When a budding guitarist is first starting out, there’s a lot to learn. One of the first questions that they typically have is ‘what do I need to buy’? That’s simply because most people don’t know what they don’t know.
To help make things easier for the true beginner, many mainstream guitar manufacturers offer handy starter kits. These kits usually include a guitar and many of the accessories someone needs to hit the ground rockin’. Big name brands like Fender and Gibson have several on the market, but we at KGR want to show you an option you might not have considered: the Donner DST-102 Electric Guitar Starter Kit.
Let’s be a bit blunt here—it’s true that the Donner brand isn’t usually the first to come to mind. But once we took a closer look, it became increasingly obvious that Donner really has a winner here, so much so that we chose it as best budget pick in our electric guitar starter pack roundup.
Full disclosure: at this price point, you can’t really expect to get the quality of a full-blown USA-built Strat along with a top end lunchbox amp. On the flip side, the quality level really is more than a few steps above what we were expecting to see. If you’re looking for a kit but you’re not ready to break the bank, the DST-102 is a way better option than most.
On top of the great price, this kit from Donner includes a lot of items and accessories that others overlook when they’re starting out. Donner truly went beyond what many of the competing brands have to offer. The devil is in the details, and just about everything we can think of is here. Not only that, but it’s all at a “sweet spot” street price for most people that are just starting out.
Let’s dig in to all that the DST-102 has to offer.
- Who is this starter pack for?
- How does it compare to other starter packs?
- Contents of the kit
- Appearance, Materials, Hardware and Playability
- Other starter kits to consider
- Summary and conclusion
Who is this starter pack for?
As the name implies, this pack is meant for people who want to start playing guitar and might be intimidated by all the choices. If you look on online forums, you’ll see thousands of pleas from people who want to learn how to play guitar, but are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. Donner’s easy solution is to put everything you’ll need into a single affordable pack of goodies. The pack includes everything a starting guitarist might be looking for, and it’s all very affordable. It seems too good to be true, so let’s take a look at what’s in store.
How does it compare to other starter packs?
The Donner Starter Kit is similar to other starter kits in both contents and quality. But this doesn’t mean there’s no difference at all. Donner chose to include a better gigbag in exchange for a smaller amplifier. In our opinion, this is a smart choice on their part. Having a solid gigbag in which to carry around the guitar is essential for extending the longevity of the instrument.
Contents of the kit
As we said, this pack is full of stuff you’ll need to start out playing electric guitar:
- Full size strat-style guitar
- 3 watt solid-state amplifier
- Solid padded gigbag
- Nylon guitar strap
- Pack of strings
- Battery powered clip-on tuner
- 10ft. instrument cable with angle jack
- 4 guitar picks of different thicknesses
- Tremolo bar and bridge adjustment allen key
The list of contents is quite extensive, and for its incredibly low price of less than $150. The rule used to be that cheap equals bad, but with the advancements in guitar building such as CNC machines and improved quality control, that rule doesn’t apply anymore. It’s truly amazing that Donner can offer so much at such an affordable price.
Appearance, Materials, Hardware and Playability
Let’s get into the details.
These guitars are obviously inspired by the ever-popular stratocaster. This isn’t original at all, but there’s a good reason that this shape is so popular—it’s versatile. As a beginner guitar player, you likely have yet to explore different tones and ways to play. With this guitar, you’ve got a lot of options when it comes to tones. The guitar pickups are H-S-S, which means: Humbucker, Single-coil, Single-coil. Single coils tend to give a warmer, quackier sound, whereas a humbucker is louder, brighter, and fuller. This makes it perfect for more heavier styles of music. Having all these options is essential for experimenting and finding your own sound, and Donner was smart to include them.
The guitar comes in a wide variety of colors, including Sunburst, Lake Blue, Black, Ivory White, Red, and Sapphire Blue. Donner truly offers colors for everyone.
A nice little detail is Donner’s custom neckplate. This plate is positioned at the base of the neck on the back of the body, where the two parts meet. It’s engraved with the Donner logo and adds a nice, personal touch to the instruments. This detail is brand-oriented without being too flashy.
The amplifier doesn’t look like most amplifiers, and is styled more like a classic radio. This doesn’t affect the amp’s performance, but is another more unique detail.
Body and Neck Materials
The body of the guitar is made of solid basswood, which is a dense and resonant wood. It’s not the preferred choice of wood for expensive guitars, but it’s still good for beginner instruments.
The guitar’s neck is made of maple, and it has an ebony fretboard. This is a very popular combination of woods for guitar necks. Ebony is supposed to sound full and round, whereas maple sounds brighter. The wood of the neck doesn’t change much about the sound, but it’s still good to think about when designing a guitar.
It’s interesting that Donner chose to use ebony for the fretboard, as it’s definitely pricier than blackwood or other similar woods. Ever since rosewood got on the list of endangered tree species, brands have been forced to choose other woods for their guitars, and ebony is the top choice for higher-end guitars. This wood choice is nice to see on a cheaper guitar.
