Is it worth upgrading a bargain basement guitar?

JamesE

Senior Stratmaster
Mar 30, 2018
1,317
Hamburg, Germany
I'm a happy owner of a Harley Benton HB35+. I've had it 3 months and even played my first gig with it on Saturday. Before buying, I'd watched several "review" videos, but now I've noticed there are also lots of "upgrade" videos. Why? What is the point of buying the cheapest guitar, and then spending a lot more money swapping the pickups/tuners/pots etc. Why not just buy a better guitar in the first place? For double the price of the Harley Benton you can have an Epiphone casino. AND you get the kudos of the Beatles connection. (Not to mention many many great guitarists who've also used them.)

IMHO my playing isn't good enough to justify a real Gibson, but is the Harley Benton really as good as so many "reviewers" say? I know there are people here who can appreciate the subtleties of swapping ceramics for alnico, but I'm asking about staring with a really cheap instrument.
 

StratUp

Dr. Stratster
Sep 5, 2020
10,878
Altered States
If the parts work well, I leave as is. We see the same thing with slightly more expensive guitars too "I ripped out all the chinese controls and re-wired with CTS". OK, but I'm guessing you really didn't need to.

I tend to upgrade what needs it. Sloppy tuners? Change them. Cheap, poorly cut nut? OK. But no changes for the sake of changes - for me.

But a lot of people use the lower price guitar as a "mod platform" just to get a solid base. Then they build exactly what they want. Or they use it to experiment. It's all good.
 

Intune

Most Honored Senior Member
Jan 14, 2021
6,757
Edmonton, Alberta
At the gig what did the audience say about the guitar? I’m guessing not much, if anything at all. If it sounds good is really all that matters to them. So really there’s no real answer to “is it worth upgrading”. That’s up to you, the player. I mean dumping $800 into a $129 guitar may sound silly but I’m sure there’s plenty of people that have done it. Sure it probably felt or sounded like a good idea but street value/worth and is it worth it to you are two different things.
 

Miotch

Most Honored Senior Member
Jun 28, 2011
5,527
ok
$200 guitar + $800 worth of mods = $200 guitar with $800 worth of mods.

I agree with @StratUp on this one. Yes, I'll replace a nut, tuners if they don't keep tune, the pots if they crackle. But I'm not going to dump a bunch of money in a bargain guitar. I'll apply elbow grease to fix it as best it can be, but I'm not buying $200 worth of pickups for it. Now, if it's parts I already have lying around, I may experiment a bit.
 

joebtone

Senior Stratmaster
Silver Member
Jan 26, 2022
2,547
Northwest US
I'm a happy owner of a Harley Benton HB35+. I've had it 3 months and even played my first gig with it on Saturday. Before buying, I'd watched several "review" videos, but now I've noticed there are also lots of "upgrade" videos. Why? What is the point of buying the cheapest guitar, and then spending a lot more money swapping the pickups/tuners/pots etc. Why not just buy a better guitar in the first place? For double the price of the Harley Benton you can have an Epiphone casino. AND you get the kudos of the Beatles connection. (Not to mention many many great guitarists who've also used them.)

IMHO my playing isn't good enough to justify a real Gibson, but is the Harley Benton really as good as so many "reviewers" say? I know there are people here who can appreciate the subtleties of swapping ceramics for alnico, but I'm asking about staring with a really cheap instrument.
Make sure you has the best setup on it for you…before you get rash about mods.
The experience of modding cheap guitars has been helpful for me but, if I had just put the money on account until I could buy some more upper end equipment it may have been more beneficial.
Not too many more regrets though, I’m comfortable working on screw together guitars now…it’s a fun thing.
 

