We are wrapping up the month with our Harley Benton Standard Series review, taking a look at the amazing deals you can get for under $200. But are they worth it?
Harley Benton Standard Series: Best Bang For Your Buck?
We have been talking about Harley Benton for the last month, and we are finally checking out the most basic models. The Harley Benton Standard Series doesn’t add anything feature-wise. Unlike the Deluxe Models or the ones we loved for heavier music!
They do not have extreme shapes like the EX-84, or the elegant yet dangerous Fusion III models. No, these are VERY basic Harley Benton guitars. These are the most simple and straight-forward guitar designs that Harley Benton has to offer.
But are these Harley Benton Standard Series guitars any good? Would they be decent enough for a beginner? What about a more experienced guitarist that is on a tight budget? Just who are these guitars for?
Today we are going to answer all of these questions, and check out some of the cheapest models that Harley Benton has to offer. These guitars all come under $150, even when you factor in the international shipping if you’re not in Europe!
Harley Benton has a reputation now for being “too good to be true” when it comes to the budget price. But as we have talked about before, CNC machines have made this the “Golden Age” of guitar. CNC machines have always been a part of building guitars, and the big name brand companies use them as well.
Computers make the machines accurate down to the millimeter. But Harley Benton also doesn’t advertise like bigger guitar companies. Benton is a “house brand” for Thomann Music, so those savings get passed down to you. The guitars are made in the same Indonesian factories that so many other brands use, including Fender, Schecter, and many more!
So that explains the low price, but how good are these guitars? Today we take a look at the most popular models that the Harley Benton Standard Series has to offer. Like usual, we will not be going easy on these guitars just because they are cheap. We are going to hold them to the same standard as Squier and Epiphone-the obvious competition.
So let’s take a look at the Harley Benton Standard Series, and see what these “basic” models have to offer! We got to try out all of them, and these were our favorites! Links To Buy Are At The Bottom!
Harley Benton ST-20HH Active: Our Favorite!
This is by far our favorite guitar that the Harley Benton Standard Series has to offer, and I think it is pretty clear why we like it so much. This is a lean, mean, Metal machine. Everything about this guitar is simple, and straight to the point.
With the addition of locking tuners, (Only $40 from Thomann) I would absolutely use this guitar on stage without changing anything else. Maybe I would change the nut, but the sample guitar we got to try out had a perfectly cut plastic nut. There is a lot to talk about with this guitar, so let’s just check out the features:
- Poplar Body
- Bolt-On Maple Body
- Composite Fretboard (Roseacer)
- Dot Inlays
- Modern C Neck Carve
- 25.5 Scale
- 22 Frets
- 12′ Flat Radius
- Active HBZ High Gain Humbuckers
- 3 Way Switch
- Hardtail Bridge
Right out of the both, the strings needed to be stretched and tuned, but everything else was spot on. The neck had a little bit of relief to it, and could be set up to be straighter. The action and intonation was really good, and much better than any guitar that costs $170 total with shipping.
The Neck on this guitar is absolutely to die for, and it feels a lot like my favorite Schecter neck. It has a familiar C shape, but this is a very slim neck. It was made for fast runs and heavy riffing. This is the second time Harley Benton has nailed the neck carve for me.
The Poplar Body is lightweight, and probably several pieces of wood. We also have the “cheap” black satin finish that chips easily. This is not like a Schecter or Charvel matte black finish, those are thick and resilient. But at this price point, I don’t really care.
The best feature on this guitar by a mile is the HBZ active pickups. I tried them out through my BOSS Katana first, and then used some VST programs on my computer to confirm what I was hearing. These are clear, articulate, and extremely hot pickups. The genius of this guitar is the single volume control.
This allows you to dial back some of the heat on the HBZ pickups to the point of getting some amazing glassy clean sounds. Turn the knob back up a little, and you get some killer crunch tones. Wide open, the HBZ pickups are straight up metallic!
