Hondo H1010B, H1030N
Let's face it, with your first electric guitar, the word you want to hear is "cheap". It may be fashioned from balsa and shaped like a frying pan, but at least it's got six strings and you've started.
But next time round you should be looking for something with a few more controls, an easier action, a fuller tone and so on. Though there are many superb instruments available for around £200, you might not be able to stretch that far, which is where the Hondo Professionals come in.
Neither of these two have the class of the Squiers or Tokais but they do have more to offer than the bog standard, "£60 and I'll throw in the cardboard box" variety. Both are based loosely on the SG double cutaway format and have humbucking pickups that can be switched to single coil for a difference in tone.
If it's a flashy appearance you're after, then the natural Hondo H1030N would be the one. Cosmetically it presents a lot of extras you'd normally expect on a guitar two or three times the price — gold trimmings, brass nut, decorative walnut strips and felt washers for the strap buttons.
Of course that depends on you. If you want a slick, gleaming instrument to impress your mates (or boost your own ego) then this six string would take some beating. Personally I would have preferred Hondo to have spent more of their time setting the action and intonation which were dreadful and perhaps slimming down the neck to make it less of a handful.
For that reason I preferred the simpler all black Hondo H1010B. This time the action was fine without any buzzes and you'd be rewarded by a solid and responsive tone. It's not a particularly rich or subtle sounding creature and at volume it becomes boxy, but there was nothing in it to be cruelly ashamed of...
The neck is not unlike early Les Pauls and is thick and well rounded, especially near the octave. I found the rosewood fingerboard on the dry side and not as speedy as it might be. Regular use and a light oiling would assist. By far the biggest problems were the sticky machines and a badly cut plastic nut, which held on too tightly to the G. As I tuned it, nothing happened for half a turn then it leaped in pitch as the string came free.
That's the sort of minor maintenance you can carry out yourself by carefully widening the slot with a fine hacksaw blade.
Only a single volume and tone control for the two pickups on this one, where the H1O30N has a pair for each. Yet I favoured the sound of the H1010B especially on the coil tap selection where there was less loss of power.
Each of the Hondos was finished to a reasonable standard, in fact the H1010B had a deep, near flawless gloss and both of them felt surprisingly heavy. The natural Honda seemed to have too great a percentage of its weight concentrated in the neck and didn't balance quite as well as its partner.
I occasionally feel that Hondos sacrifice certain constructional standards in favour of looks, but then who wants to own the greatest guitar in the world if it could pass as an offcut of plywood? H1010B £119 H1030N £139