The pleasingly vintage look of the Cort CJ-Retro, a new and affordable jumbo-size acoustic-electric, brings to mind great instrument/player pairings such as John Lennon and his 1962 Gibson J-160E. With its patterned merbau wood fretboard, white binding and pickguard, espresso sunburst top, and matte-finished mahogany back and sides, the CJ-Retro will appeal to diehard live performers and to players seeking elegant eye candy. None of that means much, of course, if the instrument doesn’t sound good, but this one comes through nicely.
I first played the CJ-Retro on a community festival stage through a Yamaha PA system. In dropped-D tuning, the guitar had a warm tone, thanks to its mahogany back and sides. The guitar’s Fishman Neo-D magnetic humbucker pickup and VTB EQ created a well-balanced delivery across all the strings. In electric-guitar fashion, the volume, treble, and bass controls are mounted on the guitar’s top, which is great for quick adjustments on stage. Whether fingerpicked or strummed, the guitar’s tonality came through clean, clear, and nicely balanced. I was also impressed with how well it stayed in tune outdoors on a hot summer day.
In the more controlled environment of my home studio, I tested the CJ-Retro’s electronics through a Bose L1 Model II. The magnetic humbucker sounded as expected—more midrange-accented than the typical undersaddle pickup, perfect for playing single-note leads in a band setting. Low-string blues riffs and chord patterns are also real winners on this jumbo-sized model, which delivers good clarity for the price.
The CJ-Retro’s spruce top adds some nice brightness and balance to the frequency mix. As the owner of a higher-priced, all-mahogany guitar, I appreciated how the spruce makes the CJ-Retro sound a bit punchier in the midrange frequencies. When I tuned the guitar to open G, it fared well with the change in string tension, and it assumed a pronounced bluesy feel, staying in tune even when I subjected it to vigorous pull-offs and forceful strumming.
The jumbo body size, white binding, and pickguard set against the espresso sunburst top pattern and matte-finished mahogany back and sides create a very attractive overall design. It’s a bit odd that the tuning pegs’ crème color doesn’t match the guitar’s bright white binding, but that’s certainly not a deal breaker.
Naturally, a guitar in this price range will have some compromises. Budget guitars like the CJ-Retro tend to need tweaking more often than costlier instruments, a definite tradeoff for the price point. As delivered, the CJ’s action was a little too high, but a truss-rod adjustment made a big difference. The all-laminated body and top may not be the ideal configuration for natural tone, but it seemed to help amplify the guitar and keep it in tune. Thanks to its jumbo body size, the Retro boasts enough acoustic volume for campfire singalongs and house parties; unplugged, its tone is fairly bright in the middle but not quite as satisfyingly warm as when amplified.
The Cort CJ-Retro would make a great choice for new players who want a quality acoustic-electric at an affordable price, or intermediate players who are just beginning to play live. It will also appeal to experienced guitarists who need a backup instrument onstage, perhaps with alternative tunings. Overall, it’s a playable, affordable instrument blessed with terrific old-school looks.
BODY 14-fret jumbo body; laminated mahogany back and sides; laminated spruce top; white pickguard; white-and-black plastic binding, top and back; sunburst top, natural back and sides, matte finish
NECK 25-5/8″-scale mahogany neck with “slim C” shape; 20-fret merbau fingerboard with dual rectangle inlays and white plastic binding and heel cap; 1-11/16″-wide nut; nickel open-back tuners with crème oval knobs; satin finish
ELECTRONICS Fishman Neo-D single-coil magnetic soundhole pickup and Fishman VTB active preamp, with treble, bass, and volume controls; amber top hat/bell knobs
OTHER Merbau bridge with compensated saddle; D’Addario EXP16 coated phosphor-bronze light (.012–.053) strings
PRICE $299 (MAP)
MADE IN Indonesia
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.