The amplifier is made of plastic, and is very light and compact. It feels cheap, but it’s relatively sturdy, sounds okay, and will still last a while before upgrading.
All the other items in the pack are made with relatively cheap but durable materials. They’ll hold up, but nothing is of amazing quality, as is to be expected on such an affordable kit.
Hardware and Electronics
The hardware on the guitar is made of nickel, which is a low quality metal for hardware. This doesn’t mean it’s bad by any stretch of the imagination. The tremolo is not very good, as is expected on guitars in this price range. But a few pennies and some tape is all that’s needed to block it and turn it into a solid hardtail. The tuners stay in tune fine, but they’re not the greatest—same with the nut. This is definitely a nitpick as it’s so cheap, and the materials are no worse than that of other guitars within this price range.
The pickups are the ‘Donner Unique Design’ pickups. They’re manufactured by Donner themselves, and they’re supposed to sound rich, warm, full, and balanced. To be honest, they sound similar to other cheap pickups. They’re sort of muddy and bassy, with not a lot of high-end and clarity. They technically sound warm, but perhaps a little too warm. The bridge pickup is pretty bright and kind of harsh, but it’s fine for heavier styles of music.
All of this doesn’t mean the pickups are bad—they’re fine for beginners. But you’ll eventually want to upgrade if you want a better sound.
But as we all know, the majority of the sound comes from the amplifier. The amp is a 3 watt solid state amp. This is a little underpowered for playing with other people, but for bedroom practice it’s all you’ll need. The amp has two channels: clean and distortion. It’s also got master volume, distortion volume, distortion tone, and distortion gain controls.
Most other starter kits come with a larger amp, but seeing as the amp is something you’ll probably want to upgrade first anyway, there’s really no point in going fancy here.
A nice detail about the amp is that it’s battery powered. This means you can go out and play anywhere without relying on any available sockets.
Feel and Sound
The guitar, putting it simply, feels good. The neck has a very comfortable C-shape profile that fits most hands. The neck has a thin satin finish that’s very smooth and fast to the touch. The frets are relatively well rounded, and feel pretty smooth going up the neck. The cutaway at the neck is large enough to reach all 22 frets, which is a cool addition, as most strat-style guitars only come with 21 frets. The addition of the 22nd fret makes it more modern—it’s not just copying, but also improving on the classic design. This once again tells us it’s not just a one-to-one copy of a Squier, but Donner has actually put some thought into it.
The amp is easy to operate, and all the other accessories feel fine. The strap is a little narrow so it doesn’t soak the weight of the guitar as much as a wider strap would, so it feels a little on the heavy side. But considering the price, everything is fine.
Now onto the sound. The pickups of the guitar are comparable to other brands within the same price range. They sound fine, but they’re nothing to write home about. This kit is meant for practice, and so this guitar sounds exactly as good as it needs to. If you’re playing with other people, they’re not gonna hear the difference, so it’s okay if the quality isn’t the best.
The amp doesn’t sound too hot, as expected. It does its job just fine, though there are many better amps out there. What can you expect from a battery powered 3 watt amp? It sounds better than some of the other popular amps its size, like the Marshall MS-2.
It’s loud enough for bedroom practice, and could even be used on the street because it’s battery powered. You can even hook it up to an acoustic guitar and play with another low-volume instrument like a violin.
Lots of other starter kits come with 10-15watt amps. These amps aren’t particularly better than the Donner amp. The 10-15watt amps aren’t loud enough for band practie or gigs anyway, so there’s little point in spending more money on an amp that’s just as practical as Donner’s.
Other starter kits to consider
If you don’t think Donner is quite your style, here are some other starter kits that we recommend.
Squier is another brand known for making great instruments at low costs. The guitar in this Squier pack is very similar to Donner, spec wise. It also comes with the versatile H-S-S pickup configuration. This pack also comes with an amp, strap, cable, gigbag, and picks. It’s a very popular choice for beginners, and for a reason. Squiers’ stuff has been great for decades, and you can trust us when we say that even their cheap models are great.
This pack costs about $100 more, but it’s absolutely worth it. Even though the Donner guitars are good, the Squiers are a tad better.
Speaking of versatile guitars, bring in the Les Paul! For new players who love the classic look of the Les Paul more than the look of a Strat, the Epiphone Les Paul Starter Pack is a perfect choice. It includes everything the Donner Kit includes. The guitar might be a little nicer, but the difference isn’t night and day.
For a longer list of alternatives, be sure to read our complete guide to electric guitar starter packs.
Summary and conclusion
So, is the Donner kit a good starter pack? Absolutely. It’s a great and extremely affordable option for players who want to learn how to play. Would we recommend this set for someone who is new to guitar? Definitely.
- Nice, good looking guitar with great specs
- Decent amp, perfect for its purpose
- Accessories are nice, and exactly what you’ll need
- Great for the price and purpose
The main difference between this pack and the others is the price. It’s incredibly affordable, and it comes with everything a beginner could need. For the price, it’s actually pretty darn good. It’s hard to believe that these guitars are so cheap, and that’s a huge compliment to Donner.