Lonn

Mod Admin
Staff member
Jul 6, 2014
19,324
Carmel IN
MHO my playing isn't good enough to justify a real Gibson, but is the Harley Benton really as good as so many "reviewers" say? I know there are people here who can appreciate the subtleties of swapping ceramics for alnico, but I'm asking about staring with a really cheap instrument.
As noted, only you can answer that for your guitar. Every guitar off the assembly line isn't the same even though they should be. I have 8 guitars including USA Fender and Gibson. I could say my Harley Benton Fusion III is the best guitar I own and wouldn't be lying, it's every bit as good at the USA guitars.
 

unionjack515

Senior Stratmaster
Apr 3, 2011
2,696
Batavia, Illinois
As an experiment, or for bettering your guitar tech skills, then absolutely. If you’re hoping/expecting to turn the Harley Benton into a guitar that equals a good Epiphone or a good Gibson, I wouldn’t count on it. BUT you will be able to source all the parts necessary and still be ahead on total cost when you include the price of the guitar. I’ve tried this experiment with a few guitars and it just doesn’t work out feel-wise—close but no cigar, even after lots of hours of fretwork, rounding the fretboard edges, etc. The easy way out is to call it “the intangibles” but it’s really not—the feel of the neck (and the rest of the guitar) is essentially the definition of tangible.
 

GrooVey

Dr. Stratster
Nov 17, 2016
13,369
WV. USA
If I really liked the Harley Benton, and if I thought it needed an improvement somewhere, I'd probably do it. But I wouldn't throw a ton of money at it.
 

Butcher of Strats

Senior Stratmaster
Feb 28, 2022
3,696
Maine
If I like a $200 guitar enough to buy it, I cant really say its not worth tweaking it to suit me better.
But I have not liked a $200 guitar that much in decades.
Pickups are almost like strings, you prefer a gauge and a general pickup voicing.
I do not choose a guitar for the pickups, any more than for the strings.

If I think a guitar needs every part besides body and neck "upgraded"?
THEN, its the wrong guitar.
Or its a partscaster assembled by a nutcase?
 

Audiowonderland

Senior Stratmaster
Silver Member
Dec 19, 2020
1,040
Usa
If I really liked the Harley Benton, and if I thought it needed an improvement somewhere, I'd probably do it. But I wouldn't throw a ton of money at it.
You don't need to either. I upgraded the bridge, pickups and electronics on my CV Strat for under $100. I spent many times that updating a Highway 1 strat
 

drp146

Strat-Stalker
Gold Supporting Member
Jun 8, 2020
579
Oklahoma
I'm a happy owner of a Harley Benton HB35+. I've had it 3 months and even played my first gig with it on Saturday. Before buying, I'd watched several "review" videos, but now I've noticed there are also lots of "upgrade" videos. Why? What is the point of buying the cheapest guitar, and then spending a lot more money swapping the pickups/tuners/pots etc. Why not just buy a better guitar in the first place? For double the price of the Harley Benton you can have an Epiphone casino. AND you get the kudos of the Beatles connection. (Not to mention many many great guitarists who've also used them.)

IMHO my playing isn't good enough to justify a real Gibson, but is the Harley Benton really as good as so many "reviewers" say? I know there are people here who can appreciate the subtleties of swapping ceramics for alnico, but I'm asking about staring with a really cheap instrument.
I guess I'd rather buy the better guitar, as long as I thought it was worth it.
 

oatsoda

Puck of Paradox
Gold Supporting Member
Jul 10, 2011
9,304
The Shack, Nova Scotia
It’s not worth it in terms of the money, but it is worth it considering the experience you gain in figuring out how things work, or don’t work.

First time I tried to save a few bucks by installing my own car stereo, I fried the stereo, and the wiper motor. Oops. Yeah, I really am that gifted, but I learned how not to do it.
 

RXMoore

Strat-Talker
Nov 29, 2020
169
Michigan USA
From a financial point of view, absolutely not. From the standpoint of personal enjoyment and/or education, without question, at least for me. I build and rebuild guitars for the fun of it. I've never poured a ton of money into a cheap guitar, but the imported parts and pickups can be surprisingly good. And I haven't sold any of them yet (I've given a couple away to young relatives), so I've never been concerned about resale value. Only you can decide if upgrading your HB is good move, but if you enter into it in the right frame of mind, it can be really rewarding, and you can easily end up with a much better guitar.
 

jvin248

Most Honored Senior Member
Jan 10, 2014
5,931
Michigan
.

After modding and repairing and flipping guitars for years now, the import guitars today are the best they have ever been and even rival top brands.

The valuable mods, if the guitar needs them:
-Fret level, crown, polish
-Pots, switch, jack.
-Set up the pickups for best tone.

All the rest are a waste of time and cash, swapped out for marketing myths that convince the unwary to spend needless money.

.
 


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