Your next trip is right around the corner and this time you’d really like to take your guitar. But you can’t see taking that full size dreadnought acoustic, and luggage space is a concern. A smaller travel guitar would sure fit the bill right now!
What traveling guitarist hasn’t been lured into thinking about a portable guitar? Avoiding size hassles at the airport and crammed overhead bins, or keeping your vehicle trunk clear of a huge acoustic guitar case with room for your family’s baggage sounds pretty good. Enter the travel size guitar! In this article we’ll review top criteria for choosing a travel guitar, and our best picks.
Features You Need in a Travel Guitar
Major factors to consider in a travel or “couch” guitar are size, sound projection, balance/feel, and tuning. Some so-called travel guitars are still nearly as big as a ¾ guitar, and may not save the cargo space you were hoping for. Sound is a big deal also, and any smaller guitar gives up volume. The guitar should also have nice physical balance while you’re playing, not being lopsided on one end or the other. Lastly it should tune up well and stay that way. A quick note here – any time a guitar gets shorter in scale, it becomes more difficult to tune. This is just simple geometry and physics. That’s why nice tuning heads are critical, something often forgotten on cheaper guitars. With these items in mind, let’s get into our top choices for best travel guitars!
# 1 Choice - Martin Backpacker Guitar
The Martin Backpacker travel guitar has been around perhaps longer than any other, making a name for itself among guitarists and guitar shops. It’s our top pick for a travel guitar.
The main reasons are it is a true travel-size instrument that retains a lot of tone and volume for its size, and is still nearly full-scale length! For backpacking or hiking, you won’t find a better choice. Guitar scale length refers to the length of the neck from nut to bridge in inches, which usually ranges from 24.75 to 25.5 inches. The Martin Backpacker strolls in at an impressive 24-inch scale, which is an achievement for any portable guitar. Its lightweight, stick-like construction is pretty amazing for the feel and tone this little guy produces. If you know anything about backpacking, it’s different than camping because backpacking implies there is a fair amount of hiking to even get to your first camp destination. This is because many great iconic camp spots are not always accessible by car. Gear weight becomes critical, and this is where the Martin shines with its lightweight construction and slim profile. Professional backpackers spend a great deal of money on gear to shave off weight; premium-backpacking gear is typically lightweight construction while retaining build quality. The same is true for the Martin Backpacker, which comes in a steel string acoustic version and a classical nylon string. Lastly, the Martin is well balanced in weight distribution, meaning it will sit on your leg evenly and not topple from one side to the other. This is a challenge with some other portable guitars. If there’s a tiny downside to the Martin, it’s not going to pack the audio punch of a Taylor Baby or Mini CS, but that’s because those guitars cost more and boast more mass. The Martin still sounds excellent though!
The Martin retains a great amount of projection and volume for its size. Compare it to other ‘travel guitars’ of its size and Martin’s sound wins out every time. With a nice neck, feel, and quality tuners, the longstanding Martin Backpacker is our top pick for travel guitars due to its nice sound and true portability, and is a good buy at around $225.
# 2 Choice– Taylor Mini GS
Just when you think Taylor can’t possibly offer more innovation to the guitar world, they come out with something else to impress. The Taylor Mini GS is a really fine traveling guitar.
It wins out in tone and projection from all of our other choices, and comes in a variety of finishes.
It's our second choice simply because of size and price. It’s considerably bigger and more than double the cost of the Martin. It is also just slightly shorter in neck scale length than the Martin, which doesn’t make sense since it’s a larger guitar (some people used to full scale guitars will have issues playing smaller scale necks, that’s why we like the Martin staying so close to a full scale neck in an travel axe). Boasting a price tag of $650 and more for some sub-models, we think the Mini GS is quite a bundle to spend on a travel guitar with other alternatives. It’s also nearly double the cost of the Baby Taylor, which some already consider a couch guitar or travel axe.
Aside from these issues, the Taylor Mini GS still delivers. It’s true Taylor quality and sound in a smaller package. It is just a bit heavier on the wallet and shoulders than the Martin, if you’re trekking on foot or schlepping other gear. But if size and cost are not a concern and you’re just looking for something a bit more portable than a standard acoustic guitar, then by all means jump on the Taylor. You won’t be disappointed; it’s Taylor quality all the way!
# 3 Choice– Applecreek Travel Guitar
A distant 3rd on our list is the Applecreek Acoustic Travel Guitar. "Applecreek" sounds like more of a hidden vacation spot than a guitar, but it’s the latter that is becoming harder to find lately.
One you probably haven’t heard of, the Applecreek is quite a steal for about a hundred bucks if you can locate it. It’s also higher quality than anything else you’ll find for a bit more than a crisp Benjamin (that’s street lingo for a C-note). The Applecreek has a decent tone, respectable neck, and smooth tuners that stay in tune well for its small size. Some would consider it a 'poor-man’s Martin Backpacker'. It’s not going to blow you away with tone or projection like the Taylor or Martin, and it does suffer from some balance issues and may not sit perfectly on your lap or knee. One solution is to install a guitar strap.
The Applecreek would be an option if you can’t afford the Martin or Taylor, and don’t want a cheap plastic travel guitar from Asia that was thrown together and won’t stay in tune. It is wooden construction and has nice quality tuning heads and ours stayed in tune quite well. It’s definitely playable and reliable, and we tested more than one. Certain Applecreek travel guitars even come with electronics, in the odd chance you plug it in to an amp on the road.
To really keep things compact, some companies make folding guitars. Yep, the guitar literally ‘folds’ in half, thanks to a robust hinge replacing a neck joint. There’s a wide range of quality here, so check reviews on brands.
A folding guitar solves two big problems – the guitar is suddenly more compact than all others and can even be packed in a cardboard box. Plus the fear of breaking the guitar neck while traveling or crammed in a trunk full of luggage is virtually worry-free because of the compact footprint. Pictured here is the Voyage-Air folding acoustic guitar, which uses a strong hinge and locking mechanism to collapse and re-assemble the guitar to playable position. The strings go loose during the folding process but are unharmed.
A final choice is just getting a small-bodied cheap child’s guitar like a 3/4 or half-size instrument. We would put this option in far last place above all others, but for less than a hundred bucks you just might get an equal amount of enjoyment out of having something to play on your next road or camping trip versus the sound of acapella crickets. And you won’t be worried sick about damaging it at this price point.
Whatever your choice, do a little research ahead of time, and if possible listen to and hold each travel acoustic guitar before deciding. If you order online, make sure there is a good return policy in case it doesn’t meet your needs.
So that wraps up our travel guitar reviews. Whether singing in the pines or drowning out crashing waves, we hope all of your guitar road trips are good ones!
Jason E. - GSR Staff Writer
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