The nice folk at Harley Benton sent us a new guitar to try out. This time it was the company’s latest singlecut semi-hollow model, the Aeolus. I’ve been burned before with budget semi-hollow guitars, and was curious to see how far the industry has come since I started playing. Let’s dig in!
Harley Benton Aeolus
The Aeolus is Harley Benton’s latest singlecut semi-hollow model, and part of the company’s Pro Series of instruments. It promises some premium features that cut way above its price point. The body is fashioned out of mahogany, and the neck and fretboard are made out of roasted maple. Like the Dullahan models we reviewed previously, the guitar comes with 22 stainless steel medium jumbo frets. Elsewhere you’ll find a Graphtech TUSQ nut and Grover Locking tuners, and it comes loaded with two Tesla VR-2 Alnico 5 pickups. Having been very impressed with the Dullahan and SC-550 Plus EMG models that we got to review, we were pretty excited to receive this new model.
Harley Benton ships the Aeolus without a gigbag, but it’s packed well enough. Let’s first take a minute to appreciate its appearance. If you like flame-y wood, you will not be disappointed here. Flame galore! The fretboard and neck are roasted flame maple, and the top has a AAA flame maple veneer in an exquisite Bengal Burst finish, with wooden binding. The construction, as with the previous two models we recieved, is on point. The f-holes are neat, and there are no noticeable blemishes anywhere on the instrument. The back of the neck has a satin finish, and feels smooth and fast. The side dots are glow-in-the-dark!
Depending on the angle you’re looking from, you can sometimes see the backplate through the lower f-hole, which can be a bit of an eye-sore, due to the shielding. I only mention that because the rest of the guitar gives off such a premium feel. But, having a backplate does make switching parts much easier, and you can’t see any wires through the f-hole. I just wish they had moved it a bit further out of view.
The pickups are a set of Alnico 5 Tesla VR-2 pickups, in both the neck and bridge positions. You get a standard 3-way pickup selector on the upper bout, and a master volume and tone control. The tone knob can be pulled up to split the coils on the pickups.
Taking it out of the box, it’s heavy. Or not light. I guess that’s a matter of perspective. But at 3.7 kg, it was a bit heavier than I had expected. The neck feels nice, and the edges are smooth, without any sharp frets sticking out. The fretwork is decent and, being stainless steel, should last a long time before needing any work done on. Action is what I would consider medium or average. The intonation was also pretty good. The skinny strings were spot on, while the wound strings, a bit off.
Unplugged, it plays just fine. There is no fret buzz. The neck is comfortable, not too fat, but definitely not skinny. And the guitar rings true and is resonant.
I heard a weird rattling sound when I moved the guitar. I thought perhaps something had fallen in through the f-holes and tried to take it out. Shock, horror! A tiny piece of wood fell out! I contacted the Harley Benton team immediately to let them know. The guys were extremely apologetic and assured me that they would ship out a replacement. But, of course, before proceeding further, we were both curious to see where it had come from. I opened up the backplate and it turns out the top screw of the back plate may have caused the wood to splinter off.
Other reviewers on YouTube and elsewhere haven’t reported the same problem, so I’m guessing it’s not a structural or design flaw. It could be that my delivery just happened to get knocked on its way to me. It didn’t affect the performance of the instrument, though.
The first thing I noticed plugging it in was that the output between the bridge and neck positions seemed unbalanced. It’s the same pickup for both positions, so I moved the bridge pickup closer to the strings, an easy fix. Also, when setting the intonation of the wound strings, I found the Tune-o-Matic style bridge a bit ‘wobbly’. It would shift ever so slightly when I’d bring the strings back up to pitch. It wasn’t rocking back and forth, but did have just a few micro-millimetres of play. At this point I decided to adjust the action to my liking too.
Once set up to my preferences, I really started enjoying the guitar. Considering there are pickup sets that cost as much as the guitar itself, you might dismiss the Tesla VR-2s pickups used for the Aeolus. But playing them, I can say I was pleasantly surprised. They’re warm and dynamic, but with enough bite. In the split position, they do have a single-coil feel, but won’t sound like a Strat-style guitar. That was to be expected though, since the construction is so different.
And though the pickups sound very good, if you, like me, use the volume and tone knobs to dial in, you might not be so pleased. Turning the volume knob lower to clean up when going through a slightly driven amp makes the guitar sound a bit muddy. But swapping pots is no big deal, doesn’t cost much, and should be easy on this model due to the backplate.
I kept comparing the Aeolus to the first semi-hollow electric I ever got. It was an Oscar Schmidt guitar, that cost roughly about the same as the Aeolus. What a piece of crap that guitar was. It never stayed in tune, sounded terrible, and had frets that were sticking out, both up and sideways off the neck. The action had to be pretty high on it, otherwise it buzzed like a @#$%. I ended up trading it for a bus ticket, literally. The Harley Benton Aeolus is a far superior instrument to that and has none of those issues. If you know what you’re doing, it’s easy to setup, and if not, it still does the job admirably.
If you are in the market for a semi-hollow instrument, but don’t want to drop a whole lot of money, I would feel confident recommending this guitar. Or, conversely, if you have some pricier semi-hollows that you don’t want to take to your local club, or travelling, the Aeolus might fit the bill. I’d switch out the pots, but that’s because I normally like to set up my tone and then use the volume knob to go through variations, instead of using pedals. But if you have pedals for your tones and tend to keep the volume knob wide open, it won’t be an issue for you.
Our friends at Bonedo did a sound demo video for the Harley Benton Aeolus, check it out below.