Harley Benton EX-84 Modern Guitar Review: EXPLORING This Budget Beast!

Harley Benton Ex-84 Modern EMG
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The Harley Benton EX-84 Modern bears a striking resemblance to a particular guitar that was as famous as the guy that played it! But just how legit is this budget-friendly guitar? Let’s see!

Harley Benton EX-84 Modern: Based On A Legend!

We have been talking a lot about how much the 80’s is making a huge comeback. We recently looked at the throwback Charvel guitars, as well as the best shredder guitars on a budget. But the hairspray shredder scene was only one part of the 1980’s when it comes to the pantheon of Metal. The other side was much darker, and not found on the radio or MTV!

Metallica was taking the world by storm by doing the exact opposite of every other band at the time. There was no flashy stage, no makeup, no gimmicks. Just 4 guys on stage, absolutely slaying it every night. Metallica rose to fame through word of mouth, and did not have any radio play or MTV videos!

But by the late 80’s we finally saw Metallica make a music video for the song “One”. This was the first time we had ever seen the band on television, and it made a huge impact. New people became instant fans. Hardcore fans started to notice all of the little details, like the amazing white guitar that James Hetfield played in the video.

People though it was a Gibson at first, since James was known for playing them at the time!

The famous guitar that the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern is based on is the now legendary guitar model that James Hetfield played in the late 80’s. But is wasn’t a Gibson like we thought. The guitar in question was an ESP MX-50 model that was only produced for a few years since Gibson sued ESP over the design. If you want one of those ESP models now, you will be paying thousands for one.

James had several of the ESP MX-50 models, and he usually liked to write some lewd phrases on them with a sharpie marker. He still has a few of these famous guitars, but rarely plays them live anymore. However you can see him use them in the studio from time to time, even to this day!

Epiphone makes some great Explorer guitars, and the Prophecy line is literally made for Metal. Schecter also makes some great looking Explorer style guitars primed for Metal riffage, and I love mine! But the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern is a fraction of the price compared to the other companies.

Editor’s Note 10/22/2022: Harley Benton usually only produces guitars in “runs”. This means that the company makes X amount of models and when they are gone, they are gone. If you want one, get it now. I missed out on the original Fusion Series models!

But how does the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern hold up against something comparable like an Epiphone Explorer Standard? That’s the big question today, and we are going to really be hard on Harley Benton since there is so much hype about the company. There are two different models we are looking at today, and the only difference is the color!

So we are going to take both models and put them to the test. Just because this is a budget guitar, does not mean the quality should suffer. So let’s see what $329 gets you from Harley Benton!

Harley Benton EX-84 Modern EMG

Based on the legend! The Harley Benton EX-84 Modern comes with the EMG 81/60 pickup combo, ready to shred!

Harley Benton EX-84 Modern: Features And Specs

Harley Benton EX-84 Modern EMG

The Harley Benton EX-84 Modern looks a whole lot like the Epiphone 84 models from a few years ago, but they have a few differences. The body shape is definitely a little unique, as well as the headstock shape. But the features that matter are all there on paper!

To answer the main question I have heard, yes these are real EMG pickups. The 81/60 EMG set is legendary when it comes to playing heavy music, and so many artists use this combo it would be impossible to list them all! The features will seem very familiar to anyone that knows Explorers.

  • Mahogany Body
  • Mahogany Neck
  • Set Neck Construction
  • Ebony Fretboard
  • White Dot Inlays
  • 24.72″ Scale Length
  • 14” Radius
  • 22 Jumbo Frets
  • TUSQ XL Nut
  • EMG 81/60 Pickup Combo
  • 3 Way Switch
  • Volume/Tone Knob
  • HB Hardware/Matte Black
  • Fixed TOM Style Bridge
  • Vintage White or Gloss Black Finish

We received one of each color to try out, and they both made the long trip from Germany all the way to the USA in just about a week. We will be going over these guitars as an “out of the box” experience, and we did not tell Thomann that we ordered these guitars. No special “reviewer” treatment for us!

Harley Benton has been accused of sending reviewers “top shelf” guitars that have been setup perfectly, and have zero flaws. Now I’m not saying that Harley Benton does this, but to avoid that argument all together we just ordered the guitars. So how did the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern hold up?

Harley Benton EX-84 Modern: First Impressions/Unboxing

Harley Benton EX-84 Modern

The first thing that most people want to know about is the shipping process from Thomann Music. If you are in the USA, it can take 7-10 days to get a guitar to you. The guitar comes double boxed, with plenty of foam and paper filling inside the outer box to protect your guitar. Shipping was $65, bringing the total for each guitar to $394.49.

Out of the box, both guitars were in good condition. There were no scratches or broken switches that you would usually associate with shipping issues. So if you have never ordered from Thomann Music before, because you thought shipping would be a nightmare…it isn’t.