The HBZ pickups are actually really close to sounding like the famous EMG 81 in a lot of ways. They have that clarity and compression that you expect from an active pickup. I would usually never do a sound sample for such a budget guitar, but I did for this one because you have to hear it!
If this guitar is any indication of what the rest of the Harley Benton Standard Series has to offer, I am going to be impressed all day. I absolutely LOVE THIS GUITAR and I would totally use this guitar on stage. This would be an amazing backup guitar for me in particular since most of my guitars have active pickups.
This would also be a great guitar for beginners that know they want to play heavier music. The whole appeal of the Harley Benton Standard Series is that it is made for beginners. But the fact that these guitars are impressive to experienced guitarists as well, is insane.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few imperfections that stand out. The paint is not perfect at all, and it will eventually chip. The fretwork is definitely not “rolled edges” next level. There is a little bit of fret buzz on the low E string, but it is negligible. The pickguard is not perfectly cut either, but none of this affects how well this guitar plays and SOUNDS!
So you can check out the sounds below. I did the clean/crunch sounds first with some reverb and delay. Then I did the bridge humbucker and neck humbucker for the heavier sounds/solo tones. You would definitely never expect this guitar to sound this good! Nothing else is in the recording, no compression or post production.
Harley Benton TE-20MN: An Absolute Classic
I decided to compare this guitar to the cheapest Squier Affinity I could find, since this Harley Benton Standard Series is literally $66. Holding both guitars next to each other, they really are NOT comparable to me at all. The Squier is a fine first guitar, and many experienced musicians like to buy them and mod them.
But the TE20MN is in a league of its own really. It has a top-loader bridge, which is where the savings start. But the TE20 just feels much more substantial, and solid. So while I was going to compare the two directly, they are just too different. The specs:
- Basswood Body
- Bolt-On Maple Neck
- Maple Fretboard
- 14” Neck radius
- 25.5 Scale
- 22 Frets
- Dot Inlays
- 3 Barrell Vintage Bridge
Out of The Box the TE-20 was set up really well, and just needed a quick string stretch and tune up. It was well intonated, and all of the Harley Benton Standard Series guitars come with polished frets, even at this price! The action is a little high, and the neck needs a tweak to get dead-straight. The color is very pretty!
The Neck is not what you would expect from a Tele-style guitar. It has a crazy 14” radius instead of the usual 9.5 that you get with a Fender. This is easier to play for most beginners, I would think. The whole neck feels alien to me since I am so used to a telecaster neck, and this is nothing like a Tele.
The neck is a little wider than you get with a Fender or Squier also, this makes the string spacing a little further apart. This is a plus to me, since it feels more like a “shred” guitar. I can see why this may turn off some beginners, though.
The pickups are closer to the bridge, since you have 22 frets. This give the pickups are little more bite to me, and that’s a GOOD thing when it comes to a Telecaster. You get plenty of twang out of the two single coil pickups. This also makes it “cut” really well with some gain on the amp.
The Harley Benton TE-20 plays really great and it is a totally basic Telecaster style guitar. The neck feels better than the comparable brands out there, and it does everything that a Tele should do. The fact that it was set up well out of the box is a huge plus.
I would say that this is more for the beginners, as experienced guitarists will probably want to mod this guitar. This is the first Harley Benton guitar we have came across that would be BAD as a mod platform. The bridge for instance, is a proprietary design, so that would be hard to replace.
So as a beginner guitar, I think the Harley Benton TE-20 is a great guitar. I don’t think this one would appeal much to the seasoned guitarist, unless you just want a guitar to toss around and jam on in the living room. This is definitely worth the $66 plus shipping.
Harley Benton ST-20
Well, I think we all know what the final Harley Benton Standard Series is “inspired” by, and it is an iconic design. The Strat is the most “copied” guitar design on the planet, but this one is just a little different. It comes in two different models, one is standard and the other has a humbucker.
