Are you a guitarist who loves to ogle at gorgeous guitars that are way out of your budget? Then the Harley Benton HB-35 might be exactly what you’re looking for. The stunning looks of a Epiphone Dot-style guitar for under $200? Yes, you read that right. If you’re a fan of Oasis, or just love the look and sound of a semi-hollowbody guitar, but you don’t want to have to sell your kidney to afford a “real” Gretch or Gibson, this particular guitar might be a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.
It’s a golden age of affordable guitars. With brands such as Donner and Yamaha pumping out state-of-the-art Chinese made guitars that are amazing, inevitably one brand always comes out in front. That brand is Harley Benton.
Harley Benton is the housebrand of Europe’s largest online music-store Thomann. Don’t be fooled by the categorisation or even the price, these guitars are absolutely killer. From jazz-style big body acoustics to 8-string djent beasts, Harley Benton’s got it all.
Hollowbody guitars are insanely popular with people who like warm clean tones. They’re not just for jazz, people!
One very popular model is the Harley Benton HB-35. It’s inspired by the classic Epiphone Dot, and it’s just amazing. Let’s see why…
At first glance, this guitar looks stunning. The carved top is amazingly shaped, and the colors are deep and vibrant. It looks the part of an expensive guitar, for the cost of a good guitar pedal. The HB-35 line comes in a variety of finishes: Cherry, Lemon, Black, and Vintage Burst. The guitar looks and feels very sturdy, and the binding is super smooth and very well cut.
This is where Harley Benton goes a little bit further than most other budget-oriented brands. Harley Benton really takes the time to make the instruments look more expensive than they are. Whereas many other brands usually go for the basic strat and les paul knockoffs, Harley Benton ensures you’ll have a guitar that’s a pleasure to look at, and something that you won’t hide in the closet when you buy your first ‘real’ expensive guitar.
Who is this for?
As with most other Harley Benton guitars (except the $300+ Harley Benton guitars) these guitars are targeted towards the player who wants a good instrument at a low-cost. Whether that’s a beginner, a modder, or someone who just wants to experiment with different sounds, Harley Benton will ensure quality. Harley Benton has upgraded their quality control, and it shows. Whereas many brands repeatedly have QC issues with their cheaper models, Harley Benton treats every guitar like a custom shop Gibson.
This particular guitar is meant for the player who likes hollow- and semi-hollow body guitars, but doesn’t want to spend a fortune. This guitar is eerily similar to the Epiphone dot, but it still stays true to itself.
How does it compare to other Harley Bentons?
This guitar is similar to most other Harley Benton guitars. It’s in their midrange regarding price-point, and like the others, it’s just plain great. It’s unfair to compare this to any more expensive guitars, but it’s actually possible. The ‘official’ Epiphone Dot retails for around twice the price of the HB-35, but in terms of quality, the difference is negligible. This is not a jab toward Epiphone, who has been pumping out amazing affordable guitars left and right, but more of a compliment towards Harley Benton.
Appearance and materials
As stated before, the finish options are as followed: Cherry, Lemon, Black, and Vintage Burst. Every single one of these looks stunning and premium, especially the Lemon and Vintage Bursts. One of the ways Harley Benton cuts down on the cost is by using something called ‘picture wood’.
On expensive guitars, the bursts and woodgrains are real. This makes every guitar unique in that aspect. Harley Benton uses cheaper wood in which the burst doesn’t really shine though the way a Gibson does. Harley Benton uses picture wood, which is an artificial woodgrain in the form of a thin layer of film that’s placed between the wood and the finish. Usually it’s pretty noticeable when a brand uses this method, but when Harley Benton does it, it’s almost indistinguishable. Another score for Harley Benton.
The main body is made out of maple, with an arched maple top. The neck is Canadian maple, and the fretboard is made of Blackwood. Blackwood is an alternative to Rosewood, which has become more expensive and even illegal in some regions. Blackwood is a convincing alternative. It looks very nice and the grain is not too pronounced.
As I said, the body and top are made of maple. Which is a very popular choice for guitars. Maple is a bright wood that’s supposed to give your guitar a bright and crisp tone. A good choice for a hollowbody guitar, as those tend to sound a little ‘warmer’. This, combined with the set neck gives a very balanced tone to build off of, but more on that later.
The materials are very nice for this price-range. Lots of other budget oriented brands go for cheaper and less popular woods like basswood. Basswood is very heavy, but not incredibly resonant. It works well for some guitars, but it’s not the ideal choice for most guitarists.
It’s nice that Harley Benton takes note of this. What separates Harley Benton from the growing flock of budget-oriented brands is their attention to detail. They really think about what the guitar player wants, and aren’t too concerned with making a huge profit. It’s hard to imagine where Thomann even cashes in with these guitars. They’re so cheap, yet so luxurious compared to other guitars in the price range.
