"Hey GuitarAttack…I want to buy a starter guitar for my teenager, but I don’t know what to buy. I don’t want to spend over $300, and it has to be good enough for him to use while he is learning. Help!"

This is a common email theme at  Mom and Dad want Junior to play guitar, but they are just clueless on what to buy. Harmony Central has reviews – they are usually either glowing or “I hate it” in tone.  We decided to review one of our very favorite inexpensive guitars, the Peavey Raptor EXP. This guitar lists for $199, and the street prices range from about $139 to $159.

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a lot of guitar for less than $150.

Using Harmony Central’s rating scheme, we’ll lay out what we’ve seen with our sample guitar.

Features: This guitar is pretty well equipped. It has a humbucking pickup in the bridge position, and two single coil pickups. There is a master volume and a master tone, and a five position Strat-style pickup selector. It has a 21-fret rosewood fingerboard neck, and a solid, multi-piece body. The bridge and tremolo system is borrowed from a Stratocaster, and there were no surprises on how it operated. Overall, it is a very attractive guitar with a nice balance. It is about the same size as one of our FM guitars, but has a 25 ˝” scale like a Stratocaster.

Sound: The guitar sounds good. Plugged into a Peavey TransTube, the humbucker is very hot and sounds nice and metal. The single coils have a nice ring to them, and the five position switch allows a nice, Strat-like quack tone -- think the opening to “Sweet Home Alabama” or “LaGrange”. The humbucker is quiet, and is waxed potted to keep the squeal down.

Action, Fit, and Finish: The finish on the body is very nice. It is a transparent red finish, and the wood grain from the multi-piece body is nice and straight. The neck pocket is very tight, and the neck is finished with a clear, flat finish which feels very fast. However, like most Chinese guitars, this rig needed some significant setup to play well -- see below. The frets, however, were particularly well done, and there were no sharp edges on the fingerboard.  This guitar's fretwork is far superior to the Mexican Strats we've seen lately.

The nut, like most of the lower priced guitars, is made of plastic, and took some work to get the action down at the first fret. All of these nuts are a little tight around the strings, and they can cause the string to bind in the slots.

We searched and found no low or high frets, and overall the neck was impressive. I believe the lesson here is if you buy any of the lower priced guitars, you are going to have to have it setup by someone who knows what they are doing – it is not going to play like a dream out of the box.

Reliability/Durability: We opened up the guitar, and found a pretty typical layout for a Chinese-made guitar. The two pots were 500k, and, while pretty well done, the wiring was not very robust. We are probably going to replace the pots and the switch with something more substantial in the future, but the quality is actually pretty good for a guitar in this price range. We’ll continue to report back, but we have no reason to believe that this guitar won’t hold up just fine.

Customer Support: Peavey has good customer support, and because we got this guitar from a real store, we can expect great customer service.


Alert for the potential buyer -- we adjusted the height of the bridge and the intonation when we got it, but the adjustment screws were way high, and very sharp.

The top photo shows the adjusting screws protruding above the bridge saddles.  If you want to do a Pete Townshend windmill, it might get a little painful.  We played it like this for a couple of days, and it was clear that this would not work.  We were going to just cut the bottoms of the screws with a Dremel tool, but it was actually clear that we needed to shim the neck.

We had to take the neck off and shim it to get it to the proper playing angle. As you can see in the second photo, we produced a nice, smooth playing surface on the bridge.

Is this a big deal?  No, because most new Stratocasters need this treatment also.  Cruise through Guitar Center, and you'll see that just about every one has some setup issues.  The reason that guitars need adjustment is twofold:  First, pure economics drives the desire to get these guitars out of the factory, and setup is a time consuming process...that doesn't get done to standard; second, because guitars are made of wood, the neck and the body will expand and contract in temperature extremes, and it is a long boat ride from China to Meridian, Mississippi.  Guitar manufacturers "rough in" the guitars, and make them playable...just not killer.

We also adjusted the tremolo.  We like our bridges flush against the body, so we took the middle spring out and did some adjustment to the tremolo claw on the back.  We also worked on the tremolo bar.  We put it in a vise and bent it down to about 90 degrees, or even with the body.  It was bent unsuitably  high -- almost a 45 degree angle when installed.

Once these pretty simple adjustments were done, we were extremely happy with the way this guitar played.


Again, this is a great starter guitar or backup for anybody out there. For about the price of a Saga kit, you can get this guitar finished and assembled. It looks like a great deal to us, and we think you should check them out.  Highly recommended!

UPDATE, June 26th, 2005:

We've been playing our Raptor for the past month, and it is playing great!  Once the neck settled in, we adjusted it and lowered the action.  We are extremely happy with this guitar, and we give it a hearty (Hartley?) endorsement.  You will not find a better value for the money.  Contact Ken at KKs,, and order one today!


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