What is it?
Harley Benton's output is impressively relentless – guitar amps, acoustic guitars, basses, effects pedals… accessories. You name it, they've got options for you. But it's for electric guitars that they've become the biggest talking point. And this is a guitar that's certainly worth discussion.
The familiar curves of HB's SC and DC models come in a wide variety of specs but, on paper at least, the latest Deluxe series versions of its new Gotoh models might be the brand's strongest statement to date for value.
The Gotoh name indicates the presence of one of the biggest names in aftermarket guitar hardware; here Gotoh tuners and Tune-o-Matic bridge come as standard.
Gotoh has become a byword for quality and are often the first stop for players wanting to upgrade their guitars. Harley Benton doing this already for players would be interesting enough, but the price / spec eyebrow-raising continues here.
A rosewood fingerboard and stainless steel frets at this price point? We've certainly never seen the likes of it. So does the end result deliver a playing and tonal experience to match the promise?
Our experiences with the guitars from Harley Benton's Indonesian manufacturing facilities have been largely positive so far. And it doesn't matter what pizzaz the specs are suggesting or what a guitar costs, when we're testing certain essentials must be in place. And the first ports of call before we look at cosmetics are the crucial areas of neck build, fretwork, hardware and electronics.
There's no negatives to report on this front, beyond needing to tighten up the Gotoh tuner buttons as they felt too loose. The general setup here is good. No high frets or sharp ends to be found.
The fingerboard is stated as rosewood, but it's ebony dark here. We're assuming an enthusiastic dying has been used but it certainly looks sleek, and we can report our fingers are clean after prolonged playing sessions.
We've got to give special mention to a flawless matte finish too. It feels as good as it looks, especially on the back of the neck. Our test guitar is a vibrant take on Daphne Blue, certainly more than Harley Benton's paler promotional images suggest; making our own Daphne Blue Blue Fender Duo Sonic look faded next to it.
Other DC-DLX finish options are Pelham Blue and Shell Pink with the DC-LTD (same spec but without the harder wearing stainless steel frets) available in Black and Daphne Blue.
Only the neck binding here raises a complaint with us; the off-white is a little patchy in places and only applied to the sides so it ends up looking two-toned.
The gold-plated hardware is non negotiable on the Gotoh Benton line and we'd personally love to see a nickel version, especially as the pickups here have nickel covers.
The DC may be immediately compared to a certain Gibson model but having owned an SG and ESP LTD Viper, we find the neck experience, offset body and its thickness much closer to the latter; 48mm taken at the end strap pin compared to 35mm of our own 2005 SG Special.
That impacts weight of course; an SG can come in around 6.5-7lbs, and here it's 8lb for our review DC. Weights can vary between guitars considerably though, but this added mass and slightly offset shape doesn't negate the frequent neck dive DC models have. We won't say 'suffer from' because for some players, it's not an issue, but the neck noticeably dips on the strap if you're not holding it.
Other players simply won't like that that but one way of addressing this if it bothers you is to fit the strap button to the underside of the upper horn instead of the back of it.
Harley Benton is calling the neck profile here a 'modern C' but it feels like a meatier interpretation than some; 21.2mm (0.83mm) at the first fret and 25mm (0.98mm) at the 12th.
The action out of the box is medium low on our test guitar, but it's easy enough to lower if you require and follow our guitar setup guide.
There's promising signs before we even plug in; this DC-DLX is resonant and loud acoustically; it's satisfying just to sit on the couch with. How much the stainless steel frets enhance even acoustic attack is very open to debate but we're very happy with what we're hearing.
Performance and Verdict
The two-control layout and jack position also echoes the Viper; the latter we're pleased with as we've never been fans of front mounted jack socket. The former means both pickups share a volume and tone pot. Taking a look inside out test guitar's cavity reveals a tidy wiring job but no label on the tone pot's capacitor. And there's a reason we were looking for this.
A frequent complaint with double humbucker guitars can be woolly-sounding neck pickups. They can be tricky beasts. And there's a bit of that here from the Tesla VR-2 humbucker. It's common, especially at this price range, but it's worth noting the first port of call to address it cheaply – trying a change in capacitor – will be more difficult. It's likely a compromise had to be made here with the bridge and neck humbuckers sharing the capacitor on the 500k Alpha pot.
But we've definitely heard muddier examples, and a throaty, singing sustain is certainly evident here. While a potential upgrade could really pay dividends but we actually noticed it more because the bridge Tesla VR-2 is pleasingly articulate and punchy.
This Alinco 5 model is described as vintage-voiced on the Tesla pickups site and we hear that; there's little of the high frequency fizz you can get from hot, lower priced 'buckers. Instead this showcases a superb range of crunch and sustain. There's a musical balance of smooth and bright here without harsh edges.
It can give you classic '80s metal, but really hits its ideal tone zone for classic and blues rock styles.
The volume control cleans up nicely without sucking too much treble and the coil-splits are most appealing on cleaning tones; the inevitable drop in low end is quite a heavy compromise when driven. But In cleaner territory it offers a useful lighter strumming voice that easy to activate with the push-pull control on the tone pot.
It's easy to be dazzled by the headline spec and asking price here, but when tested the results stand up as a stage-ready rock and blues electric guitar to be inspired by. There's really nothing here out of the box that you'd need to consider upgrading; beyond pickups you might want to fit to your own taste and requirements.
And we're saying this about a £260 guitar. Even the tuners and bridge here would cost around £100 to buy separately. On paper and in practice this is a great deal.
MusicRadar verdict: One of Harley Benton's strongest electric guitar statements to date offers a lot out of the box for the price asked. You've Gotoh try one of these guitars!
- ORIGIN: Indonesia
- TYPE: 22-fret electric guitar
- BODY: Nyatoh
- NECK: Mahogany (set)
- SCALE LENGTH: 628mm (24.7”)
- TUNERS: Gotoh 'Kluson-style'
- NUT / WIDTH: Graphtech Tusq / 43 mm
- FRETBOARD: Rosewood, 254mm (10”) radius
- FRETS: 22, medium jumbo Blacksmith stainless steel
- BRIDGE: Gotoh Tune-o-Matic bridge
- CONTROLS: 1 x volume and 1 x tone with push-pull for coil-split
- PICKUPS: 2 x Tesla VR-2 AlNiCo 5 humbuckers
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.62/8.0
- OPTIONS: DC-LTD Gotoh and SC-DLX Gotoh models available (LTD models without stainless steel frets)
- LEFT-HANDERS: Not yet
- FINISH: Daphne Blue matte (reviewed), Pelham Blue metallic, Shell Pink matte
- CONTACT: Harley Benton