Of course we all love the custom shops and the vintage reissues, but in these troubled times it is interesting to look at the other end of the market, in fact to go as low end as possible. And this is why we have the Harley Benton TE-30 Telecaster clone today.
Even with the pound taking a bit of a hammering recently, this guitar is £75. When I started playing back in 1981 you could not get an electric for £75, any electric. But the online retailer Thomann have a reputation for stretching what you can get for your money.
Of course you pay another £10 for delivery but the package arrived in 3 days and first impressions were that I would have liked a bit more padding and I may have some concerns if anything less robust than this Tele model was being shipped.
It survived intact though, and it is a heavy old piece of wood. The body is described as ash but is well finished and the paint job is pretty smooth and impressive for the price. There is no through stringing but the 3 saddle bridge looks the part, even if the edge
S could catch your hand, but then that is routine hazard on any Tele.
The neck is pleasantly slim and is quite a handsome piece of maple, frets are well crowned if a little rough on the edges. I needed a few minutes on the truss rod to sort out a high action but the whole thing played pretty well out of the box – but then what is the point of a cheap guitar if you have to pay £100 to make it playable.
The neck pickup is a little thin but is not too woolly, the bridge is pretty sharp, too sharp for funk but plays very well for country. Played clean, the best tone is the two pickups together, there is a bit of creaminess here which fits into funk very well.
Look, it is not a Baja Tele, but then it does cost £75 and not £775. It does play and sound much better than you would have any right to expect and the basic woodwork is good enough to use as a basis for improved pickups and hardware.
There are faults, the tuners are spongy and the spring trees are rubbish, but it plays well, sounds decent and would be an ideal introduction into the world of the Tele for the more penny pinched around us.
And all this price of a couple of rounds in a London pub.