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  • Writer's pictureOSC

The OSC Toy-Box - The Harley Benton Experiment (TE-90FLT)

Updated: Jun 12

Preface note:


The "OSC Toy-box" articles look at some of the instruments and equipment I use when making my music. My ethos regards equipment is always to avoid getting the latest product, or whatever is fashionable at any given time. Instead, aim to get something that's more of a long term investment and/or a little bit quirky and unusual. Learn this equipment like the back of your hand and really exploit its every potential.


Whatever you do, don't break the bank or get in to debt. You can make very cool music that's distinctive and uniquely your own sound without spending a fortune on the latest hardware or software. As you read these article, please remember, this collection of instruments and equipment has been amassed over the course of 15+ years, and wherever possible, I've avoided paying full retail prices, instead opting for second hand, ex-demo, or in some cases even rescuing from the trash!

 

Back Story


Over the summer, I found myself down a YouTube rabbit-hole about Harley Benton guitars; the house-brand for European musical-instrument retail-giant Thomann (who I've purchased equipment from in the past).


Harley Beton Logo

I first heard of this brand about 15-20 years ago, and their reputation was not good. Sure, they were inexpensive, beginner-grade insturments, so expectations should always be tempered. However, they were notably inferior instruments to other (slightly more expensive) entry-level/beginner brands, such as Squier and Epiphone.


According to online reviews and news, Thomann have made great efforts since then to improve quality-control and deliver instruments that are notably better, and able to compete with other brands, both in terms of price and quality.


With all the high-praise being lavished on these budget instruments, my curiosity was piqued. I'm a sucker for inexpensive, well-playing, unusual and fun instruments. Furthermore, at the time, I was working on a piece of music that needed some guitar tonalities different to that of my Tele or Strat.


I decided to indulge my curiosity and purchase a Harley Benton, but I couldn't decide between a Telecaster-like guitar with Filtertron pickups or a Jazzmaster copy (of sorts). As these two guitars were approximately £150 each, I didn't waste time procrastinating, and just ordered both (two guitars for less than half what my Fender Stratocaster cost!). In this article we'll look at the Telecaster-style guitar with Filtertron pickups.


The 'Cabronita' Clone


Harley Benton (left), Fender (right)
Harley Benton (left), Fender (right)

The Fender Cabronita is a discontinued model of Telecaster that came fitted with Filtertron pickups.


The Harley Benton TE-90FLT is a Telecaster-like guitar, with Filtertron pickups.


You don't have to look very hard to see where Harley Benton got their inspiration from... 👀


Upon unboxing the TE-90FLT, my initial impressions were on par with that of the reviews:

  • Playable out of the box (after a tune-up)

  • Well-cut nut

  • Good setup and intonation (no adjustments necessary)

  • No fret-sprout or buzzing frets

  • Frets were a bit cloudy/scratchy and needed a polish, but that's an easy fix

  • Warm, expressive pickups (low-ish output compared to my other guitars, but they sound very nice)

  • Alpha-branded potentiometers (😯👍)

  • Tuners were fine, nothing amazing, but didn't have dead-spots or sloppiness

  • Yes, the headstock is upside down, which is a bit ugly, and takes some getting used to, but whatever...

To sum up: The reviews are not shilling! These really are incredible bang for buck. I was chuffed!


Unnecessary Modifications


Whilst I was happy with my new guitar, I'm a fussy so-and-so and I enjoy tinkering! As this was such an inexpensive guitar, I decided to turn my attention to some areas I believed had potential for improvement (things I'm sure would have happened in the factory, were these instruments manufactured to a higher price-point). Here's a run down of the modifications I made:


  • Checked the frets with a fret-rocker, and dealt with any unevenness before polishing - there were only a couple of minor issues

  • Sanded the fretboard surface with 1000-grit sandpaper to make it smoother and cleaner looking, before oiling it (with fretboard lemon-oil) to hydrate it, and bring out some of the very nice figuring in the grain (see the pics below)

  • Cut a tiny bit more depth into the nut-slots to lower the action ever so slightly

  • Replaced the tuners, not because they were inadequate, but because I'm not a fan of normal-shaped tuning keys and prefer the smaller, kidney-shaped tuning keys

  • Replaced the string-trees with Graph-Tech string-trees (which supposedly improve the tuning stability, not that this was a problem, but as I was overhauling everything else, I figured I might as well do the string-trees too)

  • Knocked back the top layer of lacquer on the neck sequentially with 800, 1500, and 2000-grit sandpaper to remove some very minor sanding marks (from the factory) and give it a smoother feel. I gave it a coat of Tru-Oil, before waxing and buffing, resulting in a more expensive feeling neck, that's somewhere between a satin and gloss finish.


