A reader gets the lowdown on a Les Paul copy he acquired in a gear exchange.
I recently acquired an old Cort guitar as part of a gear exchange. I was told this guitar was made in the late 1970s, but I couldn’t find any information about it, and there’s no serial number. The pickguard is missing, and the brass nut is not original either. Could you give me some more information on this guitar? Does it have any monetary value at all?
Michael in the Netherlands
It’s always interesting what you might end up receiving in a gear exchange, right? What you have is clearly a Les Paul copy, which won’t seem unusual once we peer into Cort’s history and see who they’ve made guitars for in the past. I can tell you now that your guitar was made in South Korea, which is one of the higher-regarded Asian countries for guitar manufacturing.
Back in the 1960s, importer Jack Westheimer was distributing guitars from Japan in the U.S. Some of these trademark/brand names included Cortez, Kingston, Pearl, Teisco, and Silvertone. In 1973, Westheimer founded the Yoo-Ah company in South Korea along with Yung H. Park. The Yoo-Ah name later changed to Cor-Tek, Park bought the company from Westheimer, and Westheimer went on to found Westheimer Corporation, which distributed Cort guitars in the U.S. for 40 years. (Along the line, Cor-Tek began using the Cort name on their own instruments while keeping the Cor-Tek name for the company and factory. Since then, Cort and Cor-Tek have been used interchangeably, but in the U.S., we typically refer to the company as “Cort.”)
Cort quickly became one of the largest, overseas house-brand manufacturers in the 1970s, when so much production shifted away from the U.S. They currently build guitars for numerous manufacturers and trademarks including Epiphone, Ibanez, G&L Tribute Series, Parkwood, and Schecter. Since Cort has produced Les Paul guitars for Epiphone, it’s no surprise they’ve manufactured Cort-branded Les Paul copies.
Your guitar appears to be a GE27V model that was produced in the early to mid ’80s as part of Cort’s Traditional Series (found in both the 1984 and 1986 Cort catalogs). According to the 1984 catalog, specifications included a flame-maple top (though it looks more like a walnut top in your photos), set neck, triple-ply celluloid top and back binding, a bound neck and headstock, abalone headstock inlay, a pair of Powersound exposed humbuckers, and a “violin” finish. You’re correct that it should have a pickguard. Without a serial number, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact year of manufacture, but you could always try removing the rear control cover and inspect the potentiometers for any date codes.
Though Cort has produced thousands and thousands of guitars, I don’t see a lot of them for sale in the U.S. vintage-guitar market. Currently, a Cort GE27V in very good condition is valued between $400 and $600—not bad for a Korean-made Les Paul copy from the 1980s.
Cort has evolved from mainly producing copies to introducing several of their own original designs. Well-known luthiers, including archtop builder Jim Triggs and bass builder Gary Curbow, have designed instruments for Cort as well. The Cort-branded line of guitars is unique in that it’s one of the few brand names that owns its manufacturing facility overseas. Today, Cort offers a full line of acoustic, electric, and bass instruments that includes a wide range of signature models for such notable musicians as Larry Coryell, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Hiram Bullock, Neil Zaza, Matthias Jabs, and Gene Simmons.
Many interesting historical stories contain some controversy, and Cort’s story is not excluded. Beginning in the late ’90s, a number of grievances were filed against Cort for alleged mistreatment of their employees in South Korea. And every year at NAMM, protestors flank the entrances of the show holding signs about Cort’s alleged abuses.
Just recently, after a 40-year distribution relationship with Cort, the Westheimer Corporation announced it was ending the distribution agreement. Cort guitars are now distributed in the U.S. by Davitt & Hanser.
If your new “grab-bag” guitar sounds good, has good action, and doesn’t weigh 20 pounds, I think you may have found a treasure in your gear exchange—provided you didn’t trade a real Les Paul first!