If you’re on the hunt for an affordable Les Paul and you’re disappointed with the high prices of all Gibsons and Epiphones, Harley Benton SC-550 II may be the ultimate solution. I recently bought it and honestly, it blew my mind.
The SC-550 II is an extremely solid electric guitar. I’d give this axe 10/10 for overall build quality and sound. There’s a few minor things that I don’t like too but it all can be easily sorted out. It’s just crazy that we can get such nice guitars at such low prices these days.
All photos and sound demos below are mine, so you can be sure that this axe was tested by an actual guitarist. It’s not a sponsored review and I’ll try to be unbiased, but come on – it will be pretty difficult to find something better at this price level.
Let’s start with a quick sound demo.
About Harley Benton SC-550 II
This is one of the more expensive LP-style guitars made by Harley Benton. Don’t get me wrong though – it’s still pretty cheap.
But since this brand offers a VERY cheap SC-400 and SC-450, you just have to know that SC-550 is one of the highest models.
It looks almost the same as a high-end Gibson Les Paul or a mid-range Epiphone LP worth way more. It’s available in a few different color versions, but as you can see on the photos – I’ve got the faded tobacco flame gloss finish. Looks cool, right?
Why I Bought It
I was specifically looking for a reliable Les Paul, but I was a bit disappointed with high prices of Gibsons. At the same time, I wasn’t interested in getting the cheapest Harley Benton out there.
So it seemed very clear that getting one of the more expensive Bentons would be a good idea. And to be honest, I was totally right – it’s probably one of the best HB’s that I ever owned.
Some of you may not believe me, but I actually believe that this is one of the coolest budget Les Pauls that you can possibly find at this price level.
Body & Neck
The guitar has a body made of Meranti wood. For those who don’t know what the hell it is, it’s basically a tropical wood type. There’s also a flamed maple top which makes the SC-550 look very nice in real life.
The neck is also made of Meranti, but the fingerboard is made of Pau Ferro. I have to say that I quite like fretboards made of this material (I remember that Fender Vintera 60s Jazzmaster had it too and it was awesome).
Important: this axe has a 24.75″ scale length, so it’s a bit shorter in comparison to Strats or Teles which have 25.5″. The gloss finish on the back feels good and it’s not sticky at all. I’d actually say that it makes you want to play more.
As you can see on the photos, there’s also a Tune-O-Matic bridge which guarantees a solid tuning stability. This type of stuff never fails, so it won’t cause you any trouble in the future.
The hardware is made of chrome and the tuning machines are actually Kluson-style tuners. They hold the tune very well, but they’re made of a weird material – I think it’s plastic.
I’d say that this is the weakest part of that guitar, but only because of the looks and cheap feel – they do a great job at keeping the guitar in tune.
Just like a classic Gibson Les Paul, Harley Benton SC-550 II has a set of two awesome humbuckers. Specifically – two Tesla Opus-1 AlNiCo-5 pickups. They sound awesome!
I really enjoy using the middle position that activates both of them. But whether you’re into a bit deeper tone of a neck pickup or a bit brighter sound of a bridge pickup, you won’t be disappointed.
And since it’s a Les Paul, it works extremely well with overdrive and distortion. I tried using it with a lot of pedals and to be honest, it sounds great in all settings. So whether you’re into indie, alternative rock, blues, grunge, punk or hard rock – the SC-550 won’t let you down.
For those who want to know absolutely everything about that guitar, here’s a table with all of the detailed specs. Alternatively, you can also find out more about SC-550 on Thomann – the music store that sells these guitars.
|Arched Top||AAAA Flamed Maple|
|Humbuckers||2x Tesla Opus-1 AlNiCo-5|
|Controls||2x Volume & 2x Tone|
|Tuners||DLX Kluson-Style Machine Heads|
Clean & Reverb
For this sound I used the Walrus Audio Slo Reverb Pedal.
This one was recorded with Fender Pugilist Distortion effect.
For this sound I used the Walrus Audio Julia Chorus Pedal.
Here’s a comparison of clean tones in all three settings. The first one is neck humbucker, then it’s the middle position (so both pickups) and the last part is the bridge humbucker.
What I Don’t Like
Although I’m absolutely in love with that guitar, there’s still a few things that could be better. It’s not serious stuff, but you have to be aware of that.
So far I noticed only two cons in this axe:
- dry fretboard (it needed a bit of lemon oil)
- the tuning machines feel a bit cheap, that material could definitely be better.