Hardware and electronics
The hardware is the standard budget Harley Benton hardware. It’s certainly not bad, but it’s not amazing either. Luckily, upgrading this to some better hardware shouldn’t be too big of an investment. Even with that, other guitars still don’t come close to this guitar within a higher price range. The stock hardware is fine, but if you feel like it’s lacking sustain and a certain ‘bite’ that could be the reason. If you don’t want to have to put completely new hardware in, a good upgrade is to upgrade the plastic nut to a GraphTec nut. The mod is pretty simple to do yourself, and it’s pretty cheap. The results are pretty shocking.
The tuners are fine. They hold tune as long as you play the guitar regularly, but if you take longer pauses between your playing sessions, you’re probably going to spend more time tuning it. This doesn’t mean they are bad at all. They’re absolutely fine to use, and upgrading them is always a possibility. Upgrading the nut will also work wonders for your tuning stability, so looking onto that might be worthwhile as well if you’re having problems with it.
The electronics are nothing special, to be honest. They are the standard medium output humbuckers Harley Benton puts in so many of their models. They sound a little muddy, and are maybe a tad too hot for this type of guitar, but it’s absolutely possible to get a good sound with it. It just takes some more tweaking. If you choose to go for upgrades, getting a pair of nicer pickups would be a very worthwhile investment.
The pots and switches are also not of amazing quality. The soldering is quite messy, and the pots are kind of hard to turn. Some players may actually like the feel, but for most players they’re probably a bit too stiff. Luckily, upgrading the pots is not a very expensive investment. Getting some quality American or Japanese made CTS pots will set you back surprisingly little.
The HB-35 comes with a nice little feature, the sustain block. This is a brass block insode the hollow body that gives the guitar more sustain and resonance. This somewhat solves one of the problems that people have with hollowbody guitars.
Sound and feel
The playability of this guitar is excellent. The neck is neither too slim nor too fat. It lays comfortably in the hand and isn’t sticky. The back is finished, which could be a problem for some people, but you can always go at it with some ultra fine-sandpaper if that’s an issue for you.
Harley Benton’s guitars are known for having excellent playability, and that’s what makes them great platforms. One of the few things you can’t change about a guitar is the way it plays. Upgrading a guitar that doesn’t play nice in the first place is a waste of time and money. But luckily, this is not very common among Harley Benton guitars.
The guitar is pretty light. It definitely won’t break your back and shoulders when playing for hours, but it’s not so light it’ll fly around all the time. It’s also very well balanced, so no neck dive or rise. It’s a comfortable guitar to play standing up. The body is not too large, so it sits comfortably on your knee as well as on your shoulders.
The sound is also not bad. The pickups are not great as I said, but they’ll do. They sound warm in combination with the hollow body. The body gives the low-end a very rich sound, and I would say these pickups sound better in this guitar than they do in other Harley Benton guitars sporting the exact same equipment.
The pickups are versatile, they sound nice clean as well as dirty. Going super-dirty is probably not desirable with this type of guitar, as they are not designed to sound particularly bright, which can turn into a muddy and undefined sound under high-gain circumstances.
Overall, the guitar sounds and feels pretty good. I know I listed some critique points of the sound, but I was being pretty nitpicky. Especially since they’re so cheap. You can’t go wrong with any set of pickups in a sub $200 guitar.
Other guitars to consider
If you thought the HB-35 was an original design, you’d be wrong. It shares more than one similarity to the classic Epiphone Dot. And between you and me, the Dot isn’t even an original design. It’s based on the Gibson 355. But putting that aside, this guitar is amazing as well. It’s very similar to the Harley Benton, but the hardware and electronics are just a but nicer. Plus, the headstock looks a little more premium if you care about that stuff.
Epiphone is famous for being the ‘budget Gibson’, but Epiphone has been making great guitars that are not just cheap copies of the ‘real’ deal. Epiphone is a serious brand with a serious reputation. You can trust that any Harley Benton you pick up will be a great instrument that punches well above its cost.
Gretsch G2622 SBS Streamliner
This guitar needs no introduction. Gretsch is the king among hollowbody guitars, and the G2622 carries that reputation with pride. It is within the same price-range as the Epihpne, but it’s just a different flavour. Where the Harley Benton and Epiphone come with standard medium output humbuckers, the GRetsch comes with actual filtertron pickups. These pickups are specifically designed for low gain and sound great in combination with the hollow body.
It seems like a common pattern, but Harley Benton has once again knocked it out of the park with this guitar. I’ve listed some main points I discussed in this review:
- Nice quality regarding the price
- Feels like a much more expensive guitar
- Sounds kind of cheap, nothing unusable, but not ideal
- Stunning looks and varied choice of finish
- Great mod-platform
As I’ve said before countless times, it’s easy to forget it’s so cheap. And that seems to be a common opinion regarding budget guitars these days. Guitars have been getting better and better with the years. We live in a golden age of affordable guitars, and Harley Benton is a prime example of that mantra.