A name has risen into the peripheral of many guitarists over the last several years. A brand name that isn’t carried in your local music store; that’s celebrated by YouTube influencers, yet sometimes scoffed at by guitar snobs. That name is Harley Benton.
Buying a budget guitar can be a bit of a gamble. I, like yourself, was drawn into the idea of an affordable guitar that played like butter. I’d heard of the “Chibson” LP style guitars, Firefly and then of course Harley Benton. But you can’t help but ask yourself if it’s really worth it.
Well, I did my research and, after getting to play one, I settled on a Harley Benton HSS “Strat Style” guitar. In this article, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know. But first, we’re going to get right to the point:
Are Harley Benton Guitars Any Good?
Harley Benton Guitars are designed well, made from quality materials, and priced far below most other guitars of their caliber. Their business model is centered on keeping prices low while playing like a more expensive guitar. Generally speaking, their guitars play better than anything else in their price range.
At this point, I own one and have played several others. I have a decent collection of name-brand guitars and my Harley Benton is in my top 2. I haven’t made any modifications to it other than a basic setup, filing the fret-ends, etc.
They offer a 3-year warranty and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Who Makes Harley Benton?
Harley Benton products are made by Thomann Music based out of Bavaria, Germany. Founded in 1954 by Hans Thomann Sr, Musichaus Thoman (known as Thoman Music) is a large international retailer for sound equipment and musical instruments.
Thomann is currently managed by Hans Thomann Jr. Their Managing Director and design mastermind is Lasse Thernoe, who is probably most responsible for turning Harley Benton into what it is today.
Check out our article showcasing The Best Acoustic Guitars On Amazon.
Where Does Harley Benton Make Their Guitars?
While most major manufacturers build their guitars in one single factory, Harley Benton’s guitars are made in several different factories scattered across Asia including Indonesia, Vietnam and China.
An interesting fact is that there are really only about 10 major guitar factories in the world which are used by well know guitar brands. Harley Benton claims to use some of the same factories as many of these other, more expensive guitar companies.
Where can you get Harley Benton Guitars?
To purchase any Harley Benton products, you’ll have to use the Thomann Music website. Harley Benton is sold exclusively through their parent company’s retail division.
Of course, if you were to visit Germany, you could check out their brick-and-mortar store in Burgebrach. UPS is a lot cheaper and more convenient though!
Why Are Harley Benton Guitars So Cheap?
Harley Benton is able to buy directly from the factories and sell straight to the consumer using their parent company’s retail operation. This eliminates several layers of people in between that would all need to get paid. They don’t have to deal with any distributors or big brands in the process.
Harley Benton’s entire business model revolves around providing affordable guitars, though. That’s their niche. They aim to keep overhead low and plan for smaller profit margins per unit than most guitar manufacturers. Then, they try to make up for the lower profit margins buy selling more guitars.
As a final subtle, yet effective detail: Harley Benton guitars usually have a solid black finish at the rear of the guitar which covers up any would-be imperfections. This means, that their wood selection is greater and they can select pieces that are pretty on one side, but maybe not so much on the other. These are otherwise quality pieces that would be rejected by pricier guitar manufacturers making them a bit cheaper for Harley Benton.
You could liken this to buying discounted “imperfect produce” rejected by supermarkets to start a smoothie shop.
My Harley Benton Review
So, at the time of my purchase, I really didn’t know a lot about Harley Benton Guitars. I had seen a few and watched some people play them on YouTube, but I never actually played one.
Luckily, I know a studio engineer that had just purchased a Harley Benton Strat-style guitar, and he was really impressed with it. I decided to reach out to him to give his a test drive. Man, I was really surprised. It played like a gem.
Now, I have to tell you – he had replaced his pickups with a set of Seymour Duncans before I’d gotten to play it, so I don’t know what it sounded like with the stock pickups. Regardless, from that experience alone it just seemed like a no-brainer to make the purchase. Even if I had to do a little work to it, I was starting with a much better-built guitar at that price point than any other option I could think of.
That night at the dinner table, I jumped on the Thomann website…
Which Harley Benton Guitar To Buy
Purchasing a new guitar is a decision that’s personal to each guitarist’s preferences. For me, I was already considering a Strat-style guitar with a bridge humbucker. The fact that my friend’s was just that (minus the humbucker), kind of sealed the deal as far as that goes.
Whatever specifications you’re looking for, you can certainly find in the Harley Benton inventory. At the bare minimum, you’ll have a great slate to work from and you can make your own modifications.
The Harley Benton ST-70 “Strat” – Style Guitar
I was prepared to make a spontaneous and emotional purchase, just because I know it would only cost me roughly $200 (maybe even with shipping). I probably wouldn’t have otherwise jumped the gun so quickly.
At some point in my search, I stumbled upon the Harley Benton ST-70. The attractive black paisley finish is what initially caught my eye. At a quick glance, it also fit my HSS pickup requirement.
