Can you imagine touring with a $40 Harley Benton guitar? Scott Poley is a PRO guitarist using one of our favorite budget brands on an arena tour! How did he do it? Today we take a look at how he pulled it off!
Touring With A $40 Harley Benton ST-20: A WILD Idea!
If you are anything like me, you have probably gone down the rabbit hole of watching YouTube videos about famous guitar rigs. I know that I have wasted hours of my life watching the “rig rundown” videos, because I love seeing guitars and gear that I will probably never own.
Most touring guitarists spend a LOT of money on their gear. When I was playing shows, I had some very nice guitars and amps. I STILL have some really nice guitars and I could easily go on tour again if I wanted to live in a van again. But there is a certain… expectation most guitarists have about “road gear”.
Those expectations are usually in the vein of crazy excess, due to artists having endorsements and crazy money. Someone like Slash tours with several Custom Shop guitars, and expensive amplifiers. I mean, of course he does… Slash has the MONEY to tour with gear that costs as much as my house. We expect professionals to have expensive gear!
Now that’s not to say that some famous guitarists haven’t played some cheap guitars on stage. Some pretty high-profile players like Prince, Jack White, and even Mike from Genesis have been seen playing some budget guitars on stage. Some guitars just have the mojo, no matter what the price.
Touring with a $40 Harley Benton guitar is not something you would expect to see from a professional, touring guitarist. Scott Poley is a touring guitarist in the band Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac, clearly a Fleetwood mac tribute band. The group does over 100 shows a year, in arenas all over the place!
Personally, the whole idea of touring with a $40 Harley Benton guitar would scare me to death. Scott Poley got the Harley Benton ST-20 second hand, and he only paid 40 bucks for it. Poley says that he ended up really loving the guitar, so he took it on tour!
Let’s take a look at the guitar in question, and then talk about how and WHY Scott Poley decided to do this experiment. We will also look at the mods that he did to the guitar to make it last for 119 arena shows!
The Harley Benton ST-20: A Quick Look…
We took a look at pretty much ALL of the Harley Benton guitars at the end of last year. The guitar in question comes from the “Standard” series that Harley Benton offers, and usually sells for right at $100 after shipping costs.
This is the entry-level series of guitars, so there are not many specs or features to talk about. It has the traditional 6 screw bridge, and the familiar Strat layout.
I mean, it is exactly what it looks like; a budget Strat copy. Harley Benton has made some really great guitars, but in our experience the lower end models were on par with other guitars like the Squier Affinity Series. They are nice beginner guitars, with a familiar design.
There is one caveat to this particular guitar model. The Harley Benton ST-20 has a much different neck profile than any Stratocaster that I have played. The neck has a flatter radius 12” as well as larger frets than you would find on a Fender/Squier. This makes the guitar a little easier to play in my opinion, and the neck really stood out in our review of the ST-20.
So what did Scott Poley do to his Harley Benton to make it road-worthy? Not much, actually. Let’s take a look at what he did, and how he got started Touring with a $40 Harley Benton guitar!
Touring With A $40 Harley Benton: How?
Scott Poley started this experiment by soring a great deal on a second-hand Harley Benton guitar. Poley got the guitar, and he ended up loving the neck and fretboard. The Harley Benton has a much flatter 12” by the factory spec, however his tech (Phil from Doghouse Guitar Repair) found that it was closer to 11.5” or so.
The neck IS pretty fantastic, and in my review of the guitar I mentioned how much I loved the neck on these guitars. They are much slimmer than a Fender, with slightly larger frets. The Harley Benton ST-20 is just a great playing guitar!
Poley took the guitar to Phil, and documented everything on video! You would think that all kinds of mods were done, but surprisingly… the Harley Benton stayed stock for the most part! Poley and Phil had to do a few things to make the guitar “stage-worthy”. Together, they did just a few things:
- Cleaned the volume pot
- Blocked the tremolo
- Changed the output jack (To accommodate his special silent cables)
- Filed the nut to fit 10-52 strings
- Set the guitar up to play
That is all that was done to the Harley Benton! The volume pot was scratchy from the previous owner, so that was an easy fix. They used contact cleaner on the volume pot, and after a few minutes of working the cleaner into the pot, the scratchy sounds were gone.
Blocking the trem was a great idea. Touring with a $40 Harley Benton guitar would already worry me, but a floating bridge would be a potential nightmare! So Phil and Poley decided to use the “wooden block” method to block the trem and make the ST-20 essentially a fixed bridge guitar.
The output jack had previously been a problem for Poley when he was recording with the ST-20. Poley uses a Neutrik silent cable that cuts itself off when guitar swaps occur between songs. The new jack cost only $4 to throw in and replace the stock one.
The nut is set up from the factory for 10-46 strings, which is probably the most common string gauge for guitarists. Poley uses a slightly heavier gauge to cover capo material, and he prefers the tension of the higher gauge. Filing a nut slot is a quick and easy process, and that was the full extent of “mods”.
Phil, who has been Scott’s tech for a while, then set the guitar up to play. It needed a few tweaks of the truss rod, as most guitars do (even expensive ones). Then it needed a quick fret polish and the intonation was set for the heavier strings. The job was done, and the video below shows how they did the simple mods.
Touring With A $40 Harley Benton: In The End?
Scott Poley has played 119 gigs with this ST-20 guitar, bone-stock pretty much… and it sounded great. Did he have problems? Actually, he did not have any major issues with the guitar at all. You would think that touring with a $40 Harley Benton might lead to disaster!
There were no issues at all, minus the fact that Poley thinks that the pickups are “a bit under-powered”. I think what he means, is that the pickups are lacking some sustain since the only problem he has is the higher notes ringing out. Poley says that the problem is “past the 12th fret, the notes just do not ring out as long like my other guitars”.
Of course, his “other guitars” are a Gibson Les Paul Custom and some beautiful boutique guitars. So the comparison is just not fair. The fact that he was touring with a $40 Harley Benton Strat copy already says a lot about the guitar! His rig consists of a Milkman Amp, and a Little Walter 1×12 Cabinet.
This is the thing, the main takeaway, the… moral of the story: A guitar is a guitar, regardless of the name on the headstock.
We have often talked about how the Harley Benton guitars are just fantastic instruments for people on a budget. They also make great “project guitars” that you can mod and upgrade over time. Not everyone can afford an expensive guitar, and there shouldn’t be any gate-keeping when it comes to the name on the headstock.
What matters, is the player. Scott Poley is a fantastic guitarist and he absolutely nails all of the tougher Fleetwood mac songs. Sure, his more expensive guitars probably sound a lot better to other guitarists. But the casual listener doesn’t care what kind of guitar you are playing. The audience cares about how well you can play the guitar. The audience cares about the songs.
So I think Scott Poley touring with a $40 Harley Benton Strat copy says a lot, and can teach us all a great lesson about guitar. You can buy all of the gear you want, and spend a ton of money on high end guitars. However, that will never make you a “better” player.
Practice, imagination, dedication, innovation, and technique is what will make you stand out as a guitarist. These are the qualities that make you stand out as a guitarist and musician. I think we can all learn something from Scott’s little experiment.
Make sure to check out Scott Poley on YouTube, and check out his journey as a touring guitarist! Scott will be giving away this now-famous Harley Benton guitar to a lucky viewer on April 15th!
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. Christopher plays Schecter Guitars, BOSS Amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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