NGD Harley Benton S-600 Vi (sg Custom Clone)

Discussion in 'Guitars' started by toomanycats, Sep 17, 2015.

  1. toomanycats

    toomanycats Well-Known Member

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    You know, sometimes doubling down pays off. This just happens to be one of those times.

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    When I opened the inner packing box the smell of freshly painted poly wafted out into the room. This thing must have come of the production line not too awful long ago.

    They really got it right on this one. It is a very attractive instrument, refined, classy, with a lot of personality. The combination of the “clotted cream” paint job, the binding, the gold hardware, the white pickguard, the antique hued tuners, the touches of black on the knobs, switch, and rings, the handsome rosewood board . . . . it’s like a freaking guitarists wet dream. So very classic and timeless looking.

    This guitar has such an imposing character that I find it forcing me to play a certain way and with a particular sensibility when it's in my hands. For the first hour I was banging out every Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath and old Rush riff I knew along with every tasty pentatonic lick I could remember. I just couldn't put the thing down; it kept beckoning me to pick it up and play it, alluring me with its good looks and an oh-so comfortable feel. An instrument with such an agreeable feel encourages you to stretch out your technique, to push the boundaries of your playing. Likewise, it’s varied tones inspire one's creatively. This is a guitar that is best played plugged in. Did I mention that I can’t stop looking at it? Every time I traverse the room where I have it sitting in a chair I find myself unable to resist stopping in front of it to admire it’s beauty.

    The Set Up

    The set up was a slightly high out of the box. Once I had put a fresh set of 09s on the guitar and everything settled in from my bridge and truss rod adjusting it played like a dream. I got the action pretty darn low with no fretting out issues on bends and excellent sustain. The only small issue is a slight buzzing of the high E string at the 3rd fret, though a hair more relief in the neck would most likely eliminate that.

    The Pickups


    All the Bentons I’ve received that have Wilkinsons in them sound good, and the S-600 VI is no exception. It’s not specified exactly which model Wilkinson pickups are loaded in this guitar, though whatever they are, they sound pretty damn good to my ears. They're not bound for the trash can. For comparison sake, for those of you familiar with Benton pickups, these are more akin to the Alnico V MWCHB loaded in the L-450Plus than the hotter WVHZ which come in the L-550 Paradise. For what I require of the S-600 VI, it’s not necessary to replace these pickups, as they’re completely usable, with decent clarity, a fair amount of output, with a tone that is very suitable for classic rock and old school metal (as in Sabbath, UFO, Scorpions, Priest, etc.).

    The available tones this guitar produces are varied and highly useful. You’ve got biting treble, creamy lead, fat round rhythm, raspy blues snarl, thick and saturated power chords, nuanced sparkly chime, and much more, all at your fingertips. I’d expect that with an upgrade of the pots and cap this tonal pallet could be refined somewhat more.

    The bridge pickup has balls and sizzle. There's a tight and punchy bottom end when you ride the low E string. It doesn’t get flabby, but maintains focus.

    Played clean the combination of the neck plus the middle pickup at about half produces a full, warm, bell-like tone.

    On leads the neck pickup makes that singing, buttery, clear tone you expect from a decent quality neck humbucker.

    This guitar has made me actually rethink how much the wood contributes to the tone of an instrument. This guitar sounds to me like mahogany, which just so happens to be what it is made out of, both the body and neck. My last Benton, an Explorer copy, was a less expensive model made out of basswood . . . . and guess what? It lacks that mahogany tone. Coincidence? I'm not really sure myself. I need to rethink this and experiment some more.

    The pickup rout is one big bathtub. A question: You see that line on the floor of the rout which runs right along where the bottom edge of the neck pickup would be . . . is that where the tenon ends? Also, does that big glob of paint dripping down that looks like runny snot bother you? I'm actually okay with it.
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    A fat comfy neck. The fretwork is decent enough.
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    The neck feels to me to be more like a D than a C. It’s beefy, with substantial shoulders, though it is at the same time surprisingly comfortable. I would call it a Gibson 50s neck profile (58 specifically). Upper fret access is spectacular with the double cut and body to neck union at the 22nd fret.