After reviewing several builds, I found myself back to this model and I went ahead and made the purchase. Good or bad, I was soon going to find out!
First of all, I live in the U.S. In Maryland to be clear. I immediately received a confirmation email and was assigned a contact person, in case there were any questions or issues.
Thomann was supposed to be shipping from Germany, but it said it would arrive the following Wednesday. I wasn’t buying this time frame, because I ordered it on Saturday night at dinner time. I had a tracking number with UPS by 6am the next morning. That tracking confirmed their estimate, but I still didn’t think it was possible.
It was the height of Covid and EVERYTHING was shut down just about. I had ordered some other things from overseas which took over a month to get here. Sure enough, it arrived that Wednesday as promised. I couldn’t believe it.
Taking it out of the box, I was immediately taken back by what a solid piece of wood I was holding and the overall feel of the guitar. I fingered a couple of scales and played some open chords. This is going to sound over the top, but I was shocked at what a quality instrument I was holding at that point.
The action was decent, the fretwork was good and the natural sustain without plugging into an amp was pretty impressive. I could immediately tell that there would need to be much less setup for this guitar than my recently purchased Fender Telecaster.
I will say that the fretboard was extremely dry and could have used a bucket of lemon oil.
The body is a Strat-style double-cutaway made of basswood and coupled with a bolt-on, maple neck and an amaranth fretboard. The neck is a “C” shape design with 21 medium-jumbo frets.
The hardware is all chrome and seemingly of decent quality. It’s certainly better quality than a comparably priced Squire Strat. If you’re a stickler for high-quality/locking tuning heads, you may want to replace those on the ST-70 I suppose. That would probably set you back another $50.
The tone knobs, however, absolutely look cheap. They’re actually the only “cheap-looking” feature of the guitar. Fortunately, you can replace those quickly without really spending any money.
The finish is very well done. If you wanted to nitpick the paisley print on the front, I would say that it could have been faded into the rest of the body better. Had it been a pricier guitar, it likely would have. The topcoat is very glossy.
The ST-70 is fitted with 2 Roswell Alnico-5 vintage-style single-coil pickups alongside 1 Rowell Alnico-5 bridge humbucker. Up until this point, I had heard good things about Roswell online, but I hadn’t had a chance to actually hear them in person. You’ll find that most of Harley Benton’s guitars come with Roswell pickups, which is a story all of its own.
Let me tell you, these pickups sound fantastic. Very warm, and clear. There’s a nice punch, but they aren’t overly wound. Personally, I might have paid the price of the guitar just to buy these pickups.
A feature I overlooked when I made the purchase was the fact that Harley Benton included a push/pull coil split in the volume pot. So, you can essentially switch the bridge humbucker to a single coil.
The Bridge is a Wilkinson Fender-style tremolo. It’s likely that you’ve heard of Wilkinson, as they make quality guitar hardware. I’m not sure how I feel about this particular tremolo. The whammy bar isn’t threaded into the socket, so you need to take a small allen key (included) and tighten it from the back of the bridge. Otherwise, if you bend over to adjust your pedal settings, it will fall to the floor.
That being said, I don’t utilize my tremolo much. In fact, I dropped the tailpiece flush to the body of the guitar for better sustain. While on the subject of sustain, it has plenty of it!
Harley Benton Strat Style Summary
As of the writing of this article, I set it up really well just as I would any guitar I purchase. The action has been adjusted, intonation tuned in, fret ends filed down, polished and leveled. I haven’t upgraded one single component though or piece of hardware.
Plugging this guitar in a good tube amp will sometimes send chills up your spine. It really does play like butter with a warm and rich sound. After this experience, I don’t know if I’d ever recommend anyone purchase a Squire or any other name-brand, student-level guitar. It just doesn’t make any sense when you could get such a solid instrument for around the same price.
Now, I do think it’s likely that I received one of their better products off of the line. There are reviews that I’ve read where people had a few issues with imperfections. That’s the case with any product though. It seems like Thomann Music took care of those people and settled any issues from what I can tell though.
All-in-all I took the chance and I was thrilled with the results.
Here are some quality alternatives in the Harley Benton Price Range:
|Squire Sonic Stratocaster HT Electric Guitar, Arctic White, Maple Fingerboard, White Pickguard
|View On Amazon
|Schecter 432 C-6 Deluxe Solid-Body Electric Guitar, Satin White
|View On Amazon
|Ibanez GRG 6 String Solid-Body Electric Guitar, Right, Walnut Flat, Full (GRG121DXWNF)
|View On Amazon
|GROTE Guitar Solid Body Electric Guitar with Gigbag LPYS-006 (VS)
|View On Amazon
Harley Benton makes affordable guitars at a quality that would exceed most players’ expectations. I’ve gotten to play a couple now, including mine, and they just feel good and sound great.
I’ve searched high and low for other reviews on Harley Benton and people, in general, seem to be happy with their products.
To sum things up – Yes, Harley Benton Guitars are well worth the money and then some.