt goo, just don’t use the more permanent adhesive variety. Maybe Mr. Babicz will comment to my concern. Still, it’s a wonderful bridge, well made, elegant, and simple as the best innovations are.
There isn’t much more to say really. A great playing bass with a great feeling neck, nice sounding pickups and easy on the body of the musician playing it. No frills and affordable. If you are at all interested, I really suggest you look at Jeff’s NAMM show clips, this bass is exactly as he claims it to be, and you can hear him play it too. So for the count, I’ve reviewed three Cort basses, and all have been a great bang for the buck or better. I can’t believe I’ve just said that. A bass snob in retreat.