Note: The original state/feel of the neck was fine (for the price), and in no way impacted negatively on playing, but because I have more expensive guitars in my collection (which will have spent more time in finishing and buffing during manufacture), when moving between them and this, there was a noticeable difference in feel/finish of the neck, and I wanted to have them be more similar (but please remember, I'm very fussy!).


  • Lined the control cavities with copper tape (as my multi-meter couldn't confirm continuity on the cavity paint and I think the apparent "insulating paint" was actually just black paint 😆 - but this has Humbuckers, so noise isn't an issue, this is just a precautionary measure)

  • Upgraded the switch with a Switchcraft brand, and jack socket with a Puretone brand

  • I had bottomed-out the action at the saddles, but believed I could squeeze a bit more out of it, so I shimmed the neck by 1 degree, allowing me to take the action a little bit lower

  • Replaced the chrome-plated saddle-blocks with brass blocks (supposedly sonically better, but truthfully, I just like the look)

  • Tinkered with the pickup heights and individual lug-screw heights to balance the tone to taste

  • Swapped out the knobs with similar-looking, but heavier ones that I had in a box of spare parts (which makes the dials feel more weighty).

  • Filed and sanded the edges of the pick-guard to round off some slightly sharp edges - as it a had a slightly rough-cut, non-bevelled edge


Some other points of note

  • It's a chunky, ash-wood body - I like a heavy guitar and this weighs in at 3.8KG. For reference, my Fender Tele and Strat both weigh approximately 3.5KG. This sort of weight isn't for everyone, but I like it! I doubt that every TE-90FLT is this heavy, as guitar weights vary, even more so at the entry-level price-points

  • Translucent paint - I was sceptical from the pictures online, but it looks much better in person, and I like it a lot more than I thought I would.

  • Two piece body? - Whilst it looks like a three-piece body at a glance, upon close inspection, I think it's only a two-piece body (I doubt my Fenders are only two-piece bodies). There's only one visible joint (pictured below). What looks like a joint on the front-face, is actually just a change in grain colour (as it doesn't have a straight edge).

TE-90FLT Body 05

Verdict


TE90-FLT (post-mods)

Upon delivery, what I experienced with this guitar was in line with the online reviews. It was simply much better than its price-point would suggest, and whether you're a beginner, or an experienced player looking for something to add to your collection (and maybe modify, like I have done), this would be a great option.


My modifications cost about £50 (if you don't include a set of strings and my time). Again, I must stress, the modifications were not necessary; I just really enjoy getting hands-on with my instruments in this way, and this was an ideal platform for such things. Don't let my decision to modify skew your perspective of this guitar. It was fine and perfectly playable before modifying.


Having owned this for about four months now, it's already seen a lot of use, both in recording, and simply playing for pleasure. Whilst the contoured body, and Tele-like neck feel great, and are a pleasure to play, it's the pickups that have really won me over. They can do sweet, clear, warm and dynamic clean-tones, similar to good-quality single-coils, but with more oomph down-low (and of course, no 50/60 cycle hum, as they're hum-bucking). Think of them like lower output PAF Humbuckers with the air, openness and sparkle of single-coils. They're never harsh and also push distortion and drive pedals very nicely; this guitar sounds fantastic when overdriven.


I don't know how accurately the Filtertron pickups in this guitar imitate original TV Jones Filtertrons (considered the industry-leading for this style of pickup), as I've nothing to compare them with. However, a set of TV Jones pickups are twice the cost of this entire guitar, so even if the Roswell-branded pickups only get you in the ballpark, it's nothing to complain about.


The only thing I'd recommend definitely needing doing upon buying this guitar is a fret polish. If you're an experienced guitarist, you'll most likely know what I'm talking about, and likely anticipate this sort of thing when buying a new guitar at this price-point. If you're new to the guitar and thinking about this as a first guitar, by all means get it, but watch this video about fret-polishing first.


In my next OSC Toy Box article, we'll take a look at the other Harley Benton I bought, and see whether or not is was as positive an experience as this TE-90FLT.

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