Having just played this guitar at its 1st live gig and concluded to myself that it had been ?f***ing brilliant? I thought it deserved a review; so here goes:
A happy owner of 2 other Harley Bentons (an SC-Custom P90 Black & CST-24HB Tortoise Flame) (as well as owning many other more guitars from significantly more expensive brands) ... I'd been GAS'ing about getting a solid CST-24 with trem for quite some time. So when I finally got to see one "in the flesh" via the great video review that Cory Mura (thanks Cory!!) put up on YouTube, my mind was made up: the new Emerald Green CST-24T was the way to go!
And what a beautiful instrument it is! Let's face it, even until recently, one could only dream of buying a guitar with a custom colour like this that looked this good; never mind at this price!!
The original photos on the Thomann page did it a major disservice (hence my initial hesitation to buy) ... they've mostly fixed that now; their current photos are more accurate in terms of colour .. though still not 100% correct based on my guitar:
The top is a perfect, not-too-dark/not-too-light, real classy, deep, glossy emerald (with a well centred, perfectly book-matched, very pretty dark flame). The back, sides, lower cutaway and neck are a much darker green (not obvious from the Thomann photos) that shows off the mahogany grain very well under the transparent polished lacquer .. This contrasting use of different greens really sets off the top to look its best. ... mmmmm, GORGEOUS!! .. did I mention that ;-D
The body appears to be made of 2 (or possibly 3) sections and includes a belly-cut & lower cut-away shaping for easy top-fret access; everything appears to be very well done. The shaping and contouring of the body-top and the cut-away's is 'NICE' !
The neck also could possibly be a multi-piece laminate but it is well disguised under the dark green lacquer. The neck shape is quite different to my other HB CST24HB in that it feels somewhat thinner than the generally chunky-ish CST24HB (which is good news for the thumb-over folks out there) .. In any case, the neck is very comfortable. The position of the neck/body joint and the shaping of the lower cut-away certainly do give unrestricted access to those upper frets, even the 24th. Just be careful not to over-shoot by a few frets whilst playing and aiming for above the 12th fret .. it's easily done, trust me, I've been there .. whoops! LOL
The usual top notch service from Thomann, it arrived safe & sound in the UK 3 days after ordering, double boxed and well packed.
An excited check over happily found only a few very minor cosmetic issues with the finish here & there (only noticeable under very close scrutiny). Let's face it, at this price no-one should expect perfection, so a few minor, cosmetic-only issues are totally acceptable (and honestly folks, the few findings on mine are really very minor ... & totally forgotten about once you strap on this beauty).
Generally the as-received generic set-up was good and totally acceptable ... i.e. good to go:
- Strings (new) in OK condition (the odd small spot of corrosion here & there)
- Frets: 24 nicely polished & no sharp fret-ends. Not perfectly level but acceptable (see action details below).
- Fretboard: the usual 'dry' looking "roseacer" which actually has a nice grain-like appearance (it can be improved/darkened by application of a suitable wood treatment). Well fitted off-white pearloid dot markers & cream binding yield a tidy, attractive professional look to the instrument.
- Machine heads: no-name but work well, smooth & accurate to adjust.
- Nut: very well cut, with a low action at the 1st fret for all strings (~ 0.5mm clearance).
- String action: as received medium-low (see my set-up comments below)
- Controls/pots: smooth to turn; the push/pull switch on the tone control is easy to operate (see my set-up comments below). I love the master volume, master tone control layout of this guitar ... very practical!
- PU switch: OK. Note: The position of the switch takes a little bit of getting used to ... but it's fine after a bit of practise.
- Trem/Bridge: Excellent. It has a push in arm with friction positioning via a grub-screw. It came set-up floating (see my set-up comments below).
- Balances well on a strap; very comfortable to play; not heavy (~3.5kg); "ergonomic" is a good word for the overall design.
- Acoustic sound: bright with plenty of sustain (which bodes well for the electric sound)
To really get the best out of a HB, generally you do need to perform some set-up work & this was true here. However, to be fair, my experience, having now bought 3 HB's, is that Thomann do a pretty good job setting them up so that the out-of-the-box condition should be good enough for a beginner ... but I'm just too fussy I guess; plus I do enjoy getting to know the guitar a bit more intimately by doing a full set-up ... which for this guitar was:
Remove strings; polish frets (not much needed here); treat fretboard surface; put on new set of 9's; set nut action (no major change needed here); set neck relief & string action & bridge saddle radius (I got it down to a clean playing low action: 1mm on 1st & 1.5mm on 6th at 12th fret); adjust trem (floating with approx minor 3rd pull-up on G string; very stable tuning with firm trem action & the arm stays where it's put ... what a great trem system ... other brands should take note, this is how it should be done!!!!).
After doing this set-up, the guitar played (& looked) as good as one costing 3, 4, 5 times the price IMO.
Played through my amp, happy to say it sounded very good, at least in isolation in my back room playing by myself. The stock Wilkinson pick-ups are usually totally acceptable with no real need to be swapped out; & this is true here. With the controls on full, the tone is full but still bright & clear.
But ... the tone control just destroys the sound when fully rolled off (it has a 47nF cap in there, so that's why ... much too large IMO). The coil-split works OK on both PU's and yields a much thinner/quieter/hollow tone that I found out later (at the gig) is just too far away from the full humbucker sound to be really useful (hmm .. a mod is required there me-thinks (a la PRS!). Also, there is the expected drop off of treble as you turn down the volume ... so I did modify the circuit to address these points:
: Change the 47nF tone cap to a 15nF: now the tone control can be used throughout its full travel
: Change to 50's wiring (i.e. tone cct after the volume pot) with the addition of a tapered treble bleed ("Frank Falbo mod")(180pF). Now there is no loss of treble and the Vol control has a great taper that can easily clean up a dirty amp. Very Nice!
: Not done yet but next time under the hood: modify the push/pull switch cct to have a "partial" (= not full) coil split (by adding a low value (= 1k & 2k) resistor to ground on the split coil in each humbucker; this hopefully should improve the 2 coil-split sounds).
Note: the original wiring was acceptable & tidily done ... 'though the pots & switches are very cheap types (but work fine .. for now)
So having now played my 1st live gig with this guitar, which I find is the best test of what a guitar sounds like (i.e. playing in amongst drums, bass, etc) I can say: it did not disappoint. It played wonderfully, stayed in tune perfectly, sounded excellent and gave me all the sounds I wanted (though I didn't use the coil-split sound much for the reason mentioned above) .... & of course, it looked stunning!
OK, for the sake of balance, here are the few negatives I could think of:
- Cosmetic issues: 1cm thin crease in the veneer in the top cut-away; a few odd tiny speckles under the gloss coat here & there; slight gap under the pick-up rings; light scratch on the body-back; some 'sharpish' edges on the nut; cheap looking truss-rod cover.
- Frets: some minor levelling issues identified by a fret-rocker (but do not hinder getting a great low action)
- Electronics: very cheap (but still totally functional) components; too large value tone cap (47nF!); bog-standard electrical circuit used.
Sorry, that's all I could come up with on the negative side.
Irrespective of price: What a Great Guitar! But at this price ... unbelievable!! 5 stars all 'round.
The bottom line: GET ONE!!