Harley Benton sent over one of its new, recently released MR-Modern models for me to check out and review. This Mosrite inspired, vintage-styled guitar has a lot of modern features, as the name suggests. Potentially, it offers the best of both worlds, for guitarists looking for both style and performance.
I’m in the lucky position that I get to play and try out lots of guitars, at various price points, and by different companies from around the world, as part of my job. When Harley Benton offered to send me one of these new MR-Modern models to review, I was genuinely interested to know how it would hold up against the competition.
Anyone that reads Gearnews regularly will no doubt know we are part of the Thomann group; Harley Benton is an in-house brand for Thomann. Nonetheless, I was never going to pull any punches with this review; Harley Benton knows that I always speak my mind and encourage that. As a company, they are always looking to release better instruments for musicians, and at Gearnews we always stay impartial. With that out of the way, let’s get down to the review itself…
The Harley Benton MR-Modern is clearly based on the classic looks of a ’60s Mosrite, just with modern specifications and hardware. This is a pretty sweet looking guitar, with many benefits for modern guitarists.
Harley Benton MR-Modern
When I removed the MR-Modern from the shipping carton, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t overly heavy. My personal taste for guitar weights is not too heavy, though not ridiculously light either, I prefer a solid instrument that will stand up to being played live. Oddly, the guitar was practically in tune when I took it out; I put that down to the combination of locking tuners and GraphTech TUSQ nut, all working in harmony with the Wilkinson VS-50 II Precision Tremolo. The guitar ships strung up with D’Addario gauge 10 strings, which felt fresh.
Fit & Finish
I spent a good 20-30 minutes checking out the Candy Apple Red finish, looking for any paint issues or tooling marks. There weren’t any, and the finish is actually really nicely applied and buffed. The neck pocket is super tight and well aligned, which is exactly what you would expect with a bolt-on design.
Factory setup is good. Action for the strings was low out the box, and I have had no need to change anything about the setup since the guitar has been in my possession. The Wilkinson bridge is smooth and once I had stretched in the new strings, I found the guitar stays in tune well. Intonation was also spot on, which is as I would expect.
The neck feels quite modern in your hand. It has a smooth finish on the rear. The Macassar Ebony fretboard is dark, and the stainless steel frets are smooth and nicely finished. Having a set of glow-in-the-dark side dots on the neck is also a nice pro feature that I can appreciate. The satin finish feels great and offers little drag, making it comfortable to play. The neck feels quite wide, as the nut is 42 mm wide, and the fretboard is very flat with a modern 12″ radius.
These models are powered by a pair of Artec AHC-90 Soapbar Alnico-5 humbucking pickups. They have a master volume, a tone control which has a push/pull coil split, and a three-way pickup selector switch. I spent over a week plugging the guitar into various amps. I also tried everything from Fender-style cleans, through Plexi-type crunch tones, and even more high-gain Mesa-style amp tones.
Overall, I would say the pickups are the weakest link in the design. They lack bite in the bridge pickup and the neck pickup was okay. Just, uninspiring. I found myself tweaking both the guitar controls, and the amp controls frequently to get passable tones. The coil-split single coil tone, I found to be pretty unusable, as the volume drop when it was engaged was really noticeable. I would find that annoying in a live situation, as it is a huge output drop.
The controls on the guitar are smooth, and actually work well with the pickups. Though I found the pickups were the Achille’s heel in its overall design. Sure, they are an easy and relatively cheap upgrade if you want to go down swapping them out. I have to admit, they would not put me off buying this guitar though. I own £3-4K guitars where I have ditched the factory pickups. Therefore, it is not a deal breaker for me. And especially at this price point.
Overall, I am blown away by the quality of this Indonesian made guitar; as previously mentioned, the fit and finish are impeccable. I also think the choice of a nice ebony fretboard, paired with stainless steel frets makes for a very smooth playing experience. The alder body is a great choice and acoustically the guitar rings out really nicely. Plus, that German carve on the top looks great, and I enjoyed the easy access to the upper frets due to the deep double-cut body shape.
I really do love the finish on this guitar, which looks great in red; I am sorely tempted to try out the blue one sometime as well.
It is going to be hard to give this guitar back, put it that way! I would easily gig with this guitar, as it feels like a professional instrument and one I could trust. I didn’t gel with the pickups, but I am picky as hell about guitar tones. Changing them out would be an easy fix for me, but I appreciate not everyone is handy with a soldering iron.