The guitars right out of the box definitely needed a bit of a setup. This is common, and I say it on almost every single review. I have had to do a setup on Custom Shop instruments from Fender, just as often as a budget guitar. This was the case with the Harley Benton Fusion Series we checked out as well.

That being said, both guitars were well intonated right out of the box. The fret ends were filed correctly on the white one, while the black one had a few sharp frets on the treble side. Both guitars needed a few tweaks of the truss rod to get the neck dead-straight.

The paint on both is almost immaculate, but the Gloss Black version has some “haze” in the paint. This happens when you don’t buff the finish enough during the finishing process. You see this on tons of budget guitars, so it isn’t a deal breaker for me. The gloss finish is a fingerprint magnet anyway!

Both guitars were playable out of the box, and the few tweaks that were needed could be done by a beginner. Learning how to intonate your guitar and do a simple setup is part of playing guitar. But even if this were your first guitar, it would be fine right out of the box. So anyone freaking out over the shipping for the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern, or any HB model, can rest easy.

Harley Benton EX-84 Modern EMG

Based on a legend! The Harley Benton EX-84 Modern comes loaded with the EMG 81/60 Pickups set, ready to shred!

Harley Benton EX-84 Modern: The Review

Harley Benton EX-84 Modern white

I absolutely adore Explorers in all shapes and sizes, and the Harley Benton fits the bill for me. There are a few small differences that we will go over, that are mostly cosmetic. But we already know that out of the box, both guitars were in great condition and ready to play.

The Body is supposedly solid Mahogany, but this thing is pretty damn lightweight for a big ole’ slab of Mahogany. Maybe the body is routed out, but if it is routed I couldn’t tell by tapping the body. The shape is almost a traditional Explorer, with a few choice differences. The lower bout has a carve right where the strap button sits, and the lower horn also has a bevel.

The carve for the strap button will work with most strap lock systems, even the clip lock style (Yep, I checked!). The knobs are positioned further back than the usual Explorer, and the pickup switch is a little closer. The bevel on the lower horn is for easier fret access to the high frets, and its works!

It seems like Harley Benton went for the classic Explorer shape, and fused it with the ESP LTD Snakebyte model when it comes to body shape. I think it looks awesome, although I am not a fan of the headstock shape. After I drafted this review, I checked out some other reviews and the sentiment seems to be shared about the headstock.

The body of both guitars has the little 9V battery compartment. The black one opened right up, but the white one was stuck. After using a flathead screwdriver, it unstuck itself and was fine. Strangely enough for an Explorer it has “neck dive”. Which is weird since the strap buttons are in the right place to avoid neck dive. But this is a suspiciously lightweight guitar, especially for an Explorer.

The Neck is not as skinny as I was thinking it would be, and this is a welcome feature for me! This is somewhere between the Epiphone 60’s profile, and my Schecter E1 model (baseball bat). It definitely has some “thickness” to it. So if you love super thin neck profiles like Ibanez, this may not be for you.

A set neck construction style on a guitar this cheap might scare a few people away. But it seems to be rock solid. Unlike the brand that originally made this guitar shape, the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern has a volute behind the headstock. So have no fear when it comes to headstocks snapping off!

The neck is solid C shape carve and never flattens out as you go up the neck. This makes riffing and solos super easy for me. The “Jumbo” frets are nice and big, much bigger than you find on Epiphone. The Ebony fretboard looks great, if not a little light in color. It almost looks like Rosewood to me, and the grain is prominent.

I have to say, the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern neck is probably my favorite Explorer-style neck I have played next to my Schecter E1 Koa. The neck itself is pretty skinny in width, and the 24.75 scale feels perfect for fast, heavy riffing. The neck sits between a 50’s profile and a 60’s profile, if you are familiar.

So if you are looking for a shredder-style neck, the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern is not going to be for you. This feels much closer to a 50’s style neck to me, but this is something that I enjoy. What I do not enjoy is the painted gloss neck. More on that later.

The Hardware is all Harley Benton Brand and this is where the budget guitar feel starts to seep in. The tuners get the job done, and they are just…fine. The bridge is where most experienced guitarists will notice the quality drop.

This is definitely cheaper metal and while it can be hard to mess up a TOM bridge, the saddles will be the failure point. Cheap bridge saddles will eventually wear in where the string sits in the groove. This can cause burrs that will cause string breakage over time. More on THIS later, as well.

The Pickups are EMG 81/60. I think every guitarist familiar with active pickups have probably tried this set at some point. personally, I LOVE the EMG 81 in the bridge, and I have had a guitar with an EMG 81 in the bridge for years in the studio. The EMG 81 is so noticeable and will always sound the same in a heavy mix.

The EMG 60 is a great neck pickup that works well for solos. It has a fat sound that gets even sweeter if you turn down the tone knob a little bit. The EMG 60 also sounds great clean, and if you want to hear a great example, just listen to “One” by Metallica!

I would go more into the pickups, but I think that we know about this EMG set. It’s iconic and classic, and we all know the sound. Every Metal album made in the last 30 years probably has an EMG 81 on it somewhere.