    I’m not absolutely sure about this, but the nut looks as like it could be made out of bone. The slots are cut to the perfect depth and there is no need to perform any filing.

    A Sound Demo

    I threw together this quick recording over the last couple days. I dedicate this demonstration of the S-600 VI to the late, great Gary Richrath. The solo on this tune is one of my favorites by Gary. So simple, so effective, so drenched with emotion. Pure genius.



    So what are the negatives?

    You guys who are into cheap guitars know and understand the deal with these things. You can have one of these for dirt cheap, literally pennies on the dollar compared to what a "real" one would cost. The catch? It's going to only be like 80-90% of the thing it copies. It’s not going to be cosmetically perfect, and may not be absolutely correct and ideal in every way, though if you can overlook minor issues, you’ve got some skill at setting an instrument up (or are willing to pay somebody else to do it), and are willing to maybe upgrade some key components, then a Harley Benton is a perfectly serviceable tool for jamming, recording, or whatever. If you've got some ability as a player it's possible to make it play and sound very good.

    So on with the nitpicking criticisms . . . .

    I’m not crazy about the Harley Benton name on the small pickguard directly below the fretboard. The truss rod cover also looks cheap, as is typical for Bentons.

    The hardware is not terrible, though it's certainly not the best. It’s actually identical to that on my L-450Plus, the only difference being that it's gold. Some type of nice vibrato or tremolo tailpiece on this guitar would really put it into the stratosphere. Not only would it look superb and fitting, but it would be an upgrade from the budget tailpiece, as well as providing yet another level of versatility.

    An ebony fretboard would have been really nice, but realistically that would be expecting way too much at this price level.

    While the tuners look very cool and vintage, they're also stiff and notchy. Gold Grovers would be a definite improvement.

    If you’re not used to having a big humbucker and the pickup ring it’s housed within plopped right down in between the other two, which I’m not, then it feels slightly odd to the picking hand. This isn't really a negative, just something to get used to.


    So how the hell do all these knobs and pickups work?
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    I recall there being some questions on the forum regarding exactly how the toggle and knobs operate. I was disoriented myself for the first five minutes. At first I had the toggle in the lead position and was getting this soft, fat, somewhat muffled tone. “These pickups are garbage!” was my initial thought. Finally I realized that the treble position engages both the bridge and the middle pickup. To turn off the middle pickup its designated volume knob (there is one for each of the three pickups) must be turned all the way down. When I did this, and the bridge pickup was allowed to function in isolation, I finally heard the biting, crunchy, warm tone that it was capable of producing.

    So here’s exactly how the toggle and the knobs operate.

    The toggle switch:

    Treble: bridge and middle

    Center: bridge, middle, and neck

    Rhythm: neck and middle

    There is an independent volume knob for each pickup. What I find really cool is that in the center toggle position you can use the corresponding volume knob to independently blend in different amounts of input from each of the three pickups. There is a whole world of tonal variety available here, especially when played clean, which is when all these subtle nuances can be better heard.

    If you want to make the S-600 VI's toggle switch function like a normally configured HH Les Paul or SG, that can be accomplished by simply turning the middle pickup volume knob to zero.

    There is a single tone knob which effects all three pickups. I have some full size 5ooK Alpha pots laying around and couldn’t resist soldering one in (after the pic below was taken and before the recording). It made a tremendous improvement, as the stock minipot functioned more or less like an on/off switch.

