It Looks like the Harley Benton Deluxe Series has some of the best deals around for budget-minded guitarists. But are they worth it? Today we look at the design, quality and shipping process from Thomann!
The Harley Benton Deluxe Series Guitars: Budget Icons
We have had a blast checking out Harley Benton over the last year, and the Deluxe Series are the only models we haven’t really become familiar with yet. We checked out the EX-84, which is probably the most talked-about budget guitar in recent memory.
Then we reviewed the best models for playing Metal. We even checked out the more expensive extended range models that have too many upgrades to count! But so far the Fusion III Series has been the benchmark to beat, since we were so blown away by those guitars. The Harley Benton Deluxe Series offers some cool upgrades:
“Choice woods, premium hardware and built with extraordinary attention to detail: Our Deluxe series instruments look as good as they sound, with an eye-catching exterior that hides a reliable touring guitar.”
Budget guitars have been a huge trend lately, and it is easy to see why! Bands are back to gigging across most of the world, and affordable gear is exactly what everyone is looking for right now. The Harley Benton Deluxe series claims to offer players a solid guitar, despite the budget price.
So whether you are a beginner looking for a guitar that doesn’t suck, or an experienced professional that needs a solid backup guitar for gigs, Harley Benton seems to have you covered. Some of the prices seem too good to be true, so we tried out the entire Deluxe Series.
We picked the top 3 guitars that have the best “budget versus features” ratio, and gave them a full test. These guitars were treated the same way that we would treat a “name brand” guitar, and we held these 3 to the same standards. Just because they are cheap, doesn’t mean they get a pass on quality. As usual, we had parameters to follow:
Harley Benton Deluxe Series: Standards To Meet
- Under $400 (Including international shipping charges!)
- Classic, Iconic Designs
- Upgraded Features/Special Features
- Beginner Friendly
- Stage Worthy: Good Hardware And Pickups
- Easy To Upgrade (For experienced guitarists)
- Fun And Easy To Play
- Easy To Setup and Maintain
- Kills The Competition (Squier, Epiphone. Etc.)
That last parameter is a BIG one! Sure, these guitars all have to be great and appeal to a wide variety of guitarists, but they also have to offer more than the competition in the same price bracket. That means if there is a comparable guitar (in price and features) to the Harley Benton models we chose, we cannot use it.
This includes guitars made by Epiphone, Ibanez, Squier, Donner, Schecter. and any of the other budget brands. This is a hard-set rule, but the Harley Benton Deluxe Series makes some bold claims. We are going to hold Harley Benton to a much higher standard than the usual budget guitars.
As you can imagine, this made it very hard to choose just 3 guitars that fit all of our parameters. But after a full day of price comparison, and literally digging through guitar boxes, we managed to find some amazing guitars that fit every parameter. These are our top 3 Harley Benton Deluxe Series guitars!
Harley Benton SC-550 Plus PAF
This was the first Harley Benton Deluxe Series guitar that we all declared as “perfect” for this list. We can talk about this being an upgraded “single cut style” guitar all day, but let’s get real. This one absolutely looks like the guitar that Slash played when he was in Guns N Roses.
But that’s only the surface level reason that I personally gravitated to this model. It may have a striking, iconic look, but it also has tons of upgrades that you would never expect in a guitar that costs $300. Harley Benton went all out when it comes to the features of this magnificent axe:
- African Mahogany Body
- AA “Paradise Flame’ Veneer Top
- Nyatoh Neck
- Roasted Jatoba Fretboard
- White Pearl Trapezoid Inlays
- 24.75 Scale
- Graphite Nut
- Wilkinson Locking Tuners
- 22 Medium Jumbo Frets
- EMG Fat 55 PAF Alnico V Zebra Pickups
- Wilkinson Bridge
- 3 Way Switch
- Ivory Binding
Ours needed a slight tweak of the truss rod to get going out of the box, but other than that, it was perfect. We stretched the strings, tuned it up, and played through some of our favorite patches on the BOSS Katana.
This guitar is all killer, no filler. The EMG Fat 55 pickups set sounds like a hot PAF that you would expect from this kind of guitar. These sound a lot like the EMG 57/66 combo that is so popular with people that don’t like active pickups! The EMG Fat 55 set is even more dynamic, and these are very versatile.
Harley Benton threw every upgrade possible at this guitar, and it shows. The Wilkinson hardware is made to last, and the locking tuners were very responsive with an 18:1 gear ratio. The graphite nut works and looks like a TUSQ, and it was cut perfectly for a set of 10’s.
