Donner DST-200 Designer Series Electric Guitar Review

The Donner DST-200 Designer Series is a Stratocaster-style budget electric guitar with beginners in mind.

This review will take a thorough look at the DST-200 to give you an idea of whether it may suit you or not.

If you’re a beginner or thinking about learning guitar, learn the part names of electric guitars in this guide before reading this review.

This review is written with beginners in mind, so you don’t need to have an expert-level understanding of guitars to learn everything you need to know about this guitar.

Donner DST-200 Features

Here are the main features of the Donner DST-200:

  • HSS pickup configuration
  • 25.5″ scale length (learn about scale length here)
  • Push-pull tone knob for split coil
  • Poplar body (pink or black)
  • Maple C-shape bolt-on neck with satin finish (learn about neck shapes here)
  • Perilla fretboard with 22 frets
  • Vintage style synchronized tremolo

I’ll explain the above features and why they’re important to understand throughout this review.

The DST-200 is a Stratocaster-style guitar that comes in pink or black as shown below:

Donner DST-200 Pink or Black

Donner DST-200 Ease of Use

The body of the DST-200 is made out of poplar and the neck is made out of maple with a Perilla fretboard.

Poplar is a soft hardwood and is found in a lot of budget guitars because it’s cheap and commonly available.

The neck has a satin finish which feels smooth and easy to play with.

Once I tuned up the strings, I was surprised that both the action height and the intonation were set up well from the factory.

Intonation is easily adjustable on this type of bridge, but it was nice to see that it was set up properly. That’s one less thing a beginner needs to worry about when getting started.

If you don’t know about intonation, read this guide to understand why it’s important to set it up properly. Read the guide to learn how to check your guitar’s intonation and how to fix it if needed.

The vintage-style tuners felt fine to use and held the tuning fine. Keep in mind that when you get a new guitar, it may take some time for the new set of strings to settle, so it’s normal for the strings to fall out of tune as they stretch.

Once the strings on my DST-200 settled (new strings take time to stretch and hold tuning stability), the tuning held fine for normal playing.

Donner DST-200 Vintage style tuners

The tuners felt firm and I didn’t notice any slippage or inconsistencies between them.

The bridge on the Donner DST-200 is a vintage-style synchronized tremolo.

This means if you attach the included tremolo arm (shown below), you can push it down and it will lower the pitch of the notes you play.

Donner DST-200 Tremolo arm

Depending on the style of music you play, you may never use the tremolo arm. Some styles of music occasionally use it, while other styles use it all the time.

The more you use a tremolo arm to dip and dive notes or chords, the more the tuning will fall out of tune. Even higher-end guitars with high-quality tremolos can have issues with tuning stability, so don’t expect the tremolo on a budget guitar to have great tuning stability.

As I expected, the strings on the DST-200 fell out of tune with mild tremolo use. This style of tremolo just doesn’t offer good tuning stability.

The tremolo is perfectly fine for learning purposes. You can learn how to use the tremolo arm to dip and dive notes, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you plan on performing live and need to play a lot of parts that involve the tremolo arm.

The action height was comfortably low without causing any buzzing frets. It was nice to see that one of the tags on the guitar headstock was a string action ruler, so if you want to adjust the action, you could easily measure the height.

Learn more about action height, why it’s important to understand and how to adjust it here.

Donner DST-200 Headstock

The DST-200 came with a strap, a good-quality carry bag, a set of Allen keys, and a guitar cable.

For a ~$200 guitar, I was surprised with the quality of the accessories – especially the guitar cable. The 10ft (3m) cable is easily the best quality cable I have ever seen come with a guitar.

Even guitars with double or triple the price often come with cheap plastic cables, so it was a nice surprise to see these sturdy metal ends and the soft rubber feel of the cable.

Donner DST-200 Guitar Cable

As you can see from the above photo, the cable comes with one straight end and one right-angle end.

Donner DST-200 Sound

The Donner DST-200 comes in an HSS pickup configuration. HSS stands for Humbucker – Single coil – Single coil.

