Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural - REVIEW

21 May 2022

Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural - REVIEW

Another ukulele for those in favour of plugging in to make some noise. This is the Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural.

Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural Ukulele


I have to say from the off that this is a house brand ukulele from one of the 'big box shipper' stores that I don't recommend my readers buy from (Thomann in this case) as they are not uke specialists. However, I had a few requests to feature this one and I have long heard good things about their Harley Benton electric guitars, so let's give it a whirl.

The Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural (which is how it is named) does what it says on the tin - it's an all solid ukulele, as in 'no acoustic chamber' designed purely for plugging in and with nothing more than natural wood on display. The scale is 17 inches, with the product spec listing it as 'Concert size'. That can only refer to the body size because 17 inches is definitely a tenor and of course the scale naming is derived from that, and not from the body.  It's made from okoume wood, and whilst they say 'solid' it's actually made of two pieces with a joint on the lower bout rather than being routed from a single block. It's not that noticeable, so no biggie. It also looks like there is a wood veneer 'drop top' on the instrument, but as they don't specify the wood I can only assume it's more okoume with a more appealing grain. And appealing it is - I really like the look of the top grain here, though less so the back which is much plainer. The whole shape is a double bout with cutaway very reminiscent of the Les Paul guitar shape. I like how clean and simple it looks myself.

Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural Ukulele body


The bridge is made from purpleheart wood and is a tie bar, screwed in place and holding a Graphtech NuBone saddle with a straight top. I must say, the wood on the bridge could be much smoother in the finishing as it looks like it's never seen a hint of sanding! String spacing here is 44mm.

Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural Ukulele bridge


There is no other decoration on the instrument so it's certainly a plain one, but I like it for that. It's nothing more than a satin coat which feels great and doesn't seem to have any flaws in it. Elsewhere on the body are the tone and volume controls for the under saddle pickup and it's nice to see the knobs are small and in keeping with the size of the instrument. On the tail is the output jack with integral strap button and on the back are the control hatch and battery compartment. This runs on a 9V battery which I normally dislike on electro acoustics on account of weight, but this is a  hefty solid block so not really a worry (if still unnecessary - my TinGuitar solid electric has a passive and has a great strong output). Incidentally, the cloudy finish on the control cover pictured further down the review is just protective film designed to be peeled off.

Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural Ukulele finish


The neck is made of maple, a wood for instrument necks that I am a big fan of for both looks and feel. Thankfully this is dressed very well too and feels as smooth as glass on the hand. It's in a couple of pieces but the joint half way down is not very noticeable. You'll note that it's a bolt on neck, unlike the Snail solid concert ukulele I looked at recently. There are all sorts of schools of thought on the merits for both (Gibson use set necks, Fender use bolt ons...go figure..) so you can make your own minds up. It doesn't bother me though and is tidily done. The neck tapers to a more rounded profile than I personally like coupled with a nut width I also don't like (with a rounded neck) of 34mm and 27mm G to A. Not for me, your mileage may vary.

Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural Ukulele neck


Topping that is more purpleheart for the fingerboard which is dressed better than the bridge. It comes with 20 frets joined at the 14th and they are only just dressed enough to not be sharp. Buyer beware with a big box retailer here! It's edge bound / stained in black to hide the ends. Pearly position dots face out at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th, 15th and 17th and these are repeated with dots on the side.

Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural Ukulele fingerboard


Beyond the bone nut is an asymmetric headstock shape which is rather attractive. That's faced in more okoume and the Harley Benton 'HB' logo is later etched (ugh..) in the top. When you see the price though you'll realise why that isn't inlaid, but i'd even prefer a transfer.

Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural Ukulele headstock


The tuners are unbranded sealed gears in matte black which look great against the maple of the neck. They work well too although somebody has been totally ham fisted with the socket used to attach the front bolt leaving them scuffed of black paint. Shoddy work.

Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural Ukulele tuners


It comes with a set of Aquila strings and nothing more. One thing that I think is silly of them to omit is a second strap button to pair with the tail. Yes you can tie on to the headstock, but with an instrument that you WILL want to use a strap with, surely adding another would make sense? Easy to do yourself of course, but hardly the point. But.. the price is only £77 in the UK (with a bit of shipping unless you can take your order over £149) which is remarkably low. Consider that Snail I mentioned above. OK, slightly nicer adornments and comes with a case, but it's essentially the same sort of thing. That one will cost you £249. £77 is an absolute steal in comparison. If... it plays ok of course.