The neck is a slim taper C shape that we are all familiar with, and the medium jumbo frets are much better than the vintage style that you usually see on a “Flame Maple Single Cut” guitar. You can really dig in when you go for big bends. I really “clicked” with this model, and it sung for me.
Overall The Harley Benton SC-550 is an amazing deal, at just about any price under $1000. This feels and plays like a much more expensive guitar. In the parameters we said that our choices for this list has to beat the competition. This outplays most Epiphone models, and the only competition in this price range would be Sire.
This guitar was immaculate right out of the box. I went over it the best I could, and while most Harley Benton guitars have some imperfections here and there, this one did not. The paint, binding, and everything else was perfect!
But this is just the first example of the Harley Benton Deluxe Series, and it only gets better from here. I have always wanted an “Appetite For Destruction” Les Paul. What’s funny about that actual guitar, is that is was a copy! That’s right, the famous guitar Slash played was a replica made by local California luthier Kris Derrig.
Harley Benton CST-24T
Next up on our picks for the best of the Harley Benton Deluxe Series is the CST-24. I used to play PRS Guitars exclusively for about 3 years, so I am very familiar with this shape and design. The whole idea behind this design is to blend a Stratocaster and Les Paul together, which was a new idea in the 80’s.
PRS is often accused of being too expensive and have earned the nickname “Lawyer Guitars” because they are expensive. But PRS guitars are all hand-picked pieces of wood, and made by hand. Of course those are going to be expensive! The Harley Benton CST-24 takes inspiration from the famous Custom 24 models.
Now PRS has the SE Series that are meant to be budget guitars, but none of them come close to the price of Harley Benton. But if you are familiar, then the features are very standard. There are a few differences that make this guitar more than just an “inspired by” instrument.
- Mahogany Body
- Flame Maple Arch Top
- Mahogany Neck
- Roasted Jatoba Fretboard
- 14” Radius
- 24 Stainless Steel Frets
- 25” Scale
- Graphite Nut
- Roswell HAF Alnico V Humbuckers
- 3 Way Switch
- Wilkinson WVPC Trem System
- Single Volume/Tone With Push/Pull Coil Split
- Ivory Binding
You really get a lot here, and the construction feels like a much more expensive guitar, especially with the set-neck construction. I have seen much more expensive guitars that are not put together as well as this Harley Benton Deluxe Series guitar.
There is one thing to point out, and this is just a nit-pick with the advertising, but this is NOT a Flame Maple Top. The top may be a piece of maple, but the actual Flame is a veneer. Personally, I don’t care that it is a veneer, but that should be pointed out. It is, however, truly a carved arched top!
The body is actually pretty heavy, like a Les Paul. Ours weighed in at about 8.5 pounds, which is bulky but solid. The build quality, binding, and neck carve feels like a guitar that costs three times this much.
The frets were perfect, and they sit on top of the binding, unlike a Gibson. These little details are what make the Harley Benton Deluxe Series stand out. The neck on this beast feels like a “thin C” carve but if feels much more like a “shredder” neck! This neck is much thinner than what you find on a PRS.
The Roswell pickups are a little hotter than I was expecting, even from Alnico V, but they sound really great both clean and distorted. They have a ton of bass response, and midrange that pokes out in a mix. They certainly do not have that “cheap” pickup muddiness.
I did not like the coil split modes, but they are definitely useable. I just feel like you never get a solid single coil sound from a split/tap function. I always say you should keep a dedicated single coil guitar in the studio, and the Harley Benton Deluxe Series has tons of those.
The Wilkinson Trem is solid as a rock, and it is set up for dive-only right out of the box. I loosened the springs in the back and this made the Wilkinson really open up. You can do flutters, and half step bends all day, but this is not a “dive bomb” type of trem. This is a 6 screw “vintage style” bridge, and it responds like one.
So what’s the catch? Well the one that we got had few flaws in the finish, and few imperfections in the binding. Opening up the cavity, there’s some sloppy routing. This may be the Harley Benton Deluxe Series but we are missing locking tuners, and the tuners that you get are just “okay”.
If I were going to keep this guitar, I would definitely add some locking tuners. But beyond the slight imperfections this thing is built like a tank. The Roswell pickups are another area where I would upgrade this guitar (even though they sound fine). These get the job done, and sound really great, but they are a little too hot for me.
