Donner are a new guitar company who’s name will be familiar to anyone looking at beginner guitars on Amazon, as in a short space of time they have all but flooded that market.
However, while larger brands producing entry level guitars like Squier (owned by Fender) and Epiphone (owned by Gibson) have a hard won reputation for quality and consistency that demands a slightly higher price, Donner have yet to prove themselves in this area.
Indeed, we have previously found the DST-102 strat style starter pack to be such good value for money that it topped our round up for beginner guitar and amp packages.
Will the LP-124s (provided free of charge for this unpaid review by Donner) live up to our expectations?
Let’s take a look!
Donner LP-124S: Who Is This For?
The Donner LP-124s is a true beginner’s guitar. It looks the part, and is priced perfectly to either buy for somebody else as a gift, or for someone to buy for themselves if they are just getting started. Either way, this Donner offers a great way to experience electric guitars and learn the fundamentals – it’s a full-sized instrument, and it’s a real guitar, unlike some of the department store box sets that you might otherwise look at as a beginner.
Donner LP-124S: Appearance / Features / Controls
First impressions of this Donner LP were excellent! We found that the Sunburst finish was very nice, the top of the body and even the headstock had a well applied cream binding, and at first glance, the surface, fit and finish were great. If sunburst isn’t your thing, it also comes in a nice glossy black finish.
You’ll get a solid body made from solid African basswood. Basswood is a solid tonewood that, while common on guitars at this price, is also used on more expensive models, too. The basswood keeps the guitar light, our test model weighed in at a shade under 6lb. The neck is made from African mahogany, which is another premium wood, and an unusual feature at this price point.
Not only is it light weight, it’s also nicely balanced. This is especially important for beginners in order to maintain proper posture and therefore proper technique. Ultimately, it’s a very comfortable guitar to hold and play.
This guitar comes with a Tune-O-Matic style saddle and a stop tail bridge. This hardware is made from stamped pot metal but overall, it looks good and the intonation adjustment screws turn freely.
One of the nicest things about this Donner guitar was that it came with an accessories bundle. The best part of the bundle was the gig bag, which we found to be fairly substantial. It came with padding to protect the guitar, and ample pocket space for strings, picks, cables, or music and tab sheets.
Also included with the kit was a strap, and a cable. The strap quality was pretty poor. We found that it didn’t hold on to the buttons properly, putting the guitar at risk of falling should you be playing while standing. Fortunately, you can pick up decent straps fairly cheap, and we would definitely recommend doing so.
The cable was fantastic, there would be no need whatsoever to replace this. It’s not exactly premium, but there was no crackle, no noise or interference, and the jacks were well connected, which is everything you need in a cable to begin with.
Donner LP-124S: Performance/Sound
To get started, we first looked at the tuning and tuning stability. The machine heads were quite unresponsive, and had quite a lot of play before engaging the gears to turn the pegs. After we had the strings at pitch, we did find that frequent adjustments were required. Keeping your guitar in tune while playing is one of the most important things for any guitarist to do, so the more often you need to tune up, the less time you spend playing.
Action was nice and low on this guitar, which is ideal for the beginners that this guitar is aimed at. This reduces the effort required to depress strings, which increases comfort. Although, we found that it did choke out during big bends on high frets, so some action adjustment may be required as players advance towards learning solos.
Next, we wanted to test how the LP124S sounded. It is equipped with open coil style dual humbuckers. With humbuckers you should be looking for thick, fat tones, and minimal buzzing coming from your amp when you aren’t touching the strings.
First, we looked at the neck pickup. Here we found that the tones were surprisingly creamy, with good response to changes in attack. Tones were well balanced, and overall, pretty clear.
In the middle position, the sound remained identical to the neck position, and when we checked the bridge position, there was no output at all. This is when we learned that we had been sent a defective guitar. Donner did offer some troubleshooting suggestions, but none worked, and our initial suspicion of the issue being caused by a faulty pickup selector switch that would not engage the bridge pup, was correct.
After some time manipulating the selector, we were able to get the bridge pickup working. We did this by switching back to the neck pup, then turning down the volume, and turning it up again while engaging the bridge, but of course, the selector was faulty, and we shouldn’t have to use a workaround.
After we got the bridge pickup working, we found it to be quite muddy. There was very little brightness, and overall, it sounded very raspy. If you were planning to keep this guitar for a while, changing the bridge pickup would be highly recommended.
Next, we tested the pots for swell, and found them to be quite binary. Between zero and 3 on both volume and tone, there was very little change, then a drop off at just over 3 that made very little difference all the way up to 10.
We then spent some time noodling, playing some licks and chord progressions, and found that this guitar is actually very comfortable. The neck has a medium C profile, and while it’s not the narrowest neck, it does still allow plenty of reach to the fretboard, and it feels great. The finish on the neck is satin, making it easy to move up and down without your hands getting stuck like they would on a glossy neck.
The frets were good. There were no sprouts, and everything was finished flush with the neck with no sharp edges whatsoever. The crowns of the frets were a little rough, which can sound scratchy during bends and vibratos, but they will definitely smooth out over time with use.
Other Guitars to Consider
In the event that the Donner LP124-S doesn’t appeal, but you’d still like a dual humbucker guitar, take a look at the below alternatives around the same price point. Note, that none of the below alternatives come with the accessory kit that the Donner does, and would require separate purchase of a gig bag, strap, and cable.
Epiphone Les Paul Special VE
This is the guitar on which the Donner is based. If you choose the Epiphone, you’re getting a guitar from a well known brand with a good quality assurance process. It may be right at the bottom of the Epiphone range, but remember buying Epiphone is the only way to get an officially licensed copy of a Les Paul.
Squier Bullet Mustang
For just a little more than the Donner, you can pick up a Squier Bullet Mustang. Like the Epiphone, Squier is a well known brand, representing Fender’s line of wallet friendly guitars. Again, they also have the benefit of a well established QA process, so, inconsistencies and issues from the factory are rare.
This is obviously not a Les Paul style body, but it is equipped with a pair of humbucking pickups, as well as a single tone and volume control, so as far as layout goes, it’s very similar to the Donner. These Mustangs are available in a range of really cool colors, and they’re a great way to stand out.
ESP LTD EC-10
Another great LP style guitar at a similar price point is the ESP LTD EC-10. It’s more aggressive than the Donner and the Epiphone, with hotter pickups. The components are similar in appearance to the Donner, but a world away in quality.
The design is absolutely based on the Les Paul, but this is no slab. It features ergonomic cutaways for comfort and easy fret access.
Final Thoughts on the Donner LP-124S
In all, we found the pickup issue to be something of a shame. It’s very easy for seasoned players to beat up on cheap beginner models, but in truth, they’re actually some of the most important guitars on the market. Without affordable, quality guitars, young people, and those trying to see if they even like playing may never get their start, and that’s exactly who guitars like the Donner LP-124S are aimed at.
While the broken pickup selector was disappointing, we were pleased with Donner’s willingness to try and rectify the issue, although the fact that they tried to send a different model may indicate knowledge of a wider issue with the pickup selector.
If this was a fully working guitar, we’d probably gladly recommend it for players just getting started. The guitar itself looks really nice, the finish is strikingly good, and for learning the basics, it would do exactly what you need it to. But even though your mileage may vary, we would still recommend looking at any of the three alternatives suggested above instead.