In the below photo, you can see that the humbucker pickup (the double pickup) is closest to the bridge (on the right). The other two pickups are called single coils.

Donner DST-200 Pickups

Most Stratocaster-style guitars come with a single coil pickup instead of a humbucker in the bridge position.

The advantage of the HSS configuration is that you can get a punchier/tighter tone when playing with high gain for rhythm parts. Humbuckers produce less unwanted noise and in the bridge position, they can produce great rhythm tones.

If you play rock, metal, or similar styles that use distortion, you will likely prefer the sound of humbuckers compared to single coils in the bridge position.

A surprising feature with the Donner DST-200 that usually isn’t found on budget guitars is the ability to ‘split’ the humbucker.

The second tone knob is a ‘push/pull’ knob, which means you can pull it up (as shown below). When you pull the knob up, it ‘splits’ the humbucker so it sounds like a typical single coil pickup.

The knob was tough to pull up and I had to slide my fingernails under the bottom to grip it. I expect it will loosen up over time, but it does seem quite tight compared to other push/pull knobs I have on my guitars.

Donner DST-200 Push pull split coil

This feature means you can easily change back and forth between a humbucker sound and a single coil sound in the bridge position.

The below diagram from the Donner website shows how this push-pull function works with the different pickup positions (yes, they spelled Humbucker wrong):

Donner DST-200 Pickup configurations

This push/pull feature gives the DST-200 an extra boost in versatility. You can use the humbucker for tight rock/metal rhythm parts, or you can pull the knob and get a typical Strat sound.

The overall quality of the tones produced by these pickups was far better than I expected. I have played a lot of budget guitars from students over the years and some budget pickups can sound nasty.

The single coil pickups in the DST-200 weren’t noisy and produced barely any hum compared to most of the other budget guitars I own. They produced more high-end than I prefer, but after adjusting the EQ on my amp, I was happy with them.

If you’re a beginner on a tight budget, it would be hard to find a new guitar with better quality pickups at this price. They’re perfectly fine for beginners and can sound quite good when combined with a good amp and pedals.

Keep in mind that some pickups you can buy cost more than this guitar, so there’s little point comparing the pickups in a $2000 guitar with the pickups in this guitar.

Donner DST-200 Reliability and Quality

Entry-level or budget electric guitars are usually hit-or-miss in terms of quality. Some manufacturers consistently produce bad-quality guitars, while others produce cheap guitars that easily stand up against entry-level guitars from big-name brands.

I had never played a Donner guitar before, so it was very interesting to put the DST-200 to the test.

Keep in mind that every guitar is different, so my experience with this guitar may not be the same as other DST-200 guitars for sale.

A common issue found with lower-priced guitars is the fret ends tend to stick out or feel sharp. If you run your finger along the edge of a fretboard, you shouldn’t feel any sharp edges from the frets.

The below photo shows the quality of the fret ends on the DST-200.

Donner DST-200 Fret closeup

You can see that the end of the fret is rounded off nicely and doesn’t stick out. Almost all of the frets were as smooth as the fret in the above photo.

A few of the upper frets had a rough end on the side with the side dot markers (shown below). But because those fret ends are over the body of the guitar, you would never feel them.

Donner DST-200 Neck joint

The neck was also very straight once tuned to pitch. Not buzzing frets at all while the action was comfortably low.

For a budget guitar, that’s a big win. Learn more about this and why it’s important in my guide on truss rods.

The paint job was perfectly fine and I didn’t find any issues or imperfections on the body. The only issue was the paint on the headstock (covered later).

The nut in the DST-200 is plastic, which could become an issue in the future depending on how rough you are with your guitars.

Plastic nuts aren’t ideal for tone or durability, but if you take care of your guitar and are careful when restringing it, you shouldn’t have any issues such as wearing down the string slots.

Donner DST-200 Nut

The Donner DST-200 has a bolt-on neck and you can learn about the different types of neck joints in this guide.

