Sometime ago it dawned to me that I don't own a guitar with P90 pickups, nor do I own a guitar with a tremolo bar. This was obviously perfect justification for buying a Harley Benton CST-24T P90, which would rectify both shortcomings. It was on back-order for months, but they finally received new stock a few weeks back and I immediate placed an order. I bought it sight unseen, based on positive online reviews only, though I do already own two HB basses which I really like, so I figured their guitars are probably comparable in quality.
** Looks and finish **
The guitar arrived yesterday and the first thing that obviously stood out, is that it looks absolutely stunning. Pictures really don't do it justice. If the name isn't a dead giveaway, the looks should make it clear to everyone which guitar brand HB "tributing" here...
The finish is flawless all around. Looking at the backside of the guitar, I'd completely forgotten that the guitar has a set in neck, which is nice I guess, since all my previous guitars have bolted necks. The backside of the neck is also finished and looks and feels great.
** Feel and build **
The guitar is relatively light in weight. Much lighter than than my SQ CV Tele. It feels very pleasant to hold, solid and comfortable. Nothing feels loose or cheap. It's perfectly balanced and there's no neckdive. The only thing that maybe doesn't feel that great is the tuners. They work fine, but are somewhat stiff and uneven to operate. They are perfectly serviceable, but I might change them at some point.
The action was quite high straight from the box. Luckily, the Wilkinson bridge allows for really easy height adjustment for each string individually, so that was quickly taken care of. I also made small adjustments to the neck and intonation but after that playability was great.
The guitar's spec sheet says that it has "C" neck profile, which tells you absolutely nothing. For some reason I was expecting a relatively thin and narrow, "shreddery" neck, but it is actually surprisingly chunky, much thicker than the neck of my Tele or my Schecter Omen-6 Extreme (which admittedly both have exceptionally thin necks). However, it is not at all unpleasant to hold and even though I haven't been blessed with the long spidery fingers of the true shred-gods, I can still easily perform techniques like thumb-over with this neck.
It has 24 frets and accessing even the highest ones is easy, thanks to the set-in neck which means that the neck sits really flush and there's no bulging plate or attachment joint in the way. There's also a small extra bit carved out from the lower cutaway of the guitar, which also makes high fret access easier. My Schecter also has 24 frets, and overall I'd say high fret access is much better with the HB, let alone my Tele.
Overall, this guitar feels really solid and plays really great.
** Tone and other observations **
So, how do the Roswell P90s sound? I started with a clean tone and I have to admit, I was quite underwhelmed. I really like the tone of the stock single coils of my Tele and knowing that P90s are also single coil, I was excepting similar clarity and "roundness" with them. Turns out the tone is quite a bit darker, especially with the neck pickup. Bridge pickup is closer to regular single coil sound, but there's a noticeable "edge" or "spark" to the sound. Rolling down the volume pot a bit makes things a bit better.
Activating a light, transparent overdrive, the sound from the pickups became more pleasing, but I still vastly prefer the tone of the Tele single coils. However, once I started increasing gain, the pickups started to shine. There's a hard-to-define "bite" to these pickups that's unlike anything the single coils of my Tele or the relatively hot humbuckers of Schecter produce. Almost miraculously, the sound seems to become better the more dirt I heap on it. Using a slightly silly combination of distortion (Joyo AC Tone), overdrive (Klon clone) and heavy fuzz (Behringer SF300), you'd except things to get muddy and unusable, but somehow with these pickups, the tone remains edgy and surprisingly clear. There's a really particular kind of screaming or wailing overtone to these things, that's nevertheless not at all harsh. I have no idea whether these features are typical to P90s in general or just these particular pickups, but I sure am glad I now have this tone in my arsenal.
What about the tremolo? It's a "vintage style" six point tremolo. Out of the box it was pretty bad to be honest, and I had to make numerous adjustments. First of all, the trem does not screw in at all and by default flops around. When you press down the tremolo arm all the way, there's a small grub screw underneath (looking towards the neck), which you can use to attach it more firmly and make it stay in place. The next bit of work was adding two washers under the outermost screws of the tremolo and loosening the middle four, essentially making it a 2-point tremolo instead of six. I did this because the top of the guitar is slightly rounded and the tremolo never really sits correctly by default. However, adding the two washers definitely helped. Finally I removed one of the three tremolo springs and applied graphite from a pencil to all contact points, i.e. the nut and saddles. After all these adjustments (and properly stretching out the strings), the trem is now fully floating and actually pretty great. Tuning stays rock solid and you can even dive bomb without any issues.
Looks and finish
High gain tone
Tremolo requires quite a bit of work
Clean tone isn't quite my cup of tea
Summary: a beautiful guitar, with great specs and solid playability. Overall quality is astonishingly good, especially accounting for the price. Killer high gain tone.