The issue with the fingerboard can be easily fixed – you just need to moisturize it. It takes a bit of time and it requires taking off the strings, but overall – it’s not a big deal.
I didn’t notice many people complaining about the tuners so maybe it’s just my own subjective opinion. They work fine in the end. But if I had to choose one thing to modify here, I would definitely choose the tuning machines.
If you want to keep your guitar in a mint condition, obviously you need a proper maintenance routine. This stuff isn’t that hard to do and it will guarantee that your guitar will be fun and easy to use for years to come.
You should definitely:
- change your strings every couple of months
- wash your hands before playing
- clean the body and neck every couple of weeks with a soft cloth or a proper guitar cleaning kit
- keep your axe in a case (especially during transit)
- avoid throwing it at walls even when you’re extremely angry
Some people say that you should change strings every month but I disagree with that. If you’re using high quality strings like Elixirs, you should be totally fine for a long time.
And of course, just clean it from time to time. No one likes to play on dirty guitars. The gloss finish on SC-550 makes the dirt and fingerprints quite easy to notice (especially under certain lighting), so just keep it nice and tidy.
Who Should Get It?
I’m positive that anyone who’s looking for a cheaper version of Gibson Les Paul will be absolutely satisfied with Harley Benton SC-550. I mean.. what’s there not to like? Forget about the price and don’t think of it as a cheap model – that quality is just awesome.
I also think that anyone who’s trying to find their first electric guitar will also be happy with this model. Obviously, you can always find something cheaper, but if you’re convinced that this hobby is for you, this axe will last you for years to come.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of music you want to play. Maybe you’re a metalhead, an indie kid or a retired lover of blues. It doesn’t matter. You can play pretty much anything with that guitar – and that’s why I love it.
So summing up, I can’t really think of the reasons why people would not like that guitar. It’s cheap, it offers a VERY high quality and the price/quality ratio is just insane. I said it before and I’ll say it again – it will be extremely difficult to find a better budget Les Paul at this price range.
The market of cheap guitars is really saturated – that’s a fact. You can find A LOT of budget guitars out there. Some are very bad, some are better, but if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, it’s totally possible.
Here’s a few alternative options for those who feel that the SC-550 II isn’t really their vibe.
Firstly, I highly recommend checking out the Harley Benton SC-1000 SBK Progressive Line. This is basically a budget copy of one of the ESP LTD axes which are very popular among the metalheads.
I had the pleasure to test it out on my own and it made a really good impression on me. It’s quite different than SC-550 and some of you may actually love that. Instead of passive pickups, it has active pickups. This kind of gear is ideal for shredding, fat riffs and fast solos.
So if you’re into heavier genres of music, the SC-1000 maybe a better option for you. If not, choosing a more traditional SC-550 will be probably more reasonable.
Alternatively, you can also check out the cheaper SC-400 or SC-450 made by the same brand. They’re also good, but in my opinion they’re worse than the axe reviewed in today’s post.
The reason is simple – they’re made of different materials and they feel a bit cheaper. The pickups are also worse in there too. You can totally use them for practice, but if you care about the high quality, the SC-550 is the way to go.
Lastly, if you don’t necessarily need a Les Paul, perhaps choosing a Strat or a Telecaster would make more sense for you. If that’s something you want to explore – check out my review of Harley Benton TE-62DB. It’s a killer axe available at a very low price.
Summing up, guitarists have it extremely easy these days. Back in the 70s or 80s cheap guitars were associated with a VERY low quality. But nowadays everything is different. You can basically spend 5 times less money and get a high-quality instrument similar to a Gibson.
Obviously, it doesn’t have that iconic logo. It’s not made in the US and you won’t get the cerficiate of authenticity. But does it really matter? Well, I guess it does, but not always.
Most of us want a good and reliable instrument that feels and sounds good. Personally, I don’t care if the guitar comes from China, Indonesia, Japan or United States. I’ve seen a lot of US-made guitars that weren’t that good. As long as it’s comfortable and fun to play, it’s all that really matters.
That’s why I highly recommend checking out the Harley Benton SC-550 II FTF. I’m extremely happy that I decided to add it to my collection and honestly, I have a feeling that it will make you happy too.
If you do end up buying it, please leave a comment with your thoughts under this article. Who knows, maybe someone else who’s reading it will find it useful. I’m also curious to hear what you think of that axe!