John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. Former automatic-transmission repairer, welder and hobbyist game developer.
Like many things in life, guitars have a way of resonating (pun intended) with people, and though the tone and style of play are major determining factors in what guitar you decide to play, sometimes you’re just drawn to a certain style.
For me, it’s the Gibson ES-335.
Now, I say Gibson because it is they who first brought the ES-335 to the world, and it is they whom everyone else is copying when bring a 335-esque slimline archtop to market. But the truth of the matter is, I am neither a good enough guitar player to warrant owning a Gibson, nor am I a collector inclined to shell out a couple thousand pounds to buy one just for the sake of having it.
Of the many, many alternatives for Es-335 style guitars, one particular guitar caught my attention. So much so that I bought it. And where better to share my findings than here on Hub Pages.
The Benson ES Double Cutaway
This guitar stood out because, well, it’s cheap. Very cheap. At the time of writing this review, you can pick up one of these guitars from Amazon or eBay for a little under £150 (with free shipping no less).
Now, in an age where you can pick up a second hand stratocaster for £20 if you look hard enough, the price doesn’t seem that impressive, but bear in mind that most—probably all—of the guitars you see for less than £200 are solid body. The price of a solid body guitar can fluctuate depending on the materials used, but the manufacturing process is relatively simple. Not so for a hollow body, where the body is constructed from multiple pieces and needs to be carefully put together.
So you’re probably thinking the same thing I thought when I first discovered this guitar; “It’s obviously going to be a cheap mess that doesn’t stay in tune and feels like a toy.” However two factors came into play for me. Firstly, I was willing to throw £150 at this guitar to find out if it was any good. Secondly, I was looking for a “beater” guitar that I could have around the house and not worry about the occasional knock or scratch. So I decided to get one.
And I have been more than pleasantly surprised. Let’s get into some details.
Of course, I tried to do a little research on the people I was buying from, and found very little to go on. Whether Benson are a new company, a fake company, a very secretive company, I don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be a website associated with them (and if there is they need to fire their SEO guy), and I couldn’t find much in the way of reviews or people talking about this brand. In fact the only evidence I could find that these guitars exist (other than their sales pages on various outlets) was a lone YouTube video of one being played. You can find that video below if you're interested in how the guitar sounds.
In the end I decided to go ahead anyway. I was buying through Amazon, and they are pretty good at dealing with returns, and there didn’t seem to be any negative reviews on Amazon or other sites where you could buy their guitars, such as eBay.
The Benson ES Double Cutaway is available in a few different finishes, including gloss black, a blue sunburst, and even a Union Jack flag version. I opted for the cherry red finish.
The guitar itself is made from maple, and is clearly modelled on the Gibson ES-335, including a pickguard, four dials (two tone, two volume), and a three way switch to choose between the bridge humbucker, the neck humbucker, or both. The neck is inlayed with trapezoid inlays of what looks like mother of pearl, though I can’t find anything actually saying it’s mother of pearl. The finish on the guitar is very glossy, a common feature among cheap (often fake) guitars. Presumably it’s cheaper to drown the guitar in lacquer than to use more traditional guitar finishing methods. Whether or not the glossiness of this guitar is a turn off is a matter of personal taste. The tuners are die-cast chrome, and the headstock bears the Benson name, separating this guitar from a regular “Chibson” (a fake Gibson made in China) by actually branding itself.
As a nice aside, the guitar came with a few picks, a strap, a cable, and a gig bag. Theoretically you could take collection of this guitar at a gig and be ready to go out of the box... though I wouldn't recommend it.
Now, let’s nitpick a little.
I own an Epiphone ES-333, so that is my main basis of comparison as I can compare the two side by side. The first and most obvious difference is the neck join. Where the Epiphone neck joins seamlessly with the body, the Benson seems to have been joined at a slightly different position, bringing the fretboard closer to the face of the body and creating a lip on the back of the guitar. It doesn't affect the playability, however, and I suspect I wouldn’t have even noticed it had I not another guitar to compare it to, but there you have it. Both guitars feel roughly the same weight, though the Epiphone uses some lighter materials in its construction so one might speculate as to what Benson have left out of their design to get the weight down.
