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  • Writer's pictureJimmy The Dog

And the truth will out Harley Benton......a downside of buying budget.

It's been a few months since I bought a Harley Benton TE90FLT as an experiment, slated it for quality issues, then gigged it successfully for a good few months and finally waxed romantically about what a good budget guitar it was, exceeding my expectations and how it delivered well on-stage.

Now I've played this guitar almost daily since I bought the thing and I'm now retiring it and returning to my prestige guitars for gigging. You see the thing is, if have a good budget guitar you really like and you're not on a big stage, the risk of breakage or theft is not such a big concern, unlike with American-made F's or G's for example, which will keep a guitarist awake at night if the area where you're gigging is known for naughtiness.

But the TE90FLT is already showing signs of excessive wear to the point where it's play-ability is affected. I'm my case, I've been practicing on it and gigging it regularly and robust as the guitar may seem, the weakness is in the cheap frets: inferior steel which suffers from scoring and gouging resulting in fret buzz and on the A string (which you can see in the photo), an unplayable Db (4th fret). This is after about 6 months of fairly heavy use, so the guitar would have to be re-fretted should I want to resurrect it.

The perils of budget guitars
Fret wear after 6 months - Gouging and Scoring - Harley Benton TE90FLT

Interestingly, a similarly-priced budget guitar I have been using in heavy use for well over a year is my Jet JS-400 which shows no sign of this kind of fret degradation. And obviously my expensive American-made G&L's (my ASAT, which I've been playing regularly since 2017 and my Comanche, which I've been playing regularly for almost 20 years) show no sign of fret degradation - as you'd expect.

Now I could send the TE90 guitar back to Musikhaus Thommann as I'm sure it comes with a year's guarantee, but I know if the neck is replaced, I'll only be able to use it for light use or alternatively, I could spend perhaps more than the guitar is worth on having the worn frets replaced with quality steel frets.

And this is what you may face when buying a budget guitar. So far, I've not had any connection or electronics issues with the TE90, but this particular fret degradation issue now makes the guitar unplayable. It could take you a year or so before you'll find an issue which is affecting your play-ability, but it'll show up sooner or later on a budget guitar. And therefore if you're gigging regularly, you need something reliable. So far, all I've noticed with my JS-400 is a couple of acrylic paint cracks at the neck joint. So I guess, as regards the frets, Jet are using good quality steel.

I've got a Mexican Fender "Nashville" telecaster 2011 model which I've had since new and it is starting to show signs of fret wear, but nothing so serious that it would require re-fretting. But I've had at least 10 years of fairly heavy service out of that guitar - which is in a mid-range price bracket.

So, yes, you get what you pay for, just like everything else. I'll have to risk gigging my prestige guitars now. BTW, that doesn't mean, "calling all thieves"! Yikes!

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