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Harley Benton CLB-10SE review

A short-scale, travel-friendly acoustic-electric bass guitar that treads lightly on your budget

Harley Benton CLB-10SE
(Image: © Harley Benton)

Our Verdict

A decent beginner or backup acoustic bass at a very enticing price.

For

  • Affordable.
  • Portable.
  • Good tone for its size.

Against

  • Tuners are unreliable.
  • Difficult to play above the 12th fret.

The Harley Benton brand has made significant strides in recent times with their budget-conscious bass offerings, and this electro-acoustic bass guitar is no exception. Designed as a ‘travel’ bass, its 23.5” scale length makes it ideal for players who need an affordable alternative to carrying a long-scale, regular-sized instrument with them on their travels. 

Equipped with a three-band preamp and tuner, it would appear to have the necessary features of an electro-acoustic instrument. So how does it perform?

Build Quality

The bass displays some fine timber choices and finishing, with mahogany used for the back and sides, a Sitka spruce top, a nyatoh neck and laurel fingerboard, and ivory binding around the body and fingerboard edges. An abalone rosette surrounds the soundhole, with pearl front position markers along the front of the fingerboard and black dot markers on the fingerboard edge. The chrome die-cast machine heads turn smoothly enough, not always a given at this price.

The short scale obviously gives the bass a smaller-than-usual feel, but the 43mm nut width and 18mm string spacing are standard dimensions, and the overall weight is pleasingly light. 

It comes with a piezo pickup hooked up to a Harley Benton HB-03 preamp on the top body edge, which offers a three-band EQ, tuner and phase switch, all of which are powered by a nine-volt battery via a compartment alongside the jack socket. Strap buttons are located on the side of the body and underneath the neck joint.

Harley Benton CLB-10SE

(Image credit: Harley Benton)

Sounds and Playability

Acoustic basses can be temperamental, but this one responds well, with a throaty rasp alongside a rounded low-end performance. Fitted with phosphor bronze strings, the bass has a natural ‘zing’, although it should be noted that the E-string feels a little dull and unresponsive compared to the edge of the other three strings.

The basic tonal character when unplugged is full, with considerable sustain and a very usable resonance. The strings coax livelier tones to the fore, which helps to offset the diminished tonal response that is a consequence of the reduced scale length. Considering how easy this bass is to transport, these are reasonable trade-offs.

Harley Benton CLB-10SE

(Image credit: Harley Benton)

Playing technique will be an important consideration with this bass: to achieve clarity and punch of any significance, you may choose to use a pick, as fingerstyle and thumb strokes will merely give you a warm, rounded tone. Dialling in some extra EQ across the three bands is recommended, but take it easy with the bass boost, as pushing it can make the sound distort. 

The neck is shaped very nicely for the player’s hand, and although the action is a little high, acoustic basses sound better with a slightly higher action, in my experience. Tuning the bass up is easy enough, but after a short testing session, its accuracy becomes noticeably suspect. This is a recurring issue, with the instrument struggling to maintain its tuning. The intonation on our review model is also out by some margin. 

Once you travel above the 12th fret, you may find that playing becomes a little tricky, such is the limited spacing between the frets. The strings are supple enough to enable bending, but for accuracy of note placement, you may spend a lot of time looking at the fingerboard.

Harley Benton CLB-10SE

(Image credit: Harley Benton)

Conclusion

Clearly, this is a bass of convenience, and while it addresses the requirements of the travelling bassist, I’m not convinced that you would want to use it on a gig or session. However, it will perform well enough for a rehearsal or home practice, and will be a decent enough option for a beginner. At this price, we won’t complain about its flaws. You get what you pay for, right?

Specs

  • PRICE: $202 / £166
  • BODY: Mahogany back and sides, sitka spruce top
  • NECK: Nyatoh, 23.5” scale
  • NECK JOIN: Set neck
  • NUT WIDTH: 43mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Indian laurel
  • FRETS: 20
  • PICKUPS: Piezo pickup
  • ELECTRONICS: Harley Benton HB-03 active three-band EQ preamp and tuner
  • CONTROLS: Volume, bass, middle, treble, tuner, phase
  • HARDWARE: Chrome hardware, laurel bridge, die-cast machine heads
  • WEIGHT: 4.2 lbs
  • LEFT-HAND AVAILABLE?: No
  • CASE/GIGBAG INCLUDED?: No
  • CONTACT: Harley Benton (opens in new tab)

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