A good jumbo with easy playability and retro flair.
Laminated construction. Unplugged sound could be more powerful. Case not included.
Cort Guitars CJ Jumbo
High-end guitar makers like Bourgeois, Collings/Waterloo, Martin, and Santa Cruz have mined the potential of old-school designs for years. And it’s nice for retro-minded, budget-conscious players that companies at the other end of the price spectrum are following their lead. A good case in point is the South Korean company Cort, which has been a major player in the affordable guitar market for decades, making instruments under its own name and for others, like Ibanez and ESP.
Cort’s new CJ Retro Jumbo is an unabashedly retro acoustic-electric—at least outwardly. There’s more than a little influence from Gibson’s legendary, category-defining J-200. The top-mounted knobs also nod to the Gibson J-160 that the Beatles made famous. But unlike either of those iconic guitars, the CJ Retro Jumbo sells for a song at about $300 and offers a lot of bang for very few bucks.
There was a time when wallet-friendly acoustic guitars tended to have uninspired designs. But the CJ Retro Jumbo is emblematic of a trend toward stylishness at the most accessible prices. The guitar is made from the time-honored combination of a spruce top and mahogany back and sides—though all of the tonewood that makes up the body is laminated. (Before you scoff, keep in mind that Lennon and Harrison’s J-160s also had laminated tops, which didn’t keep them from featuring prominently on more than a few zillion-selling records). The neck, the fretboard, and bridge are fashioned out of merbau, a rosewood alternative. The fretboard sports snazzy overlapping parallelogram inlays that pay stylized homage to Gibson’s split parallelogram inlays and look very similar to those found on the Deluxe versions of Collings’ thinline electric guitars.
Overall, the CJ Retro Jumbo is well built, with a nicely set neck, decent fretwork, and cleanly cut nut and saddle slots. Things are clean inside the box, too, and the satin finish is a refreshing change from the thick, glossy polyurethane commonly seen on guitars in this class. The build quality is not perfect. There are areas were the binding/purfling could have been more attentively scraped, and the bridge feels a bit rough to the touch. Small finishing irregularities like these are not uncommon on guitars in this price class, however, and none of them affect playability.
Slim ‘n’ Fat
Like many modern inexpensive guitars, the CJ Retro Jumbo’s playability is worlds better than the budget offerings of yesteryear. The action is low, intonation is excellent, and it’s a breeze to play up and down the fretboard. The relatively narrow 1 11/16" nut width and the slim, shallow C-shaped neck will feel comfortable to electric players, too. It feels equally hospitable to pick or fingerstyle play.
Typically, jumbos possess power that can be heard and felt. Power wasn’t necessarily the first thing that came to mind when I initially strummed the CJ Retro Jumbo, which may be due to some extent to the laminated construction. That’s not to say that the guitar is without sonic merits, however. While it might lack the typical jumbo explosiveness, there are no dead spots on the neck, and balance between registers and from string to string is excellent, which make it extra nice for open tunings. Whether I played country-blues-style patterns, strummed vigorously like Pete Townshend, or performed classical right-hand studies or chord-melody style jazz, I appreciated the CJ Retro Jumbo’s clear, uncluttered sound—and the fact that it’s easy to discern the individual notes of complex and closely voiced chords.
The CJ Retro Jumbo is fitted with Fishman’s Neo D magnetic humbucking soundhole pickup (a value-priced take on Fishman’s acclaimed Rare Earth pickup) and Fishman’s VTB active electronics. The system feels well paired with the instrument. Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic with the tone controls on both the guitar and the amp set flat, the CJ Retro Jumbo retained its balance between strings, but also sounded a bit more, well, Jumbo. The pickup adds body and shimmer and is very noise-free, to boot—a big plus for recording or performing.
Cort’s CJ Retro Jumbo might not win over any hardcore acoustic aficionados. But it would be a smart companion for a rock-oriented singer-songwriter, roots, or country player. And it’s not only gig-ready with its Fishman electronics—it’s also relatively feedback resistant, which makes it a working proposition for a loud band that likes an acoustic in the mix. Heck, it probably even works great as a rhythm guitar with a Twin Reverb. Stylish and inexpensive, the CJ Jumbo is a cool way to break out of the same old affordable acoustic box.