So, this is the second review as I have now received the replacement TE-90QM HH
I have to admit I am a fan of cheap and cheerful Harley Benton guitars. What?s not to like? They are incredibly well priced, offer a good value and usually, they fit the bill.
Or, I should say, they used to fit the bill?
I?ve bought a lot of HB guitars over the years. Few have been really bad, some have needed some tweaking or better hardware in places, but most Harley Bentons have been just plain and simple good guitars.
Since I already own 20+ guitars, my schedule for buying new guitars is slow. The last HB electric guitar I?ve bought was a HB TE-90QM in trans red with the soapbar P90s. Still with Wilkinson hardware and by all means, it was - and still is - a very reliable and well sounding guitar right out of the box. The only niggle was a slightly wobbly pickup selector switch that got replaced with a better quality item down the road. Other than that, nothing to fret about.
Single coils are noisy. Nothing one can do about that and given the fact it?s a semi hollow without a maintenance cover in the back, shielding and rewiring would be a bloody ...erm? PITA.
So, to fight the hum - and, to be honest, add more guitars to my collection - I opted for the trans-blue HB TE-90QM HH. Being a few years from my first TE-90QM, I expected it to be a more refined and honestly better guitar and boy, was I wrong!
The first TE-90QM HH that I?ve ordered came with a big ding in the back. There was a big crack in the cardboard box as well. So, what happened to QC? In the olden years, every instrument shipped by Thomann used to get at least a visible inspection. But given the increase in volume, this is history by now and the final QC agent is the customer. Well, I called Thomann and without further ado, they sent an RMA and a prepaid shipping voucher and the guitar went back to Thomann. A few weeks later, the second TE-90QM HH arrived and this is, what the review is about.
Now, the TE-90QM HH on Thomann?s product page is a nice looking guitar that looks like is has got some quality hardware. It looks a bit like a Telecaster, but it got rid of a lot of the idiosyncrasies of Leo Fender?s original design. For instance that ashtray bridge and the three-post bridge design that is impossible to intonate. The bridge on the product page is a well rounded, massive and very comfortable design. No sharp edges, very nice to intonate, a well thought out design. The quilted maple top is just a veneer, but on the product page it looks nice. And in the flesh, the TE-90QM used to be like that. But ...
Do not expect your guitar to look like the one on the product page.
Do not expect your guitar to be equipped like the one on the product page.
Do not expect your guitar to be of the same build quality like the one on the product page.
Over the years, a product either gets better with constant refinements - or it gets cheaper with every single fraction of a cent being squeezed out. Unfortunately, the TE-90QM belongs to the second category. Should you receive a new TE-90QM HH today, do not expect to see the same nice quality hardware, you see on the product page. The bridge no longer is that quality item, it?s now more akin to a Squier Affinity/Bullet Telecaster bridge. Not as nice, not as high quality. And, unfortunately, not as well placed. To get the guitar intonated, I had to cut the E6 spring in half because the bridge was placed just a bit too close to the neck and I could not move the saddle sufficiently far back without the spring being in the way. The veneer on the top isn?t as nice either. It?s just a blue wash. The pickups are misplaced as well. The bridge pickup leans too far to the bass. Not easy to correct, as the holes for the mount screws would show once you move the mounting frame sufficiently to fit. Well, a bigger mounting ring would solve that and I am going to print me one on my 3D printer. Too bad, if you do not have access to one.
There?s not only bad with the guitar. The new Pau Ferro fretboard is excellent. Looks like Rosewood, but feels like good quality Ebony. I will take Pau Ferro over Rosewood all the time. Good choice! Nut and fretwork are of the usual good quality. No fret sprout, nicely crowned and levelled, as good as it can be. Switches and potentiometers are okay, they work as expected. Tuners are not Grovers, but doing the job well enough not to have them immediately replaced. The string trees are cheap, but a bit of graphite will keep them going until one replaces them with nicer roller string trees. The guitar is a bit lighter than the old WIlkinson based TE-90QM, but I believe that weight is one of the variables and it depends on the log the guitar was cut out from.
Soundwise, it?s nothing to write home about. Quite generic middle-of-the-road humbucker like and if you are looking for Telly twang, you?re riding the wrong horse. It covers all the bases well enough, but could do with some modifications depending on what you want to achieve. An easy mod would be to replace the pickup magnets with slightly weaker AlNiCo 2 magnets to give you a more bluesy/jazzy sound. You possibly won?t go for hotter pickups, it?s a semiacoustic after all and you won?t be using it for metal.
So, unfortunately, I have to join the choir of the people who say ?they don?t build them like they used to anymore!? I am not saying that it is a bad guitar. Given the price point, it still is a reasonably priced guitar. But it no longer is a guitar that is standing out of the crowd. It?s nice, but no longer great. It?s okay, but no longer exceptional. Or, in other words, I am disappointed. Maybe, if I would not own one of the ?original? guitars of better quality, I would still love it ? but now it just leaves a stale taste in my mouth. I had expected more than what I have got. Mind you, I will still keep it as I like the quietness of the humbuckers, but I will have to try out stacked noiseless P90 in the transred TE-90QM and if those retain the P90 sound and stay quiet, the trans blue TE-90QM HH will possibly end up in the dusty depth of the back row of my collection as Harley Bentons do not have any resale value.