Potentially a fine bass - but not without some elbow grease!
joedocmusic on 2013/08/14
I've been looking for a "PJ" style bass, and wanted to see how the Harley Benton PJ-4 HTR holds up in the marketplace. The other inexpensive possibility is the Squier affinity series, which cost approximately double (230 Euros Squier vs 111 for the HB model).
Knowing that production for bodies and necks is currently all taking place in the same factories in Asia, I figured the Harley B. would be a contender. It turns out that this make and model has what it takes - but only if your roll of the dice gets you a good neck...
First impression upon opening the box is that the bass is very well manufactured and assembled, although the neck had quite a "U" shape, and the action was rather high. This is no reason for concern - most instruments need adjustment out of the box - if they didn't come in a box, they were probably adjusted in the store, and that setup was most certainly added to the price tag.
I should add that this bass is rather on the heavy side - but for that makes a very solid impression across the board. The neck was also a perfect fit, and all hardware makes a solid impression.
Out of the box, the action was too high, neck relief far too bowed, and - although the "P" pickups sound great, the "J" pickup is rather weak. (If you get a good PJ-4 HTR, just swap out that J pickup, and you will have an excellent bass.)
Additionally, the bridge was mounted at an ever-so-slight angle, whereby the low E-string side is closer to the headstock direction than the G-string side. A fairly typical problem in budget guitars.
After adjusting the truss rod (which needed a full rotation to remedy the bow in the neck), I adjusted the bridge saddles for height, and let the bass rest overnight.
On testing the bas sthe next day, the action was now well within acceptable range, but the area from the 7th to 12th frets was plagued with fret buzz. Too much to be useable - in recorded tracks the buzz was clearly audible. I attempted to further tweak the neck and bridge, but to no avail. Perhaps a fret job and further tweaking could remedy the problem, but I expect an instrument at any price to be useable without major neck/fret/fitting work. This bass has to go back.
I have to say that the overall quality of parts (aside from the bum neck) as well as the suave finish and solid feel were impressive. The tone of the P pickup is beyond reproach - certainly all the tone of a Squier/Fender model. As mentioned erlier, the J pickup is not happening.
If these Harley B. models were individually set up and quality controlled (by a guitar tech) they would have to cost at least 50 euros more per unit... no longer the insane deal compared to the Squier guitars, which are more consistent. HOWEVER - Thomann takes them back and you needn't even pay shipping. If the neck on this one had been a good one, I would keep it and be 90% happy (after replacing the J pickup 100%).
I say order one up and cross your fingers!
After working on the bridge