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.
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.