The build quality of the Benson feels fine. Nothing feels like it will break in a strong breeze, there are no unsightly seams or poorly finished areas. I did notice that input jack nut was loose, and two of the four control knobs were slightly askew, but I considered these minor as I could fix them myself in a short time.
As you might expect, the two humbuckers are not the best, though they are far from unusable. I found them to be a little too muddy for my tastes, especially given that this style of guitar is supposed to be a jazz instrument. Moving up the fretboard, the machineheads are useable, however I put a set of new strings on it (the strings it arrived with were way too light for my playing style) and there were noticeable dead spots when winding the new strings on. That being said, after quite a bit of playing, I’ve yet to hear the Benson fall significantly out of tune.
Decent Build Quality
Range of Finishes
Sub par Tuners
Comes with Accessories
This guitar is a great low cost guitar, quite possibly one of the best I’ve seen in this price range. If you were to compare it to an Epiphone or a Gibson, of course it falls short, but when you compare it to other guitars in the £150 price bracket, it holds up magnificently. Really the only major pitfalls I could find were in the quality of the hardware, and the hardware can be changed (and I intend to change them at some point).
Whether you want a guitar for noodling around the house with (as I did), or you want something you can gig without fear of damaging an instrument that you sold a kidney to pay for, the Benson ES Double Cutaway could be the guitar for you.
If, however, you want a high quality instrument straight out of the box, or you’re looking for a little prestige, you should look elsewhere. Just be prepared to spend far more! As with all purchases, it's about finding the right balance for you.
© 2016 John Bullock
Dr Craig Bridges on July 05, 2020:
Good, unbiased reviews.
Michael Abernethy on July 23, 2019:
Hi John your review was excellent and I've taken the plunge and purchased one. Just as you say the pick-ups are a bit 'muddy' and I was wondering if I could pick your brain as you said you yourself intend to change them. I'm a bit new to making any sort of modification to a guitar and wondered if you'd be able to give any advice on the actual size of the pick-ups I would need to buy? Your help would be much appreciated thanks
Robin on September 11, 2018:
Is the binding proper binding or is it painted on do you know...
Mycol on July 11, 2018:
Have been looking at this guitar for weeks.. Great review - many thanks
Mario on January 20, 2018:
Thank you John. Very good review indeed. Just ordered mine. Peace
John Bullock (author) from Yorkshire, England on October 06, 2016:
Interesting, Strawkins. I've only had this guitar a few weeks so I can't comment. Perhaps I should follow up this review in a year or so.
Strawkins on October 06, 2016:
There are a lot of apparently good quality inexpensive guitars out these days but I'm always unsure how well they will last - particularly whether the neck is strong enough. I've seen lots of guitars that look great when new but the neck joint doesn't last more than a year or two before warping or coming away from the body.
Fixing tuning heads, bridge, electronics is one thing, but a broken neck joint is another matter entirely. I'd be tempted to get this based on your review but the neck issue is one that always pushes me towards looking out for second hand guitars that have lasted the test of time.
John Bullock (author) from Yorkshire, England on October 06, 2016:
Thanks! (I've enjoyed quite a few of yours since I've been here). It does seem the base quality level of guitars is rising. I went back to my first ever guitar (admittedly it had been collecting dust in a corner for years) and it was terrible to play. When I got it I didn't know any better!
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on October 06, 2016:
Very good review. There are lots of very good guitars made in Indonesia, Korea, and China these days. And some of the traditional materials for any guitar template are being substituted in such manufacturer instances with non traditional ones which can prove to be quite up to the task for not so much cash.
The very first guitar I ever owned was a Picador guitar. I've only ever seen that one from that make, but it seemed to me to play better than the Gibson LG-O that my folks replaced it with.
Gibson is great. But they're maybe over-priced in many cases. Anyway, enjoyed your article!