Highland Royal HEG-500

Sunday, September 13, 2009| by Will Chen

I’ve always been seduced by semi-hollow body guitars. Something about them just seems to be both sexy and classy and I’m always on the lookout for affordable ones which capture the classic cool of days past. One day while surfing eBay and browsing guitars, I stumbled upon the Highland Royal HEG-500. Highland is a relatively new company that imports guitars from China and is distributed by the Power Group LTD which also is the North American distributor for Alvarez, Crate, and MTD (Michael Tobias Designs). While Chinese guitars still retain somewhat of a stigma, Highland is shooting for the upper mid- range price bracket with their semi- hollow and full -hollow arch tops guitars, typically retailing from $500 to $900 (with occasional deals to be found on eBay).

This guitar definitely draws its inspiration from the Gibson ES-355 and is quite the looker with a transparent wine red finish displaying the nicely grained maple top (back and sides are also maple). To put an exclamation point on this fine looking guitar, the wooden pickguard has a flame maple laminate and has been etched with an “H” in a nice font (their company logo). However, there are a couple black spots on the guard, one of which is visible from a bit of a distance which detracts slightly from the guitar’s overall appearance. The high- end appearance of the guitar continues up the neck, featuring Mother of Pearl split parallelogram inlays and the headstock features an inlaid Mother of Pearl Highland logo. All the inlay work is extremely tidy; I couldn’t see a drop of filler. One final sweet accoutrement is the fully bound neck, body, and f-holes which are absolutely flawless. I can’t say I’ve seen another Chinese made guitar with inlay and binding work as clean as the Highland Royal.

Caressing the 24 ¾” scale maple neck was an instant turn on; this beauty is probably the chunkiest in my collection. Coupled with the medium (per the specs, I would say they’re on the jumbo side) perfectly dressed frets and 14” radius Indian Rosewood fretboard, I was becoming rather infatuated with the axe. Careful inspection did reveal an extremely slight hump on the neck under the 12th fret, but I can’t feel it while playing. The synthetic bone nut was nicely cut, though there were some tool marks along the side of the neck. Tuning stability was rock solid and the unbranded tuners feel surprisingly Grover-like

...after dialing in the Royal’s neck pickup, I was instantly transported back in time doing my best to summon the ghosts of the hot jazz and blues kings of days past. Conversely, dialing in the bridge resulted in a surprising amount of jangle, just shy of twang.

I auditioned the guitar on various rigs and performances including a VHT Classic 6, Tech 21 Trademark 60, VOX AC4TV, and various AmpliTube products and the results were a bit confusing to me. I believe part of the issue at hand is the Alnico V humbucking pickups aren’t matched as well as they could’ve been. In some cases, I found it hard to balance the chocolaty warmth of the neck with the jangly bite of the bridge. It seemed when I dialed in a tone I liked and then flipped pickups, I was back to twisting knobs. Though, in almost every scenario, I liked the neck tones better than the bridge tones which just seemed to lack low- end punch by comparison. I should also mention that the pups were hot, almost too hot for a semi-hollow guitar in my opinion and rather modern sounding in nature. I would have much preferred a lower output Humbucker or even P90’s to get a bit more clarity from the guitar across the board. That being said, after dialing in the Royal’s neck pickup, I was instantly transported back in time doing my best to summon the ghosts of the hot jazz and blues kings of days past. Conversely, dialing in the bridge resulted in a surprising amount of jangle, just shy of twang. Partnering the bridge pickup with the Vox AC4TV set for medium amount of breakup really conjured the tones of the British Invasion era rootsy rock. Treble is attenuated when reducing volume, so a treble bleed cap will likely be in this guitar’s future. The tone knobs were effective across the pot’s entire throw, but I found little need to roll them down, especially when using the neck which was warm and full. Reducing the tone of the bridge took away the meat of the pup’s tone.

Highland has built a good 335 style guitar in the Royal HEG-500 with some high- end features not often found in its price range. While Highland has a dealer network across the US, Canada, and Europe, they’re a bit difficult to find online. I paid $319 with a nice and stylish faux alligator covered hard shell case which I feel was a bit of a steal.

Price: $319 (eBay auction)
Pros: High end looks, chunky neck, excellent playability
Cons: Mismatched pickups, no treble bleed caps

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Filed Under: Highland, Reviews