Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always the case that high-profile guitarists – with their seemingly endless pool of guitar gear resources – opt to play the most expensive electric guitars on the market. In fact, some of the most well-known pro players have played cheap guitars, from Prince and Brian May all the way to Eddie Van Halen and St. Vincent.
It’s testament to the fact that you really don’t need to fork out a fortune on an instrument when far more affordable, and reliably robust, alternatives are out there.
Another name that can now be added to that growing list of cheap gear champions is Scott Poley, a session ace who recently took one of the cheapest guitars money can buy on an extensive arena tour with his Fleetwood Mac tribute band, Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac.
Specifically, Poley took a second-hand Harley Benton ST-20 Stratocaster copy on the road, and used it for 113 arena shows across the UK, USA and Canada.
Now, the Harley Benton ST-20 will be familiar to many guitar fans, and though brand-new examples of the slash-price Strat can be bought for as little as $95, Poley purchased his for even less, forking over just $40 for the white-finished workhorse.
In a series of videos posted to his YouTube channel, Poley revealed he was determined to prove that, with just a few minor adjustments, the astonishingly cheap electric could be capable of surviving a grueling touring schedule, and perhaps even more importantly, sound good at the same time.
With the help of his tech Phill Orme of Doghouse Guitar Repairs, Poley souped up his Strat copy with just a handful of tweaks – all documented on YouTube – swapping out the factory output jack for an alternative that would work with the Neutrik silent jacks on his chosen guitar cables.
Other adjustments included blocking out the vibrato for better stability, and a minor nut adjustment that was required after the standard 10-46 electric guitar strings were replaced with a slightly heavier 10-52 set.
Under the hood, the control cavity received some TLC, with Orme eradicating the possibility of scratchy pots by treating the components to some DeoxIT Fader F5 – a widely used pot lubricant that.
As far as adjustments are concerned, Poley left the Harley Benton otherwise untouched, though admittedly compensated for his lack of spending in the guitar department by pairing the ST-20 with a high-end rig, comprising a Milkman tube amp, Little Walter 1x12 cab and Boss Blues Driver overdrive pedal.
Though the ST-20 performed admirably throughout the 100-plus date tour, that’s not to say Poley wouldn’t make further, even more significant upgrades to the Benton if he decided to turn it into his number-one instrument for bigger tours. Specifically, he’d change the “underpowered” pickups.
“What can I say about this guitar? It’s great,” Poley commented. “It’s consistent. It sounds good. Problems with it? The pickups are underpowered for this kind of stuff. If I was using it longer term, I would replace the pickups. I say that, the pickups are fine!
“I mean, they’re not bad; they’re just a little underpowered for something like this. This is really serious touring. But they sound okay. They just sound a little bit quiet.
“It’s a really special instrument, this, and I’m going to miss it a lot, because I’ve really fallen for it.”
Despite developing an affection for the instrument, Poley plans to give it away on April 1. For details on how to win perhaps the cheapest guitar to ever grace an arena tour, head over to Scott Poley’s YouTube channel.