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    Some final thoughts:

    This guitar really is a no-brainer for fans of this design. You like SGs? You don’t know but you think you might want to try one? Just go ahead and order this thing. It’s an expensive looking, mahogany bodied, fat set mahogany necked, alnico V loaded, versatile tone machine. The real thing is available as a Gibson Custom Shop Reissue and it’s like four grand or something like that. Though I haven’t played a real one, and I don't doubt that it's better, I’ll bet you that it’s not $3850 better than the Benton.

    http://www.themusiczoo.com/product/...om-Reissue-VOS-Electric-Guitar-Classic-White/

    It is an amazing thing that this guitar can be had new for around $150. I’m truly astounded that Thomann can perform this feat. I highly doubt that they’ll be able to sustain this sort of offering. There’s a delicate ballet of labor cost, volume, keeping just ahead of the copyright lawyers, dollar to Euro exchange rate, a bright design team at Thomann who know exactly what will push their customers buttons, and who knows what other factors, which have allowed such a marvelous thing to be possible. Like all good things, it can’t possibly last.

    Despite some of the issues I’ve had with Thomann, I tell you that I cannot swear off ordering another Benton. They are that alluring and enticing to me. The idea of getting a guitar in the mail that is as amazing as the S-600 VI, and gives me so much joy to play, for basically the price of a foot pedal, is just ridiculous.

    In case anyone is wondering, here’s some of the reasons why I keep getting drawn back to these Bentons.

    I like that there's a predictable and satisfying logic to Thomann’s Harley Benton line. Their $98 guitar is shockingly good; their $150 guitar is markedly better; and their $230+ guitars are the better still, being astounding in terms of value for dollar spent.

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself gravitating to more traditional designs, LPs, Stats, Teles, as so forth. On some of their guitars Thomann just hits it out of the park in this regard. On top of that, the instruments are decent and very playable. If this wasn't enough, they also sell them dirt cheap. It's a win all the way around.

    Just so everyone doesn't think I slum it all the time, I just wanted to make the announcement that Andy Elliot called me this afternoon and informed me that the Elliott Tonemaster I ordered will be ready for pickup tomorrow (it's only been a year and a half wait). Don't hate me, but this guitar is about as cork sniffy as they come. Definitely some tonewool involved in the construction of that baby. I look at it as the Yin to balance out the Yang of my Bentons. So if I'm not on here for a few days, you'll know I'm spending the weekend bonding with my new Elliott (and this new Benton too of course).
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2015
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  2. RedLesPaul

    RedLesPaul Well-Known Member

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    I'm not a 3 humbucker guy myself, but that looks and sounds fantastic. HNSGD!
     
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  3. toomanycats

    toomanycats Well-Known Member

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    Oh, did I mention the shipping damage? WTF is it with these last few orders of mine? Comparatively speaking, I got off pretty easy this time.
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    . . . . and some more pron.
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    Last edited: Sep 18, 2015

  4. RedLesPaul

    RedLesPaul Well-Known Member

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    That new headstock design doesn't bug me a bit. Looks great.
     
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  5. toomanycats

    toomanycats Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, they've never floated my boat before either . . . until now. I always thought that Ace's LP looked weird with them. I also grew up with a kid who owned a triple pickup LP Custom that I could never warm up to. This one's got its hooks in me though. I've finally seen the light!
     
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  6. JeffBeck

    JeffBeck Baldy McBaldhead Staff Member

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    I like mine for sure. I generally just leave the toggle in the middle and adjust everything with the volume knobs. It would function just fine with no toggle at all.

    The clip was awesome! Great job!
     
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  7. kungphugrip

    kungphugrip Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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    that looks great!
    i have no idea how these guitars are so cheap?
    just insane!
     
  8. idiotsdelight

    idiotsdelight Well-Known Member

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    That's the same wiring as my Firebird copy. I found out something new today, btw, regarding a mod to that diagram.

    As you blend the middle in/out, does the bridge pup weaken/sound thin?
     
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  9. toomanycats

    toomanycats Well-Known Member

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    You definitely lose some of the bite and attack the bridge has when used in isolation. I wasn't sure if this was some kind of electrical phenomenon or if it had something to do with the way we perceive sound.

