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How a $200 guitar from Amazon compares to a Gibson Les Paul

My main guitar since 2003 has been a cherry red Gibson Les Paul Junior Special (affectionately known as Roxie). The action is smooth like butter, and the P90s pickups both compliment and inform my playing style — they have a crisp, clear analog warmth, with the thickness of a humbucker and the bright twang of a single-coil pickup.

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But I recently got a chance to mess around with a Donner Seeker DST-400, a budget guitar for a newer brand that you can get for about $200 on Amazon. My very first electric guitar was a Fender Squier Strat; I still have it, too, even though it’s been heavily modified. We also used a Fender Squier Telecaster as the “guestbook” at our wedding, and while I don’t play that one very often, I’m still familiar with the feel and style of those sort of lower-end models. So I have to admit that, compared to those Fender budget brands … this Donner guitar is pretty damn good. The action is a lot necessary — certainly not the level of my Gibson, but it doesn’t feel like a budget guitar when you play it. Physically it resembles a Squier Strat (albeit with a different headstock), but what really makes it standout is the pickup arrangement. Squier guitars typically come with 2 or 3 single-coil pickups. But the Donner mixes it up by adding what’s known as a “split coil” or push-pull pickup. What this means is that it looks like a humbucker, but you can essentially “switch off” one of the pickups that comprises the humbucker, leaving you with a standard single-coil pickup. And all it takes is a push or a pull of the volume knob!

A lot of higher-end guitars feature these split coil/push-pull pots, and it really makes the Donner stand out. You get so much more more tonal possibility. You can get a thick, chunky humbucker rhythm sound, or a bright twang lead riff, both from the same guitar — and that’s in addition to the other 4 pickup positions/combinations you can use on the guitar. The very first thing I did to my old Squier was add a humbucker pickup in the bridge, because I was playing loud punk rock, and that was the sound (plus I had a shitty amp that hummed a lot). If I were buying my first guitar now — or looking for a starter guitar for someone else — this Donner is exactly what I’d get. The push-pull split coil pickup lets you figure out what kind of sound you want, without having to make any modifications.

To demonstrate the difference, I made a little video, which you can see above, where I play through one of my band’s songs on the Gibson LP, and on both pickup settings of the Donner Seeker DST-400. I tried to cut it together so the song keeps going, so you can hear the change moment-to-moment for a direct comparison. You can hear another take on a different song below (this one using the 4th pickup position, mixing the split-coil bridge pickup with the middle pickup on the Donner):

To be clear, the Donner Seeker DST-400 is not an amazing guitar. The plastic nut and tuning pegs aren’t so great at keeping it in tune (although the setup was surprisingly decent right out of the box). Some of the accessories it came with were also lacking; I’m not a Whammy bar guy in general, but oof, that bridge does not want to stay in tune. The translucent wood grain forest green finish is pretty nice though. The frets are a little further apart than the frets on my Gibson, even though both guitars are supposedly designed to same 24.75″ scale, but I actually don’t mind the slight difference; it sounds counter-intuitive, but the larger frets make me feel like it’s easier it play. The deep C-neck shape is a little different than I’m used to, too, but I don’t mind it, and it fits surprisingly well in my hand. Again: great starter guitar overall, and with a few modifications for some higher quality parts, it could be a decent backup, too.

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