This is a great option for those who want to venture into the territory of extended range: 7 multiscale strings are not easy and not cheap to come by, so this price point is simply killer, and gives everyone the opportunity to try something special for less than a fortune.
That being said, you also get what you pay for, more so than on most other Harley Bentons I've bought over the years.
Out of the box, the setup was alright given the guitar's stock features, but there was a lot of room for improvement:
- The nubone nut was a bit loosely set and fell off, so I had to reattach it with superglue;
- The nut's slots deserved to be filed down a full millimeter on every string, its top trimmed down by 2-3mm, its corners rounded and sanded (otherwise they protruded too much and got in the way of playing on the first fret);
- about a third of the frets were high, so I gave them a complete levelling, dressing and polishing:
- the stock humbuckers were okay but very dark and muddy, so I replaced them with Fishman Fluence pickups and electronics (that kit alone cost almost twice as much as the guitar, but Fishman pickups sound amazing, so totally worth every penny);
- The stock tuners were decent but 1:19 ratio locking tuners (also from Harley Benton) are much better for stability for these heavy strings;
- The string ferrules on the back of the body all fell out when I destrung the guitar: their holes are a tiny bit too big in diameter, but a blob of Loctite on the side of each ferrule solved that issue;
- When properly intonated, the springs of three out of seven bridge saddles got so loose that they rattled. You either need to put longer springs in there, or add pads of some sort to compress the springs and cut out the parasite noises (I used small strips cut out of a leather strap);
- Finally the blackwood fretboard is acceptable, but be careful with lemon oil: it soaks it up quickly and spits it back for days. My biggest grievance though is this: why on earth is there no second marker at the 12th fret? Especially as there are three of them at the 24th!
Note also that the stock pickups were base-mounted and their routs are too narrow for any top-mounted alternative, including my Fishman humbuckers. So I had to get the Dremel out, rout the cavities wider (thank God it's a basswood body!), drill deeper into the body to get enough clearance for the top-mounting screws, and craft and attach home made pickup rings for top-mounting, as the guitar has no pickguard.
A nice touch is that the back control cavity was covered in shielding paint ex factory. Another positive is that the maple neck is really sturdy, stable, well shaped and smooth (I nevertheless wet sanded the back of it with some 600 grit paper for even better feel). And the overall guitar remains relatively light for something this big, and exactly balanced. No neck dive whatsoever.
Once all of the above was done (roughly 3 days of work), I could do a proper setup, adjust the trussrod, lower the action, perfect the intonation, and... ENJOY WHAT IS NOW A REAL HEAVY METAL MONSTER \m/ THAT'S ALSO VERY EASY TO PLAY, EXTREMELY VERSATILE SOUNDING, AND DEAD ACCURATE FROM FRET 1 TO 24. The last bit of buzz that remains is just because I missed a high spot on fret 13. It will soon be fixed.
Agreed, if you add the extra parts I used and the manhours I spent, this project is in the end not any less expensive than some of the entry level and even mid range alternatives from Ibanez, Jackson or Schecter, but I still love it, and have greatly enjoyed the upgrade process. Plus now my guitar is truly unique.