So I tried out my first Harley Benton... January 03 2023, 0 Comments

Over the years, I've tried a lot of "budget" guitar brands. I always love the thrill of the hunt when trying to find the best deal on guitars, and nothing is better than taking a cheap guitar with good bones, putting a little bit of elbow grease into it, and coming away with a great playing instrument that shocks your friends when they try it out. Off the top of my head, I've tried these budget brands and can share my in-depth thoughts on them at some point...

  • Squier - hit or miss, I still have a Vintage Modified Jazzmaster with a Dano-style bridge, but got rid of all the others over the years
  • LTD - absolutely wonderful, wish they'd take a page from Schecter and do some more varied models instead of leaning so hard into "metal" guitars
  • Xaviere - hit or miss from a quality department. Some are great, some are real dogs
  • SX - had a few tele models with alder bodies and maple necks. Great players.
  • Jay Turser - some really wacky designs, fit and finish was a little inconsistent
  • G&L Tribute - one of the loves of my life
  • Michael Kelly - some really great guitars hampered by bad / dull pickups, spotty tuners (easy enough fix, but add to the purchase price)
  • Ibanez - when they're good, some really great instruments. Play first to be sure
  • Peavey - I have several Riptides, great guitars once you address sharp fret ends
  • Cort - I've had a few over the years, always impressive
  • Yamaha - one of the best "bang for the buck" guitars
  • Sterling - best designs, love the neck shapes and headstocks, HATE the cheap woods for the bodies and lackluster pickups

I list all that out to say that I've got a pretty good idea of what is out there and what to expect or look for in a cheap guitar at this point. I've got my guitar collection fairly well settled at this point (after going through several purges to get down to just the ones I love), but I've been donating guitars to charity about every year for several years now and I got the idea to purchase a cheap guitar, put it through the set up paces to make it shine, and then send it on to a good cause. When I learned that Harley Benton had set up a US distribution location, I decided to bite the bullet and see what all the fuss / hate was about. (This picture is a little washed out, but I wanted to show the grain on the body. In person, it's darker, closer to the lower pictures)

After looking at available models and specs, I decided to try the current version of the TE-52, a natural tele-style black guard guitar with an American Ash body and roasted Maple neck and board. For $199, I figured it would at least be a good platform for a new guitarist to learn on given the woods. I searched out reviews and saw some complain about heavy body weight, some complained about the pickups, and others raved, so I didn't know what to expect when it arrived. 

It showed up quickly and was well packed and double boxed. When I got the guitar out of the packaging, I literally stopped and said aloud, "Oh shit." The quality was much better than I expected, which left me with a new problem. If I add it to the collection, what do I get rid of in its place? Let's run through the guitar top to tail, and I'll try to set the scene for why I was so impressed...

  • Body - the TE-52 has a nice 3 piece Ash body, and the trans finish looked nice. The weight was similar to some of the G&L ASATs I have in my collection that weigh around 8.5 to 8.75 lbs., so I'd guess that it's in the ballpark of 8.75.
  • Neck - This is the STAR of the show. The TE-52 comes with what they describe as a caramelized Canadian Maple neck with a Roseacre skunk stripe. If we were talking coffee, this would be like a medium roast, where as their flame maple roasted necks are more dark roast. It's a beautiful color, and pairs nicely with the natural body finish. The shape of the neck is perfect for my hands, and the matte finish makes it very comfortable to play. The nut looks like a Graphtech, but I'm not certain if it is or plastic. Mine was cut fine, no real concerns. In case you were wondering, it is truly roasted (I took some super fine sandpaper to the back of the neck due to my personal preference and applied some Birchwood Casey Gunstock Wax, and the roast is down in the wood). No high frets, and I didn't see much issue with fret sprout.
  • Pickups - These are also very nice and were a pleasant surprise. Often in budget tele-style guitars, the neck pickup can be quite muddy, and for me to be satisfied, the neck should have a clear, bell-like tone. The two pickups should be balanced nicely, with the bridge being bright but not brittle. I can say that these are better than expected, and I saw no reason to change them.
  • Electronics - Switch and pots are fine so far, but I think I might upgrade both, as well as the jack, if I were going to play live with it consistently. I'll know with certainty after some more time with it, but no concerns for now.
  • Tuners - This was the only part that I had any issues with out of the box. The first two (Low E and A) had a little too much play, and there's no excuse to live with that when you can get a nice direct drop in set for $30 or less. I didn't have any sets in stock of this Kluson style, so I quickly popped in an order for some and will swap them out this week.
  • Bridge - Bridge is a 3 saddle style ashtray, which I really like. I already have some spare sets of Wilkinson compensated brass saddles, so I may swap those in to help with intonation and just to look awesome.

So there you have it. I think this guitar is one of the best options out there for someone looking for a great telecaster without breaking the bank. Most "budget" guitars I wouldn't feel comfortable recommending to a beginner trying to get started on guitar, but I would recommend this one without hesitation. The only problem will be, they will get spoiled and possibly let down by more expensive guitars in the sub-$500 range (pickups, hardware, etc.). The neck is nicer on this guitar than my Fender Player series tele. This is actually my first guitar with a roasted Maple neck, and I think I'm a convert now. I don't know if I was just lucky or what, but this one was awesome. Much better than the roasted maple necks I've tried on the Sterling Cutlass models. I've had a Charvel on my short list for a while, but I'm not a big humbucker player, so I may have to dip my toes in the Harley Benton Fusion T series in the meantime. Dammit, looks like I'm going to be facing some hard decisions in the near future to make some room in the collection.

One last note, when I think of the obvious competitors for this guitar, I'm thinking of the Xaviere tele, SX (maybe), Squier Classic Vibe 50's. I'd say that the 50's Classic Vibe is the most obvious competitor. When comparing the two, I'd say that both have nice pickups, but I'd give the win to the TE-52 on the neck (absolutely no contest) and body (I like the Ash better than Pine) and price, though to be honest resale will be better on the Squier (sad and unfair but true). I recently traded in a mint Cort Sunset TC guitar and was honestly kind of offended at the low ball offer on it, but name brand matters soooo much in resale markets these days. I think this guitar will stay in the collection for quite some time.