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Monday, May 09, 2016

HLK Bombshell Review

Hard Luck Kings is a small manufacturer of custom guitars in California and have been known for their ability to make what they call "tour ready" guitars that are sturdy, inexpensive, and sound great.  When they put their "Bombshell" guitar on special, I had to have one and the price was absolutely right.  I thought that this would be the deal of a lifetime.

I was wrong.

Pictured right is their website and there is a lovely picture of the guitar I purchased.  The matte green and black just made for a badass looking guitar and after listening to some reviews and samplings on YouTube for that model, I was sold.  The "Tour Ready Gear" advertisement was a bonus because most guitars require a ridiculous amount of adjustment before they are ready to gig.

I couldn't tell you how excited I was when it arrived.  I opened the shipping box and made sure that everything was there and after the satisfactory inventory, I pulled it out of the box, plugged it in and tuned it.  The first thing I noticed was that it was a sonofabitch to keep in tune.  I attributed it at first to new strings but after a few hours of tuning, playing, tuning, playing, and tuning again, I could tell that something was wrong.  

The finish was as nice as they said it would be but there were blemishes on the head stock and on the body.  The plastic cover on the pick guard was trashed and it was obvious that this guitar had to be a return because it had clearly been played hard.  For the price, I thought that it was still going to work out okay regardless.

The next thing was the buzzing of the strings all over the fingerboard.  This meant that a truss rod adjustment was in order and after the adjustments, the buzzing was reduced a bit.  The next problem was the intonation itself and that became a serious issue.

At the 12th fret, the strings were almost a half step sharp with all of the strings so, again, my trusty tools were busted out and adjustments were made on the bridge itself and then, more of the truss rod adjustment.  After contacting customer service and then watching countless videos about the problem, I came as close as I possibly could to fixing the problem, but it will always be an issue to some degree because of how the guitar is made/put together.

The last problem I had was when I noticed that the nut was uneven in string position.  The low E and A strings were higher than the others.  I replaced the strings with lighter gauge strings (which I did not want to do), it was still a problem but when I was tuning, the notch for the low E just busted clean off of the nut.  

Of course, weeks had passed and therefore I had gone beyond the "return policy" so it looks like I am going to have to have another nut set on the neck and ignore the rest of the problems or just never ever play live with it ever.  

The neck feels and felt great, but the pickups aren't "hot" as advertised and in addition, I was not prepared for the amount of noise they generate.  Some noise is to be expected with a single coil setup, but this sounded like a cheap tape recorder microphone was used for the pickups rather than something with even marginal quality.  In all fairness, the bridge pickup isn't bad; it just isn't great.

So, what is the Gorilla's recommendation with regard Hard Luck Kings?

Always remember that you get what you pay for and rarely will you find discounted music gear being a good value.  This was the case with my Hard Luck Kings Bombshell.  If you want to try your luck with Hard Luck Kings, I recommend you do so with a note on your calendar for the return policy and stay within those parameters.  I've seen people who are amazingly satisfied with their HLK gear, but I wasn't one of them.  "Tour Ready" doesn't necessarily mean "gig ready" in my opinion.  Perhaps what they mean is that you can use these guitars on tour as a distraction for would-be thieves to steal them rather than your real live gear.  

Many have had great experiences with HLK and I applaud them for that.  I'm sure that they purchased gear that was not on sale or were simply fortunate wherein I was not so fortunate. 

Conversely, I went out to Shawnee to Music Unlimited and picked up a Jackson on sale for the same price and guess what?  It is spot on.  They adjusted it before I left and it has been one hell of a work horse from day one.  The staff and ownership at Music Unlimited were all really helpful and they were happy to see folks from outside of Shawnee come down to visit.  They have a great selection of Fender, Jackson, PRS, and other brands that you expect to see at another, larger store.  It's a great place to make purchases.  Highly recommended.

Of course, these were all my personal experiences and opinions and I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt it.