- Basswood Body
- Maple Neck
- Maple Or Roseacer Fretboard
- 14” radius
- 25.5 Scale
- 5 Way Switch
- Synchronized Tremolo
Out Of The Box both guitars were setup well, especially when it comes to intonation. The paint and finish on both looks great and there were no imperfections. Like the other guitars, you just need to stretch the strings and tune up. The action on both was fine as well.
The Neck on these guys is the same as the telecaster in feel, though the C-carve feels a little less substantial on the Strat models. They still have the flat radius, and slightly wider string spacing than a Squier.
The Pickups are again really good for what you’re paying and the humbucker is pretty good! You can get a decent chug from the humbucker model, and it sounds great for leads. That being said, playing my Nick Johnston directly after playing this guitar, the sound quality was noticeably better. But my NJ costs 8 times as much as this guitar, I would hope it sounds better.
This is going to be the first of the Harley Benton Standard Series that we had a problem with, and I think most beginners will have a problem as well. The bridge did not come setup properly, and this can be a nightmare for beginners.
Like a Floyd Rose, all trem systems are a matter of balance. I see posts all the time on reddit about “my bridge is messed up”. I managed to get the Sunburst model setup really well, but the trem was still not usable. Look, I am just being straight with you here.
The only way this bridge is going to stay in tune after a dive is by replacing the nut and adding locking tuners. That being said, an experienced guitarist could mod this guitar to be something really amazing. But out of the box? Toss the whammy bar away.
If I were a beginner, I would just “deck” this trem and use the guitar as a fixed bridge setup. That being said, it plays and feels great for the price. The bridge is an issue that you will run into with just about every cheap Strat (and even some expensive Fenders).
Harley Benton Standard Series: Wrapping Up…
I knew going into this review that none of these guitars were going to blow me away, so to speak. But the matte black Strat with active pickups absolutely did! The rest of the Harley Benton Standard Series is just that; Standard. These are great for people that are not sure if they want to play guitar yet, and don’t want to dump a ton of cash on something they may not stick with.
All of these guitars are great for the money, and more experienced guitarists will be able to mod these to be amazing backup guitars. You may also just not have a big budget for guitars, and this is where Harley Benton can be a blessing. I know what its like to be broke, but even when I didn’t have much money-I always had a guitar.
I think just about any of the Harley Benton Standard Series would appeal to beginner guitarists, and something like the matte black ST that we checked out would be a GREAT first guitar for a young metalhead! The two traditional models are also great to “test the waters” for beginners. New, young players will find a lot of value in all of these models.
Overall, the Harley Benton Standard Series doesn’t hold up to the other models that we have checked out lately. But these are the bare basic guitars, and they can’t really be compared to the guitars that cost double the price.
The Pros of the Harley Benton Standard Series are that these are mostly ready to go out of the box. You are going to need to do a little bit of a setup on every guitar that you get, but the things that matter are covered:
- Fretwork is great
- No sharp edges
- Intonation was spot on
- Good setup with the nut
- Stays in tune
So if you are a beginner looking at Harley Benton, then these are not bad at all. If you are an experienced guitarist, then you will definitely want to mod some parts. The Harley Benton hardware like locking tuners are actually really great. Thomann sells just about anything you can imagine to upgrade your guitar!
Budget guitars have come a very long way lately, and I would have loved to have something like the Harley Benton Standard Series when I was growing up! The necks are super-playable, and the overall “feel” of all of the guitars is slightly higher quality than you get from other budget brands. So try one out and see what you think!
Christoper HortonChristopher has been playing guitar, bass, and piano for 28 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. Chris has toured for years with several bands and music projects across the United States. He worked in Los Angeles as a studio musician and engineer working with many genres, but mainly Pop, Rock, and Metal. In between giving private lessons, he is usually recording under his various projects at home in Georgia. Christopher plays Schecter Guitars, BOSS Amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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