An Interesting Comparison

After years of being a dyed-in-the-wool strat player, just before Christmas last year, I got a hankering for something a bit more “Gibson-y”. I’ve owned Les Pauls in the past but never really got on with them, however we all change as we grow older & suddenly my strat was starting to seem a bit “thin” sounding – even with a hot-rails in the bridge position. I wanted that rich, deep, set-neck, mahogany & humbuckers tone that only a Les Paul style guitar can deliver. Not having a fortune to spend, I trawled the net looking for a suitable LP style guitar that would fit my budget. I almost pushed the button on a Vintage V100 “Lemon Drop” guitar on eBay, but someone beat me to it.

Having read many great reviews, I settled on a Harley Benton SC450 Plus. A great LP style instrument from Thomman:


You can watch a full review of this guitar, recorded on the day it arrived by clicking HERE

Anyway, as you can tell if you’ve watched that review, I was pretty damn impressed with the guitar. Without having a genuine Les Paul to compare it to, it gave a really good account of itself. But… there was always that nagging doubt in my mind: “Can a £120 guitar REALLY be a substitute for a REAL Les Paul?” I mean… sure, it sounds convincing & this is exactly how I remember my old Les Paul sounding, but what would happen if I put it up against “the real thing”?

Well, today I got the chance to find out. One of my students rolled up with a band new Gibson USA 2016 Les Paul Studio T. Check it out HERE

As you can see, this is a £1000 guitar. OK, so it’s not the Les Paul you want – that would be the LP Standard, complete with book-matched, figured maple top, edge binding, and about a ton & a half of street-cred. However, this is a genuine made in the USA, Gibson Les Paul, albeit the entry-level model. How does my cheap & cheerful Harley Benton £120 “knock off” measure up?

Well, at the end of the lesson, I borrowed the guitar from my student (Cheers Stuart!) and recorded a quick demo – some clean chords, a crunchy rock rhythm part, and some bluesy-rock lead with a higher gain setting. After the lesson, I recorded pretty much the same thing again on my Harley Benton. Here are those recordings just referred to as “Guitar 1” & “Guitar 2”. Just ask yourself, which guitar is the one that cost a grand & which one is the £120 copy?

Click HERE to listen. Both guitars were recorded through a VOX Tonelab ST with a “Dumble” amp model for the clean sounds & a “Soldano” model for the overdriven tones.

I received quite a bit of flak from the “Label Snobs” when I posted the initial video review of the Harley Benton… “Oh, if you ever play a REAL Les Paul, you’ll know the difference straight away…” that kind of thing. The assumption seemed to be that I am wet behind the ears & have never experienced the joy of playing a guitar as good as the one they paid a fortune for (not true, by the way  – I’ve owned two Gibson Les Paul guitars in my career). Well, as far as I’m concerned, the matter is now settled: My Harley Benton…

  • Is built from the same materials as a Gibson
  • Is finished to the same standard as a Gibson
  • Feels like a Gibson
  • Sounds like a Gibson
  • Has the adornments of Gibson’s “flagship” model (edge binding & figured maple)
  • Costs approximately 90% less than even an entry level Gibson

Looking at that list, if you still yearn for something with the “G-word” on the headstock, ask yourself why… are you interested in owning a superb musical instrument, or do you just care about the “brand attributes” & image that goes along with owning a “boutique” guitar? Me? I choose a guitar based on it’s performance as a musical instrument, not as some kind of “trophy”.

Oh… and by the way:

  • Guitar 1 = Gibson USA Les Paul Studio T
  • Guitar 2 = Harley Benton SC450 Plus

Listen again & see which (if either) you prefer.

Until next time… Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist




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