Pioneered by the late Jack Westheimer back in the heady days of the early 1960s, the Cort brand is familiar to many guitar players around the world. However, the scale of this Korean company’s operation may be less well understood.
From its factories in Indonesia and China, Cort annually ships around a million guitars worldwide and almost a third of a million guitar amps. Many of these are OEM products built for other well-known brands, although, for some time, Cort has produced instruments under its own name as well.
There’s now a Cort all-valve amplifier to add to this manufacturing giant’s catalogue: the new Tube Craft CMV15, designed in collaboration with Korean boutique effects master Moollon.
The Tube Craft CMV15 is a handsome-looking compact 1x12 combo, echoing the ‘less is more’ ethos of many high-end boutique builders. The birch-ply cabinet is neatly covered in heavy-duty black vinyl with black metal corners and a matching grille cloth with gold piping. A smart gold Cort badge sits over the cloth and you’ll spot a discreet Moollon logo in the bottom-right corner.
The none-more-black colour scheme is broken up by a trio of ivory vinyl ‘go faster’ stripes on the top panel inlaid with black piping, adding a touch of boutique class, although the equally black control-panel is a bit difficult to read and we’d have preferred a contrasting colour or graphics to make the controls stand out a little more.
The CMV15’s electronics live inside a compact aluminium chassis, which is a great choice for valve guitar amps; it’s much lighter than steel, non-ferrous so it doesn’t interfere with transformer magnetic fields, and a very good conductor of heat.
The internal layout is an interesting mix, with one main PCB in the centre of the chassis for the preamp and power-supply components, and smaller PCB strips for the front-panel controls and rear-panel sockets.
On the main board, the components are all arranged parallel to each other as they would be on an old-school turret-wired assembly – like that found in vintage Vox AC15s, for example.
Meanwhile, the valve bases are mounted directly on the chassis and hand-wired into the rest of the circuit. This approach completely isolates the circuit boards from thermal and physical stress, using the aluminium chassis as a heatsink to help keep things cool, which greatly improves the amp’s longterm reliability prospects.
The control panel won’t demand a long time with the manual. It has a pair of high- and low-gain input jacks feeding black chickenhead knobs for Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble and a master volume. On the rear panel, there’s a selection of fixed impedance output jacks and a pair of send/return jacks for the CMV15’s series effects loop.
Overall, the Cort CMV15 is a good-looking, straightforward combo that’s compact and not too heavy to cart around. It also has robust build quality and hand-wired valve sockets, making it a great longterm bet.
Feel & Sounds
We checked out Cort’s Tube Craft CMV15 with our regular PAF-equipped Les Paul and an old Strat loaded with Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro II single coils. The sounds we hear are more Brit-influenced than American, with a prominent midrange, tight bass and highs that can be pushed into an aggressive bite when needed.
On our sample there’s a slight background hum, which would need a little attention from a noise gate for recording. However, this isn’t uncommon with cathode-biased output stages and is usually cured by swapping to a different pair of output valves. For live use, however, the background noise is unnoticeable.
There’s plenty of volume available from the custom Moollon G12-30M loudspeaker, which stays crisp and responsive as the master volume is turned up, providing a wide range of different overdrive tones depending how you balance the gain and master volume. The traditional passive EQ tone controls interact in a nice predictable fashion, making it easy to dial in the amp.
Some amplifiers sound equally great with single coils and humbuckers, others tend to favour one or the other pickup types. Our impression is that the CMV15 definitely favours the thicker midrange of a decent ’bucker. Our Strat (which doesn’t have high-output pickups) certainly sounded okay, but it worked much better with a little help from an overdrive pedal.
When we were using our Les Paul, we found some great tones with the gain and master volume both around halfway up, where the preamp overdrive and output stage clip began to work together nicely for dynamic, touch-sensitive leads that clean up well as you pick with a lighter touch or back off the guitar’s volume control.
In common with many boutique designs, the CMV15’s simple circuit has a clarity and transparency that lets the guitar breathe, making it ideal for many different genres, although it really excels at late-60s and early 70s blues and classic rock, with plenty of volume and headroom for live gigs and a great loudspeaker that seems to enjoy being driven hard.
With the gain set low and the master volume high, the CMV15’s clarity makes it an excellent pedalboard amp as well, whether or not you choose to use the series effects loop.
Hand-wired amps are increasingly expensive things to buy these days, and while the Tube Craft CMV15 uses a few PCBs, the valve sockets are neatly hand-wired into an aluminium chassis here, and the component layout is based on turret board designs, giving this amp the kind of sonic integrity, build quality and reliability more often seen on products costing up to twice the price.
We also really like its British classic rock vibe, not to mention the cool racing stripes on the neatly covered cabinet.
The key thing here, though, is the asking price, and Cort is putting the CMV15 up against opposition from several established brands with pretty strong performers in this price bracket, so it will be interesting to see how well the Korean industry giant fares.
- PRICE: $949/£649
- ORIGIN: Indonesia
- TYPE: All-tube combo
- OUTPUT: 15W RMS
- VALVES: 3x 12AX7, 2x EL84
- DIMENSIONS: 470 (h) x 500 (w) x 230mm (d)
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 17/37
- CABINET: Birch ply
- LOUDSPEAKERS: 1x Moollon G12-30M 12”
- CHANNELS: 2
- CONTROLS: Gain, bass, middle, treble, master volume
- ADDITIONAL FEATURES: Series effects loop
- FOOTSWITCH: None
- OPTIONS: None
- RANGE OPTIONS: CMV15H head is $749/£529
- CONTACT: Cort