So it all seems rather positive so far on the build A bit of scruffiness on the bridge and tuners, but otherwise a well finished, well put together instrument with a simple look that works for me, particularly with the addition of that neck. It's naturally heavier than an acoustic at 1.21kg but balances ok. Setup wise this is too high at the nut and right at the top end of what I would consider acceptable at the 12th (3mm). Once again - bear in mind these do NOT come from specialist stores and I consider this needs work. That may mean you get one that doesn't, but you could get one that is worse. Like the fret dressing - this needs to be borne in mind if you are buying.

Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural Ukulele back


To play it feels comfortable and re-assuring to hold and the back of the neck is really nice in the hand (even if the width is not to my tastes). Bearing in mind what I said about setup, it doesn't seem to be intonating that badly, but in first positions in particular that high nut is just damn uncomfortable on the fingers. You should not have to push strings down this far to fret them..

As I always say, I don't like making videos of electric instruments as the tone will very much depend on the amplifier being used. In the video I am using a Roland AC33 on clean with the EQ central across the board and not much gain. Use something like a tiny tin can amp and you will have a very different experience. Bearing that in mind you will notice a few things from the video...

Firstly, the pickup strip is not seated well because there is a noticeable volume difference between the first string and the others. That's a setup fault and fixable, but should not have shipped like that. On the plus side the pots work smoothly without any static and both the volume and tone make full use of their range with a very even sweep. I also like that the tone knob has a 'notch' to tell you when you are half way by feel.

The pickup itself otherwise works but is noticeably a cheap affair. It sounds very quacky like a lot of piezo's do, but a bit of tinkering with the EQ can work wonders there, particularly in blocking out some of the mid frequencies which are usually the culprit. But, it runs incredibly hot on the output meaning that even with light playing and the volume on low there is obvious muddy distortion coming into the sound when strummed. It's most noticeable on strings two and three which seem to be the loudest, and is not right. I suppose if you are going to run this into effects pedals it's not a real issue, but on this example at least I would struggle to get a clean tone for more delicate songs. Once again, I stress the point about QC and how these are likely to be variable. I suspect I could buy another and it sound fine (but then again I've seen reports from people buying these and the pickup didn't work at all!).

So all in all a mixed bag. I love the look of the instrument in general and apart from the scruffy tuners the build and finish are pretty good. But things fall down on the setup - both the string action and the pickup which needs a lot of tinkering. Yet maybe that is the reason I am not totally out of love with it - something to tinker with for only £77, and not £250. I could sort the issues on this in an afternoon, and whilst I suspect the pickup will still sound muddy, I could still have fun with this running through a pedal board. Not quite the no-brainer I hoped it would be, but possibly fun to experiment with.

What concerns me most though is I have no idea how other examples will turn out, so I still repeat my mantra - buy from a uke specialist dealer!


UKULELE SPECS ROUNDUP

Model: Harley Benton Solid Uke Natural
Scale: Tenor (concert body)
Body: Solid okoume
Bridge: Purpleheart
Saddle: NuBone
Spacing at saddle: 44mm
Finish: Satin
Neck: Maple
Fingerboard: Purpleheart
Frets: 20, joined at 14th
Nut: NuBone
Spacing at nut: 34mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Unbranded black sealed gears
Extras: Integral pickup system with tail jack and strap button
Weight: 1.21kg
Country of origin: China
Price: £77 ex shipping

UKULELE PROS

Good body build and finish
Clean looks
Non parts bin pots
Nice feeling neck wood
Great price

UKULELE CONS

Scruffy bridge
Scruffy tuner bolts
Nut width and profile are not for me
Questionable setup (frets, action, pickup seating)
Poor quality pickup

UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and finish - 6 out of 10
Sound - 7 out of 10
Value for money - 9.5 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 7.9 out of 10


UKULELE VIDEO REVIEW





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3 comments :

  1. When one looks at the musical instruments $79 will buy in 2022 this electric ukulele is a genuine bargain, warts and all. If nothing else, all those - like me - who suffer from U.A.S.will probably "need" one. Good review.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So rather eleuke-like?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello Barry, I picked the Uke up immediately after I saw the review. It's just exactly what I need for my rare night practice sessions. There is nothing worse than not beeing able to play alte night because the neighbours are asleep..

    The Uke that arrived here was in good conditions. The fret ends were not sharp and the action at the 12th fret was spot-on! (2.5mm)!. What needed work was the nut. I was barely touched at all the the action was way to hight. It's a two minute job so no worries here.

    I noticed the quiet a string as well. When I removed the saddle it became clear that it's not evenly touching the piezo pad. I evened it out with sandpaper and slite paper underneath. It worked wonders and I don't believe the is any difference in volume anymore.

    Overall I think this is a great deal if you can setup your Uke yourself. Otherwise people might not have the best experience with it.

    Personally I looking forward to my first night sessions.

    Thanks for the review!

    ReplyDelete

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