    In the limited time I've played with this thing it seems to me like the middle pickup blends in better on clean settings. Also, there is a pretty cool jangly clean tone you can get with the middle pickup operating by itself.
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2015
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  10. crmartin

    crmartin Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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    Outstanding review! You guys are killing me with SG gas!
     
  11. idiotsdelight

    idiotsdelight Well-Known Member

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    The flaw in a 3 pup circuit is the middle is a drain on the bridge when it gets blended in. It was recommended to put a no-load in the middle position to remedy this. Only thing I wasn't told was you need to mod the pot in reverse to a standard no-load/tone mod. My middle pickup blender pot works in reverse - "10 is off & "0" is full on. I'm gonna fix it in this new harness.

    It'd be easy to mod on any existing blender pot or tone pot.
     
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  12. msc_

    msc_ Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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    That's just hot! Congrats!
     
  13. pdcorlis

    pdcorlis Well-Known Member Supporting Member+ Supporting Member

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    Terrific write up TMC - so glad to see you got a winner this time around. Bummer about the shipping damage, but all things considered it's not a deal breaker - think of it as the Thomann 15-20€ discount code. HNBD!
     
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  14. manco53

    manco53 Well-Known Member

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    I am still fighting with my S600 since I swapped the pickups out.

    You mentioned you found a wiring diagram for the original HB S600 wiring? Is there a link?

    TIA
     
  15. toomanycats

    toomanycats Well-Known Member

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    Thanks! This one is definitely a winner.

    Regarding the shipping damage, I'll tell you exactly what's causing this. It was the same thing that happened on my last delivery, though the damage was much worse that time.

    The larger outside box was completely undamaged. The inner box has squares of foam strategically glued to the inside walls to protective the guitar. The manner in which these foam squares is attached is clearly insufficient. Thomann needs to use another type of adhesive or something because these foam pads tend to come off. Wherever they do come off, the guitar invariably gets damaged. This is exactly what happened with that small chip around the lower strap button on this SG. The foam square was gone, there was a small hole punched through the inner box where it would have been, and the guitar had damage exactly in that spot.

    I don't technically consider this shipping damage, but rather damage which is the result of Thomann not packaging the box properly at their end.

    You're right though, it's like a Thomann discount code. The thing is, I look at that discount as a way to cut the shipping on the next order, in which I'll receive yet another injured guitar, for which I'll request yet another discount, and so on in this viscous Benton circle of self-flagellation! :eek:

    If this piece of foam has stayed attached to the inside box wall, then the damage that occurred to my guitar would probably not have happened.
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    Last edited: Sep 18, 2015
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  16. SalteeDog

    SalteeDog Well-Known Member

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    I received a HB-35 this week. I also noticed that the foam had come loose in the inside box - in my case it was the piece that holds the neck. Luckily no damage though. Of course, mine only had to travel from Germany to Ireland.

    Incidentally, I got a S-580 a few weeks ago (and like you I'm really digging the SG style...). That one had a nut that was cut too deep at the A and low E strings. I got a €15 credit for that. Generally I've had great experience with Thomann customer service.
     
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  17. pdcorlis

    pdcorlis Well-Known Member Supporting Member+ Supporting Member

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    Yup - totally agree. If they were to spend a few extra pfennigs on packaging they would save themselves a fortune damage claims...
     
  18. pdcorlis

    pdcorlis Well-Known Member Supporting Member+ Supporting Member

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    Have you done a NGD post on your new guitars? If not - give it a whorl, we love new guitar day threads and photos
     
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  19. toomanycats

    toomanycats Well-Known Member

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    The foam brace that holds the neck of my Harley Benton Ex-76 broke in transit. That's the reason why the headstock split (amongst other damage).

    I've had mixed results, as is documented below:

    http://www.aguitarforum.com/threads...n-lemon-but-i-still-like-sucking-on-it.86434/

    http://www.aguitarforum.com/threads/toomanycats-verses-thomann-and-the-victor-is.86516/
     
  20. SalteeDog

    SalteeDog Well-Known Member

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    I'm new here but I will put up photos etc. this weekend.
     

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