The final test, is this better than the competition? I think this guitar smokes the PRS SE Standard when it comes to the features. The thing is, we often buy these inexpensive guitars for mod platforms. I think the Harley Benton being so inexpensive, gives you more wiggle room to afford mods.
EDIT/UPDATE: I take back my comment about this having a Flame Veneer. This video shows that the Harley Benton Deluxe Series actually has a Flame Maple Top that is “at least 6mm thick” and all of the Deluxe Series has an actual top. So I take it back, this guitar has an actual maple top. Check out the video!
Harley Benton TE-80 NA
This is by far my favorite guitar in all of the Harley Benton Deluxe Series. I saw this guitar, and knew exactly what Harley Benton was going for, and it is legendary. Prince used a lot of guitars on stage over the years, some of the wilder designs were made by Schecter. But his #1 guitar that you hear on almost every album, was a Nash Telecaster.
The Harley Benton Deluxe Series has a few different “Tribute” models. There is a David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, and George Harrison tribute that you can buy from Harley Benton. But the one “signature” that stood out to me immediately was the Prince model. The specs and features are a lot like the original:
- Ash Body
- C Profile Canadian Maple Neck
- Flame Maple Veneer
- Maple Fretboard
- Walnut “Skunk” Stripe
- 14” Radius
- 21 medium Jumbo Frets
- Black Body Binding
- Tortoise Shell Pickguard
- Roswell Alnico III Single Coils
While the other two guitars on our list have a design that is inspired by a brand, this guitar is the essence of an artist. The ash body is not as lightweight as you would think, but the Flame Veneer looks great. The black binding and Walnut stripe looks awesome, and is a trademark of the original.
The neck is definitely chunky, and feels just like a Fender neck to me. It has a “C” carve, but it is definitely round in shape and very substantial. This may be a deal breaker for some players, but I actually prefer a thicker neck.
The Roswell pickups sound like super-hot single coils that you would expect Prince would use for solos. If you listen to “Purple Rain”, that’s the famous Nash guitar that he used in the studio! It was his favorite guitar for a reason! The Roswell pickups have a lot of bite that you will need to tame.
The hardware is nothing to write home about, the fixed bridge and standard tuners do their job. But it plays very well, and sounds really smooth if you turn down the tone knob just a little bit. The chunky neck takes a little while to get used to if you’re not used to it.
Look, this is a $150 guitar, and it plays much better than most Squier guitars that you will find. So it does beat the competition, but not by much. Where the appeal lies, is that this is based on an iconic guitar that would cost 10x the money to buy. Nash makes a Prince model, but it is not cheap.
I would buy this just as a wall piece for my studio. I would hang it next to a Prince poster, and maybe play it every now and then. But if you are a big fan, and always wanted a guitar that looks like the one that Prince shredded the stage with, this is a great deal.
My other option would be to mod this guitar. I would add locking tuners and a graphite TUSQ nut. But other wise, this guitar is ready to rock in my opinion! I certainly wouldn’t do anything to the guitar to change the aesthetics. Overall, this is a great guitar that can be a beast if you want it to be!
Harley Benton Deluxe Series: Wrapping Up…
While these guitars certainly hold their own, the Pro Series from Harley Benton is still a better buy. But what you get here is a well made guitar, with “good bones”. The stainless steel frets on most of the models is crazy in this price point.
These kind of features is what makes the Harley Benton Deluxe Series such an outlier in the budget guitar category. Harley Benton themselves talk about the “choice woods” and such, but the upgraded construction features are what sets these guitars apart from the competition.
The Harley Benton Deluxe Series is catering to a certain type of guitarist, two types actually! These guitars are amazing for anyone that is getting started playing guitar. If you want a guitar to start out with as a beginner that FEELS like a much more expensive guitar, this is it!
But the Harley Benton Deluxe Series is also great for experienced guitarists. Someone with a little bit of technical know-how could replace some of the stock parts and turn these budget guitars into pro instruments. Harley Benton uses the same import parts that all brands use, so finding parts that fit, is easy.
Some people may have an ethical issue with these guitars being “copies” of other instruments. We have addressed this before, and the market is dictated by the consumer. People sometimes want to try out a particular guitar before dropping big money, especially with Gibson or PRS. These can give you an idea of how those guitars feel, and play.
All together, there are some amazing guitars in the Harley Benton Deluxe Series. These were just our favorite ones! It was honestly hard to choose just a few that we really loved. If you are a beginner on a budget, or someone that likes to tinker, these guitars are hard to beat!