I like my Tortoise Flame HB quite a lot..... Now.
I have to consider the affordable price of this guitar when I start to critique it, but was it value for money ? Having seen plenty of online reviews of this model and purchased other H B products, I knew there was an element of chance. So I'd hoped to get lucky.
The Pros. It looks great. Lots of comment online about the colour not following the Thomann catalogue too well and a few people being unhappy with instruments shipping brighter/lighter in colour than the photos. I was hoping for this ! The photos make the Tortoise Flame look a little sombre and muddy, I was hoping for something warmer, richer and that's what I got. I was once a professional photographer and I know how difficult some hues are to record, even in this digital age. It looks to me like Thomann have tried to address this issue, some of the detail shots look colour manipulated to correct. But for me, I am very happy with what has arrived. The flamed maple top is nice, not to strong and well "book-matched", so it does create the "illusion" of an old classical instrument, which I like.
It sounds nice, middle position gives a nice rich colourful tone. But sound is so objective, what amp, settings, strings, playing style. Plenty of range available with pick up selection and coil split. I'm no expert but very happy and I do think the semi hollow body has something quite different, to say my SG, so a nice addition to the collection. The fret board and neck are nice to play, I like the subtle decoration on the fret markers which have been reasonably well done. Machine heads feel fine, look good.
The Cons. On arrival I just got the sense this guitar was not brand new. Maybe it had been demo'd or something, very slight scuffs and traces of polish caked in corners, as if it's been re-buffed - badly. The neck pickup surround ring was cracked in several places, not sure if due to over-tightening or an impact. But I couldn't look at it while playing.
Thomann were as efficient as usual, very fast to send me out a replacement part - plus goodies, for my inconvenience. While changing this piece I did discover additional holes, failed attempts to get it right in the factory. You don't want to look to closely inside these instruments.
I was surprised how high the action was on arrival. My own past experience and comment from others suggests that Thomann inspect and set-up before shipping, I'm not convinced in this case despite the QI label. So as soon as I tried lowering the action I found why, 3rd fret very high. Someone down the line has set this guitar up to a point just before a fret buzz and left it at that with way too high an action. I don't think it should have been let through, even for ¤220. The fret was correctly pressed home so I got stuck in and "dressed" it level. Now after much tweaking of truss rod and bridge height I have achieved an action which for me is enjoyable to play. However the bridge is as low as possible on the high e side, so nothing left if I wanted further adjustment. Another shame is the cut on the end of the fret board between last fret and pick up, "chewed" I think would be a better description.
If I were the designer of this instrument, I would have sat with the prototype, played it, looked down and realised that the view into the lower "F" hole is seriously spoilt by the guts - back of the position switch and wiring. Not attractive and no attempt to disguise, spoils the classical instrument illusion. It would have been much more elegant looking into a dark empty void. Re-position the switch above and behind tone control or up on one of the wings, Les Paul style maybe. And If I ever want/need to service or change electrics, how does that work, there is no service cover on the rear. This is a point I was aware of before buying, but I am intrigued to know how it was assembled in the factory ?
To sum up. I am happy with this guitar (at this price), it's nice to play - now, and looks great from a distance (more than a couple of feet). Should I have had to put the time in sorting it out?* - no I don't think so. Did I get lucky ? - no not really. Will I buy further Harley Benton
instruments ? - yes, probably.
*I know that Thomann have a very fair and efficient returns policy. I could have declined and asked for another. But it is a bit of a hassle organising return shipping, you need patience whilst without your new "toy" and there is always an element of 'the better the devil you know'. So in this instance the tweaking was within my ability, I had the time, and now I like the end result.