Hugh Manson and Muse’s Matt Bellamy have collaborated on dozens of guitars over the years. Many are one-of-kind Frankensteins with built-in Fuzz Factory circuits, sustainers, or onboard Korg Kaoss Pads.
Manson and Bellamy recently partnered with Cort to create the MBC-1 Matt Bellamy Signature model. While it’s largely based on Bellamy’s Manson MB1-S series, the Cort MBC-1 costs around 600 bucks—just a fraction of the Manson’s price. And even if it doesn’t have a built in Kaoss Pad like the original, it still boasts cool features like a video game-style kill button to enable some of Bellamy’s tone tricks.
Built Bellamy Tough
While the MBC-1 is relatively inexpensive, Cort didn’t cut corners. Some of that might be due to Manson’s involvement (which includes final setup and assembly). After serving as John Paul Jones’s guitar tech for several decades (and building some of JPJ’s custom basses) Manson and his team possess a wealth of knowledge and perspective.
Whatever the inspiration, the MBC-1 is replete with thoughtful design details. Locking tuners with thick, sturdy grips help ensure tuning stability. The irregular height of the machine heads creates an even break angle past the nut, improving resonance and eliminating the need for a string tree. I also appreciated the rout just past the last fret, which exposes the truss rod, facilitating fast and easy adjustments.
One slight concern is that the pickup selector switch is positioned next to the volume and tone knobs. While I didn’t have any issues, I can imagine some players inadvertently flicking the switch during aggressive strumming.
The basswood body’s unique single-cut design (with a slightly exaggerated upper horn) stands apart from Fender and Gibson clones. The matte-black finish was formulated to be extremely resilient and scratch-resistant. With its no-pickguard top and a stark rosewood fretboard free of position markers or inlays, the MBC-1 has both a tough, utilitarian guise and undeniable rock star appeal.
The Manson Touch
The Manson team oversees construction and final setup, so it’s no surprise that the playability was fantastic right out of the case. The wide, D-shaped, high-gloss maple neck has a compound radius fretboard with medium jumbo frets. It’s extremely comfortable, whether playing large chord shapes in the low register, bends around the 10th fret, or melodies past the 12th.
Manson’s custom pickup set consists of an alnico 5 bridge humbucker and a neck single-coil. Testing the MBC-1 with a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV amp, I was impressed by the high quality of these pickups. With many guitars in this price range, the first order of business is to swap out pickups. But these sound so nice that it’s hard to imagine an improvement unless you’re looking for a very specific sound that the Cort can’t deliver.
The bridge pickup has a bright, modern rock tone palette with plentiful, cutting mids and heaps of sustain. Using the Mesa’s lead channel, I could cover everything from hard rock to hyper-aggressive metal, depending on how I set the amp gain and the Cort’s volume knob. Even with the guitar volume down to about 4, I got surprisingly hot, lively, and dynamic blues-rock tones.
The neck pickup is beefy and warm. Even when I attacked the strings, turned up the guitar tone, and dialed up a clean, bright amp sound, things never got shrill. With the guitar’s volume knob rolled back a hair and using the Mesa’s rhythm channel, I got powerful, articulate blues-rock tones. While the pickups have unequal output, the volume shift between them feels organic.
The middle position pairs the single-coil and humbucker for rich tones with excellent mass and string detail. Fast single-note lines were easy to play, but maintained strong note-to-note clarity. This position was also great for funky rhythm work with a clean amp setting.
While I don’t quite have Matt Bellamy’s creative spirit, I had a blast putting the kill button to use. The video game-like button design is much easier to work than a toggle switch. This led me to a whole new relationship with the guitar’s sonic possibilities. Rather than just use the kill button for a staccato accent that I might employ once in a set, I connected a looping pedal and used my left hand to articulate a power chord progression with hammer-ons while using my right hand on the kill switch to create beats. I then layered various textural parts above that groove and gradually got into a trance-like state. The kill switch is more than a gimmick. It was a catalyst for an otherworldly musical exploration.
While I didn’t have an original Manson Bellamy for comparison, the MBC-1 is a quality instrument by any standard. For Bellamy fans, the kill button puts one of his signature effects at your fingertips. Even if you’re not a Muse devotee, the MBC-1 is a great axe that covers a huge range of styles at an accessible price.
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