In Review: Harley Benton SC-550 II Gotoh AFB

There are two types of guitarists: Fender fans and Gibson heads. I’m firmly in the former camp when it comes to electrics but I wanted to try out a Les Paul-style guitar and didn’t want to spend a lot of money. I decided to pick up a Harley Benton SC-550 II Gotoh AFB, basically an LP tribute with a pair of Tesla Opus-1 humbuckers and some bog standard electronics.

I was, in a word, unimpressed.

I don’t want to trash this brand or this guitar. At $226 it’s very affordable and looks great. As an LP tribute, you’re basically getting the full package, from dual humbuckers to a nice bridge to “classic” style tuners. That said, all of those parts don’t add up to a compelling whole.

The biggest problem is playability. Through my Apollo Solo audio interface I got some acceptable sound but running it through any of my amps – tube or solid state – led to a muddy, jangly sound that was a mockery of the classic LP sound. Honestly blame a few things but I’d primarily say the electronics were sub-par and the tuners, as you can see in my video, were awful. It couldn’t stay in tune for more than a few minutes.

Further, I found some messiness on the finish, especially at the joints. This meant there was a little extra paint or varnish with took away from the entire package.

I’m not an American guitar snob by any measure. I have a great Indonesia-made guild and a Mexican-made Jaguar and I also have a few 1960s-era Gibsons that are just great. Heck, I even have a wild Korean-made Corona Stratocaster clone that I modded to sound like a ratty old relic. I love messing with guitars and replacing stock parts.

That said, I will probably do very little or simply return this guitar. It’s not worth upgrading and baring the quality of the finish I can’t even say “Well, I’ll just keep the wood and swap out the electronics.”

I’m disappointed that this happened and I’m honestly upset. I love entry-level guitars and I think they’re vital to musical growth. You need a guitar that sounds good and plays well as your first guitar and many frustrated players have been stymied by guitars like this one. When a guitar can barely hold tune for more than a few minutes, you’ve got something wrong in quality control and manufacturing.

If you can’t afford anything else, the HB SC-550 II Gotoh AFB might be a good purchase. If you can, then look elsewhere.

John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

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