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Guitar Under $500? Gotoh Hell!

Updated: May 27

Any gigging guitar player's been there. Some well-intentioned fan comes up to the stage and wants to hold your guitar and snap a photo. And drops your guitar. You know, the one you spent hundreds of dollars setting up, polishing, dressing and dialing in?

Or, maybe where your guitar strap fails, or it falls off the stand? Your intonation will never bounce back. You're pretty much done for the night. Should've brought the spare guitar, right?

Yep. For years I've struggled to find a solid balance between cost, playability, and damage control. Typically, I lean in on the old addage, "You get what you pay for." But when playing on the club circuit, I get nervous taking out my custom built guitars and exposing them to the club where fate crosses paths with people who've had one too many. Or perhaps, like last time at Toots, the strap lock didn't lock, and the guitar went flying in the middle of our Boston cover. Good thing I caught it, but it took time to recover. What if I didn't catch the guitar?

Yep. That's right. I need a cheap guitar that stays in tune for the road. It helps if it looks cool, but is not something I care too much about. And if I break it, it won't break the bank, or my heart. For that matter, any budget conscious guitarist should think it over.

Enter Gotoh, Harley Benton's cheap guitar on Thomann's website. I've seen these things on YouTube pushed by various influencers, who try to convince you they're cheap and solid investments. Well, they are cheap. Solid investment remains to be seen.

Investing means understanding the history, balance sheet, income statement, and having an exit strategy. The four pillars

So let's take a look at the Gotoh.

Harley Benton's DC 200 Shell Pink (discontinued)
Harley Benton's Gotoh shown here was a purchase I made for a cheap guitar to Frankenstein together special effects, like LED's and smoke bombs.

Looking at history, Harvey Benton is a new player on battlefield. Somehow, they've managed to get parts installed into a guitar that's cheaper to buy than it is to get the parts. Not sure if they're flooding the market, but they have a guitar for every budget, even people who don't want to spend more than $100 bucks with Do It Yourself kits. I'm half tempted to get one of these kits to see what happens. You can find them on Thomann's website. But they're getting a reputation of making things affordable because of cheap labor and CNC milling/machinging.

On the balance sheet, you can get a Gotoh for $180 bucks. Cheap. You don't get the fine turners, or amazing high priced pickups. But you get a Tune-O-Matic bridge, a selector switch and two humbuckers. And it sort of looks like a Gibson SG. (see photo above).

So the debt ($180 bucks) to income ratio ($800 bucks/gig) is 22.5%. You can easily recover the cost in 3 gigs, if you split your band's pay out 4 ways should you decide to break the guitar every 4 gigs. The balance sheet is a net positive.

On the income statement, the guitar will not earn you more cash. And it won't cost a dime in set up. You can do that yourself with a slot screwdriver and a credit card to use as a depth gauge. But if you decide to trick it out by adding pickups and strap locks, that's where the cost will steepen. So, the guitar won't earn money for you, and it won't cost you anything in maintenance. It is cash flow neutral if you keep it as is.

For an exit strategy, you can waste the guitar and not feel bad about it. If you drop it, who cares? You can easily buy another one. So that's where it really shines. The Gotoh is the perfect exit strategy guitar. Good enough for gigs, great for high gain music, but incredible if you destroy it.

What I'm saying is this: The Gotoh pictured above is a decent guitar. It suprisingly plays pretty well. For my taste, the neck's a bit more like a baseball bat than a guitar neck. And it nose-dives if you ever let your hand off the neck. The tuners are cheap, and you don't get much out of the neck pick up. I've definately played better guitars in my life.

But there are some pluses. Remarkably, it stays in tune. I've had fewer problems with this guitar than my old Carvin CS-6. My Carvin needed a new bridge and intonating, and once the strings get about 20 hours on them, I've got to change them out. But the Gotoh doesn't need so much care. And if you're playing high gain amplification, like the Peavy 6505+, it holds it's own.

The guitar fails to impress with playability using clean channel settings. But if you need a hunk of junk that'll chunk your way through some thrash metal with, you can count on this guitar. It'll work. And if you need to smash your guitar at the end of the night, you'll still be happy you didn't smash more than a cool $180 bucks doing it.

The pickups are passive, and will get you through a night no sweat. Just don't expect a ton of harmonics you'd get from active pickups. And don't expect miracles. It stays in tune, and I grab it more often than anything else right now (except for my Kiesel Aries - 7 multi scale).

And you might as well re-wire the pickup selector to a 9-volt battery so you can add some electro-pyrophoric device to your performance. Also, don't forget to remove that damned guitar strap knob on the underbelly of the guitar. It sucks. Instead, drill some hook-eyes near the upper cut out and get your army web-belt to hook into it.

I'll update this blog to show you what I mean in a few weeks, after I make the mods.

So, my friends. You'll be seeing this guitar as I begin working with more homemade equipment for the road. I like how it looks, and the pink color's pretty gnarly. So far, my road rig cost $180 bucks for the guitar, $256 bucks for my speaker cab, and $330 bucks for the Peavy 6505+ amp. A grand total of $676 bucks. In about 10 gigs, all this stuff will be paid for, and I'll have better sounding gear than folks who've paid 4x more for pretty much the same thing.

A sonic sample you ask? Click here. You'll hear the guitar (and only this guitar) on the rhythm section of the song. Not too bad, eh?

The longer I play out, the more I'm convinced the industry is full of hype. For example guitar straps: You got to have one, but why are they so poorly designed and engineered? My next blog will be on my guitar strap mods you can do that'll work, and you won't have to spend much money on. Stay tuned.

If you want a snippet of my next releases go to and hear what's going on with my mixes and musical direction.

Love & Rockets, Russ

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