Overall, the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern is worth every penny. We had to tweak ours a little bit, but they stayed in tune and chugged the hell out of our BOSS Katana. For comparison, the Epiphone version of the 84 goes for 700-800 bucks on the used market.

Spending A $100 Or So… To Make It Even Better!

harley Benton EX-84 modern

The Harley Benton EX-84 Really only has two weak points. If you are crafty and have an extra $100 you can make this a gigging machine. The only two weak points on the Harley Benton to me are the tuners and bridge. Now I’m not saying the ones that come with the guitar are total trash, but that’s where you can tell this is a budget guitar.

Just like I said with the Harley Benton Fusion guitars, these axes are just asking to be upgraded. All of the Harley Benton guitars I have played have been quality where it counts. They have “solid bones” that make a perfect platform for mods.

Locking tuners will not help much with tuning stability, but it can cut your string changing time in half. My Explorer has locking tuners and I can change the strings and be ready in about 10 minutes. This is a super easy mod that only takes a few minutes to install.

The bridge can be replaced entirely, but the weak point is the saddles. You can get some stainless steel saddles that will never wear out. You can also get some of the TUSQ saddles that are made of the same material as the nut on this guitar. Both are easy options that will make the bridge pro quality without replacing the whole thing.

EMG pickups use solderless technology. They just have a clip on the wires that acts as a socket. This means that you can switch out these EMG pickups with just about any other model (Even Duncan!). If you really want to be authentic, you could get the current James Hetfield EMG Set for this guitar and swap them out in a matter of minutes.

My only other big gripe with most Explorers is the gloss neck. Most guitarists will tell you that gloss necks can feel sticky if you are sweating on stage. For some guitarists a gloss painted neck is not a big deal, but for everyone else…there is a solution that most of us are familiar with:

This is something else you can do at home to make the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern even better. Tape off the neck at the volute and where it meets the body, then use a scrub pad or 0000 steel wool to dull the finish (lots of tutorials online). This will give you a faster neck with a matte finish on the neck. Do not use harsh sandpaper or remove the finish to bare wood!

I think the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern is a fantastic guitar right out of the box. I’m not saying that you NEED to do mods to the guitar. It would hold up just fine on stage if you wanted to use it for gigging, or as a backup guitar. You could easily use it in the place of your more expensive axes for shows at “those” venues.

So you don’t have to spend any extra money to make the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern a great guitar. But if you do want to gig this guitar, a few simple mods will have you completely set. Harley Benton uses parts that will be compatible with any “import” replacement parts. Just an idea!

Harley Benton EX-84: Wrapping Up…

Hopefully we have cleared up any problems when it comes to shipping times from Thomann Music, as well as any concerns about the guitar arriving in one piece. Ordering something from overseas can definitely be a daunting experience. It has to travel quite a long way to show up at your door, but it can be quick and efficient.

The guitar itself is a beast, and a fantastic tribute to a rare gem of a guitar that us mere mortals could never afford. The Harley Benton EX-84 Modern is the closest thing you can get to the ESP MX for under $400. This guitar doesn’t feel cheap, or toy-like as you would expect. This is a great guitar, at an unbelievable price.

If you want to spend a little more on some upgrades, Harley Benton is practically made for doing slight modifications. All of their guitars are great mod platforms, but this one comes with awesome EMG pickups already installed. Even with the hardware upgrades I mentioned, you are still way into budget territory.

As much as I like the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern, I don’t think I can get past the headstock. Some of you may be more handy than I, and could sand it down to reshape it. It has a similar look to the Vulture and Snakebyte guitars, and the headstock is the only reason I don’t have one of those hanging on my wall.

James Hetfield is a guitar icon, and maybe one of the greatest rhythm players on the planet. He is one of my favorite guitarists, and I think the Harley Benton EX-84 Modern is an awesome tribute to James. Some people may have a problem with the “Play Authentic” nature of guitars that copy the “look” a particular brand. I don’t care what it says on the headstock, just that it plays well.

We are going to be checking out more Harley Benton guitars this week, and see what the company has to offer at all kinds of different price points. I am really taken aback by the EX-84, and not just for the price. Other than the obvious points that make you realize this is a budget guitar, it plays like a much more expensive guitar.

Harley Benton EX-84 Modern EMG

Based on the legend! The Harley Benton EX-84 Modern comes with the EMG 81/60 pickup combo, ready to shred!

How long does it take for a Harley Benton guitar to ship to the USA?

Thomann music usually ships guitars immediately, and they will arrive between 5-9 days after you order your guitar.

Are Harley Benton Guitars any good?

Harley Benton may be extremely budget friendly guitars, but they are mostly really great quality. They work best as a mod platform, that you can upgrade over time. The higher models come with quality components that rival the big brands.

Does The Harley Benton EX-84 Modern come with real EMGs?

Yes. The EMG 81/60 combo is used in these guitars.


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