A handbuilt take on the J-style formula brings modern touches to the table, yet has a price reminiscent of yesteryear.
Recorded direct into Focusrite Saffire 6 interface into MacBook Pro using GarageBand.
Clip 1: Tone dial at 100 percent. Riff starts using both pickups, then to neck solo, then to bridge solo.
Clip 2: Tone at 100 percent. Slap riff using both pickups.
Active J-style tones in a passive package. Cool looks with excellent balance and playability.
Some construction imperfections on the test bass. Tone control cuts too much sonic information.
Marco Bass Guitars N1
Wait! You might be thinking, “another J-style bass?” But don’t turn away from this page. There are myriad reasons why today’s talented builders continue to use the historic design as a template for creating their own interpretations of the model. Marco Cortes happens to be one such craftsman, intent on improving the tone and playability of the traditional formula. While he has already found success with his TFL series of basses inspired by Leo’s J, Cortes has now applied his experience to create a more affordable line of instruments, designated the N1 series. The series created quite a buzz at this year’s NAMM show by exuding clean aesthetics and a modern spin on J-style sounds.
The black test bass we received might look conventional, but closer inspection revealed thoughtful enhancements. Cortes’ unique matte finish reveals the grain of the N1’s ash body, conveying style and an organic feel. The dark color contrasts wonderfully with the maple neck and fretboard, which contains hand-hammered frets that are glued into their grooves. Hipshot hardware provides stability and a reduction in overall weight.
Marco’s most noticeable stamp is found on the electronics. The N1 is a passive bass, yet the instrument’s single-coil pickups were designed to sound very similar to active J-style pickups. The luthier even states that players will be looking for a battery compartment after listening to them.
The Broadway Challenge
I explored the qualities of the N1 while playing three consecutive shows in Nashville’s Lower Broadway bars and honky-tonks. These performances typically last 3 1/2 to 4 fours each, with no breaks, and musical styles vary from classic country to hip-hop. (I’m not kidding.) The N1 was plugged into a variety of different rigs: a GK 1000RB with a matching 4x10, a Fender Rumble 500 combo, and a Bergantino B|Amp with an HD112.
The N1 impressed from the moment I pulled it out of its case. Not only was the bass light in the weight department, it balanced effortlessly on a strap, even when positioned at more acute angles. Some J-style basses can be ergonomically challenged, but Cortes’ design provided my shoulder and lower back some relief during the marathon performances.
There were a few minor construction callouts on our test bass, including inconsistent fret installation with a few rough edges, untidy side-dot placement, some small coarse sections of the neck, and what appeared to be a chip repair in the headstock. However, these concerns did not drastically impact the N1’s playability at all. The neck shape was comfortable, and it allowed my left hand to maintain a proper shifting technique. All portions of the neck were easily accessible as well.
From a sound perspective, the N1 evoked tones of late-’60s/early-’70s Jazz basses infused with modern-esque lows and highs. Its high-mids were present, which came in handy while trying to cut through loud guitars and drums. Pickup experimentation was a bit of a challenge, as some bad electrical outlets magnified the 60-cycle hum from the soloed pickups, but the tonal depth of the N1 was revealed. The neck pickup soloed sounded deep and thumpy—ideal for country ballads, thumb-muted walking lines, or old-school funk. When I engaged the bridge pickup on its own, it delivered ample amounts of midrange bark with punchy low mids. This was a great setting when Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” was requested, as well as the hip-hop classic “Rapper’s Delight.”
Both pickups together delivered aggressive mids that combined growl with a bit of grit—a tone that sat in the mix nicely with each and every genre and ensemble. They also sounded great for strong slaps and accented pops. It was impressive hearing a bass deliver a gospel-friendly tone without having to worry about the battery. While I was indeed pleased with the N1’s tonal palette overall, I found the tone control dialed out a lot of highs and midrange, which at times resulted in a sound that was too dark and muffled for my taste.
It’s a rarity to find a quality, handcrafted, U.S.-built J-style for $1,200 these days, but Marco Cortes appears to have concocted the right recipe to do just that. The N1 takes the versatility and playability of J-bass design and kicks it up a notch with modern appointments. It’s a bass that could satisfy a wide range of players, from the weekend dabbler to the grinding professional. Whether you like the idea of a handbuilt J-style bass in your arsenal or are in need of a new go-to workhorse—or both—the Marco N1 has you covered for a short walk above a grand.
Watch the Review Demo:
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Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
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The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
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Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.