Donner DST-200 Back Plate

Bolt-on necks are standard for Stratocaster-style guitars and the main issue to look for when buying a bolt-on neck is if there is a gap between the neck and the body. Or if you’re buying a secondhand guitar, look for cracks in the body near the neck joint.

The DST-200 I reviewed has a nice tight fit on both sides. This should be expected with any guitar made today as CNC manufacturing has significantly improved the quality of budget and mid-level guitars (many high-end guitars are still handmade).

There was a slight issue with the placement of the bridge. It looks like it wasn’t mounted perfectly straight.

In the below photo, take a look at each string and where it sits on the string saddles.

Donner DST-200 Vintage style tremolo bridge

The strings on the left sit in the middle of the saddle (where they should be), but the strings on the right have slid off-center and sit to the left.

Because the vintage-style saddles don’t have grooves for the strings to sit on, they’re free to move around the saddle.

This hasn’t caused any issues yet and I’m not sure whether it will cause an issue in the future, but it’s a reminder to look closely at budget guitars for possible issues.

Everything else with this guitar has been of good quality, so it was a bit disappointing to see this issue.

The only other issue I could find was that one of the machine heads didn’t sit flush with the headstock as shown below. I’ll update this review if it ever causes issues with tuning stability.

Donner DST-200 Paint

You can also see some slight imperfections with the headstock paint on the edge. The headstock wasn’t properly masked during painting, so some paint bled through the edge.

Apart from these two issues, I couldn’t find any problems or quality concerns. When you consider the price of this guitar, that’s impressive.

I’ll update this review in the future if there are any issues that come up.

Overall Impression of the Donner DST-200

Overall, the Donner DST-200 is a good quality option for beginners or intermediate guitarists wanting a Stratocaster-style guitar on a tight budget.

The HSS pickup configuration and the push/pull feature gives you access to a nice range of tones.

While there were minor quality issues with the bridge placement and tuner on the guitar I reviewed, I was happily surprised by the overall quality of the fretwork and hardware.

Some guitarists will hate the feel of the super-light strings that come installed on the guitar, while other guitarists (especially beginners) will like how light they feel under your fingers. You can easily change to a different string gauge if you don’t like the feel of them.

Check out the Donner DST-200 on the Donner website here.

Donner DST-200 Pros

  • Great build quality and features for the price
  • Comfortable and straight neck
  • Action height and intonation were perfect from the factory
  • HSS pickup configuration with split coil gives nice range of tones
  • Good quality accessories

Donner DST-200 Cons

  • Tremolo tuning stability
  • Many guitarists won’t like the super-light gauge strings installed
  • The pickups are brighter than more expensive guitars that may not suit everyone

Who is the Donner DST-200 for?

If you’re a beginner or thinking about learning guitar on a budget, the Donner DST-200 gives you a good quality guitar at the lowest price I would consider.

The HSS pickup configuration and the ability to split the humbucker give you access to a nice range of tones.

Single coil pickups can be great for clean tones as well as drive tones, so if you like the idea of playing around with different tones, I recommend buying a guitar with an HSS configuration.

I’d have no problem recommending this guitar to a lot of my students. The only students I wouldn’t recommend this for are those who play heavy or hard styles of music and who aren’t interested in versatility. Sometimes you want a guitar that only does one type of tone really well. If the type of tone you get from single coil pickups doesn’t suit you, there are other budget guitars that will suit you better.

If you play heavy styles of music with lots of distortion or overdrive, have a think about whether you will prefer a guitar with a HH configuration (two humbuckers).

The HSS configuration works great for many styles of music, but this isn’t a metal guitar. Check out my guide for metal guitars to see what to look for. The guide is worth reading for any heavy or hard styles of music – not just metal.

How to Get the Most Out of the Donner DST-200

Here are some things you can do to get the most out of the Donner DST-200 or any similar budget guitar.

  1. Give the strings a good wipe down before you play (mine were slightly dirty/oily)
  2. Check and adjust intonation
  3. Check and adjust action height
  4. Use a string gauge that suits you best

Reading the above guides and following the advice can help you get better performance out of any guitar.