Harley Benton HB-35Plus: What is it?
Considering the costs associated with semi-hollow guitar construction are usually higher than solid body electric guitars, the price-point Harley Benton is delivering the HB-35Plus demands closer inspection. How good can it be?
Our Metallic Green review model is taken from a brace of four new finishes that have been added to the line. The Plus brings block inlays and coil-splits to the table over the cheaper (yes £168!) HB-25.
The 24.72"-scale model features a classic semi-hollow tonewood recipe; maple body with arched top, mahogany sustain block, Canadian maple neck. The fretboard here is pau ferro fretboard and 12" neck radius.
The nut width of 42mm is slightly narrower than a traditional ES-335 but elsewhere it's clearly aiming for that classic semi ballpark for wide appeal. The 8lb weight here is also pretty much dead-on average when compared to Epiphone 335s we've played too.
Just because this is an affordable guitar, we're not going to turn a blind eye to any build issues. But inspection reveals a tidy build all-round. Even the setup only requires the common truss rod tweak to slacken the neck relief a little – the action is still a little higher than we prefer out of the box.
There are no alarm bells for finish or binding flaws, but instead some details we don't take for granted at this price. Like the plastic nut colour matching the neck and body binding's ivory colour. More importantly, we found our test guitar's tuning stability to be stable, suggesting the core components and general setup here are on-point. The frets just need a bit more polish to smooth them out but that's really not a big deal at this price.
Issues of taste are another matter. We like the Metallic Green and gold combination between finish and hardware, but the orangey hue of the back is a bit garish for us. It's certainly distinct, we'll give it that. But the impressive front view suggests a guitar above this price. Does the playing experience too?
Harley Benton HB-35Plus: Performance and verdict
Many players want to plug in as soon as they unwrap a new electric guitar. We can't blame them but we like to sit down for a while unplugged - because it all starts there and it allows focus. How does it resonate acoustically? Is there any unwanted buzz or rattle? How does it feel to play?
Good! Chords resonate down through the mahogany centre block with an open quality that will sell you on the semi-hollow cause. The fretboard is on the flatter side with a rounded 'C' neck profile. It feels a generous 12" radius in comparison with something like the Harley Benton SC-Junior we've enjoyed. But it's not a '50s-style chunker either and could very well be contributing to the acoustic resonance here. Just be aware that smaller hands may not find it the smoothest experience.
Plugging in and heading into medium overdrive we find the Roswell Alnico 5 humbuckers on our test HB-35Plus to be on the hotter side; driving the amp with warm and woollier overtones. The four new model HB-35Plus's are not part of the 'vintage' series like the existing models and are not stated as having 'vintage-style' Roswells – which could account for these pickups.
We're not advocates of just assuming lower priced guitars need a pickup upgrade straight off the bat, especially as Roswell's consistently impress, but we do soon start wondering if a medium output, vintage PAF-style set of humbuckers would really get more out of this resonant semi-hollow platform and let that character inform the sound with clarity more. It's a matter of taste we think the guitar platform here is worth the investment.
Unsurprisingly, the neck pickup suffers the most from the warmer character. But there are steps you can take to address the balance without having to change pickups. Lowering the bass height and raising the treble side makes a marked improvement for us.
The Alpha pots here perform very well for winding back gain with the volume but experimenting with capacitor value for the pots here is another way you can really transform your pickups' frequency character.
But there's also more out-of-the-box character available from these pickups than meets the eye…
HB has generously given us coil-splits on both 'buckers accessed via push/pull controls on the volume pots to offer a whole other way to explore sounds here too.
These bring bite and steely cut to proceedings, widening the tonal scope of the HB-35Plus significantly. As with most coil-split wiring, you lose a lot of bottom end so this isn't Strat territory, but it yields useful voices for more sixties garage rock and spikier blues tones. Especially with the resonance and sustain this semi's construction offers.
The tone control proves effective for balancing the split bridge and neck pickups for smoother transitions, and it's great to have the option of switching to a brighter neck pickup sound from the bridge bucker for cleans. Then there are the combinations in the middle position that proves to be especially musical for rhythm versatility. And on a £211 guitar, that's really something to celebrate.
MusicRadarVerdict: Even a critical eye can't find complaint with the finish of our test guitar, which is impressive in itself. Add in a resonant playing experience and coil-splitting… well you've got yourself quite a deal here!
Harley Benton HB-35Plus: Hands-on demos
Harley Benton HB-35Plus: Specifications
- PRICE: £211/€248
- TYPE: Semi-hollow electric guitar with mahogany sustain block
- BODY: Maple
- NECK: Canadian maple, set
- SCALE LENGTH: 628mm (24.72”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Bone/42.37mm
- FINGERBOARD: Maple, outline bird inlays, 254mm (10”) radius
- FRETS: 22, jumbo
- HARDWARE: Gold-plated Tune-O-Matic-style bridge, sealed die-cast machine heads.
- STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 52mm
- ELECTRICS: 2 x Roswell LAF Alnico 5 humbuckers
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.62/8.0
- LEFT-HANDERS: Yes, in Vintage Series Cherry and Black
- FINISHES: Metallic Blue, Metallic Green (as reviewed), Black, Metallic Plum. Vintage series HB-35Plus models available in Black, Vintage Burst, Cherry, Lemon,
- CONTACT: Harley Benton