What is it?
Harley Benton’s extensive forays into electric guitar market will be a surprise for anyone had retail giant Thomann's brand pegged as an entry level builder. The specs here for the asking price raise even more interesting questions – this Fusion-II has a range of features that are not usually found on guitars near this price point. Where’s the catch?
Peruse Harley Benton’s ranges on its owner Thomann’s retail site and you’ll soon see the influence of classic designs from guitar history but, as its name suggests, the Fusion-II is aiming for something more select than the usual suspects.
It’s part of HB’s Pro Series and the features on offer reflect this; there’s a boutique vibe at work in the looks here too. A session strat-style, if you will. And the features underline that. Quite a feat for the price being asked.
First impressions count, especially with guitars, and they add up here. The butterscotch of the ultra flame maple veneer gloss finish isn't as showy as some in the Fusion range but we like its understated, confident class accented by the dark cherry hues on the back.
Its reminiscent of Suhr's take on the s-style blueprint with its Pro Modern, but our eyes can't help wandering up to what becomes the headline feature here…
The mocca shades of a roasted flamed maple neck and fingerboard? Surely some mistake for the price. Nope, and those 24 medium frets – stainless steel. It's a beautiful thing; it looks and feels luxurious in the hand with the satin 'modern C' description proving accurate.
It cannot be repeated enough; guitars are there to be modded if you want. If you don’t, that’s fine too. But what is vital is a solid platform to build on; the frets and fretboard quality are paramount for a positive playing experience.
With the more robust stainless steel frets, the factory has a harder material to work with than the usual nickel silver; literally. But the work here is superb. No fret sprout or sharp edges, and no spots of concern after a week of playing.
Any truss rod adjustments on the Fusion-II are quicker and easier thanks to the wheel at the base of the neck. It's also great to see Grover tuners at this price point too, that should complement the Floyd Rose 1000 here well. The latter alone is over £200 to buy seperately, so we're already ticking off quite a hardware list for a sub-£400 guitar!
There's no third party involved in the pickups though. Roswell are another Thomann brand but on paper the Alnico 5 HAF humbuckers with coil-splits should leave us with plenty of tonal options.
Performance and Verdict
The Harley Benton Fusion-II HH weighs in at 8lbs so feels a little heavier than usual s-type fare, but it's a Mahogany-esque sapele after all and the belly carve and on-the-strap experience feel ergonomic. That positivity largely continues in the playability stakes.
There's medium to low height to the action here and string tension that sits in the sweet spot between slack and springy, though there's some buzz on the bottom E that suggests a neck tweak may be needed. On the whole we'd say there's the recipe for a buttery smooth experience that a professional set-up will only enhance; something we think all new guitars benefit from if you have the budget.
We'll admit it, we're approaching the plugged in experience here with caution because something has to give in this price / spec ratio, right?
Our Fusion-II comes out of the box pretty much bang in tune, which probably deserves it own award. We could write a seperate review on the pros and cons of Floyd Rose tremolos but they are a lot of fun, especially if you seperate them from the Sunset Strip hair metal connections and focus on the freedom they can offer while staying in tune, and here we have no complaints with performance. Tuning stability is superb.
The Roswell humbuckers are a very pleasant surprise. Some players may approach this guitar with its spec for the initial outlay as a doozy for a pickup upgrade, but that's not going in everyone's budget or needs.
Admittedly we'd prefer the coil-split switch to be in a push/pull scenario on the volume knob like it is on Harley Benton's Fusion-T, because its just feels more intuitive to us for on-the-fly changing. But it's a pretty minor gripe considering the wealth of tones on tap here.
• Cort G290 Fat
Another affordable take on boutique; swamp ash / flamed maple top with birdseye maple neck and pickup versatility from coild-tapping via a five-way switch.
• Ibanez AZ224F
Roasted maple neck and nine different pickup combinations thanks to its Hyperion pickups and Alter switch. But this Ibanez quality costs considerably more.
• Charvel Pro Mod San Dimas Style 1 HH FR
Here you get a Floyd Rose and the same 25.5" scale with a wonderful maple neck from Charvel.
The Roswell's are livelier than we expected, and the neck 'bucker is on the right side of low end without getting murky so makes the mid position very usable indeed. We don't think the bridge is hot rodded or tight enough for frequent high-gain flyers but on the whole these pickups emerge as good all-rounders for rock.
The reality of a traditional coil-split is you instantly lose a lot of bottom end, so that’s not a unique feature here. It isn’t going to give you the breadth of a traditional single-coil but it’s a distinct voice to activate some spank, covering bluesier and shimmery territory. It gives an instant voice for cleaner passages or leads where you need more bite on tap.
If you're a newer player the value of access to this wider tonal palette shouldn't be overlooked. It wasn't so long ago that coil-splits on lower priced guitars were rare indeed.
This is all adds up to a really impressive guitar for the money – the combination of roasted maple and stainless steel frets are not something we'd expect to see on an electric guitar under £1,000.
We'd like to see a hardtail version like the T-style Fusion series offers because not every player wants a tremolo, but for those of us that are not floating Floyd fans there's a Wilkinson trem options as well as cheaper non-roasted maple neck and ebony fingerboard models. We recommend checking out the whole Fusion range to weigh up your needs. On the evidence here, you won't regret it.
MusicRadar verdict: On feature spec, the Harley Benton Fusion-II HH FR Roasted really doesn't have much in the way of competition in its price-range. And we highly commend its all-round playing experience too.
The Tone King
Arnold Plays Guitar
- ORIGIN: Indonesia
- TYPE: 24-fret electric guitar
- BODY: Sapele
- FINISH: Natural gloss
- TOP: Ultra flame maple veneer, natural wood binding
- NECK: Bolt-on Canadian maple
- SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
- TUNERS: Grover GH305 6L
- NUT / WIDTH: Floyd Rose nut with string bar / 42 mm
- FINGERBOARD: Roasted flamed maple, 305mm (12”) radius
- FRETS: 24, medium jumbo stainless steel
- TREMOLO: Floyd Rose 1000
- CONTROLS: 1 x Master volume and 1 x master tone, 3-way toggle switch, coil-split mini switch
- PICKUPS: Roswell HAF-B Alico-5 (bridge) - Roswell HAF-N Alnico-5 (neck) humbucker
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 2.04/8
- OPTIONS: Fusion-II available in HSH, standard maple and ebony options with 22-frets and Wilkinson tremolo. Fusion-T also available in hardtail options
- LEFT-HANDERS: Only as Fusion-II HSH and Fusion-T models
- FINISH: Gloss Flame Natural
- CONTACT: Harley Benton