Sometimes inspiration or creative enthusiasm can strike at the strangest of times. Halfway up a mountain perhaps. Sat on a beach. We can all remember examples of dreaming up the perfect chord progression or melody line, but being miles away from our instrument of choice. Thankfully, there is a solution and it comes in the (often altered) shape of the best travel guitars in this list.
From shrunken down versions of the electric and acoustic guitars we all know and love, to entirely bespoke instruments designed with portability in mind, travel guitars fill a very specific niche. Let’s take a look at travel guitars in more detail, and show some examples of a few that might be worth considering for your next festival, camping trip or beach party.
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What is a travel guitar?
Essentially, a travel guitar is a guitar designed with portability and mobility as its key function. This will usually mean the guitar has a significantly smaller body or weight, and they often boast creative solutions to common issues like tuning or storage. From conception to construction, the travel guitar is designed to be thrown in a bag and transported anywhere, everywhere, and all those places in between.
Standard-sized guitars can be, as we know, too large, too heavy or too delicate to carry around for long stretches, so travel guitars offer a specialist tool for those specific situations. Realistically, you’ll not find too many studio musicians reaching for the travel guitar to nail that perfect tone, but then that’s not what they’re for. Portability, size and weight are order of the day here, and it helps that there are travel guitars on the market today which also nail that other crucial element; tone.
What makes travel guitars different?
At first glance, the sight of a dedicated travel guitar can jar a little. Often, they have quite striking aesthetic differences from regular guitars. Like looking at something you know, only quite different. Manufacturers employ all kinds of measures as they seek to reduce the overall size and weight of the guitar, and it’s not uncommon to see guitars without headstocks, or with radically different shaped bodies, or even no body at all. Yet a guitar still has to function, so there is still the need for tuning pegs, a bridge, and other essential components.
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What are their key features?
There are two major schools of thought when it comes to travel guitars. One is to take a regular sized guitar and zap it with a shrink ray, keeping the same proportions relatively but in a smaller overall package. This approach ensures the instrument retains its familiarity, and also makes them attractive to younger learners.
The other approach is to redesign the instrument completely, perhaps taking the tuning pegs and installing them in the body. Of course, such radical design changes can create other problems, so you may see these compensated for with the inclusion of detachable arm and leg rests, for example. While these guitars may look unfamiliar, the playing experience should be largely the same as a regular guitar. Scale lengths, fret locations and pitch will be the same, even if the physical form of the guitar is quite different.
Are travel guitars playable?
If you’ve never had the chance to play a travel guitar, you may be looking at the best travel guitars in this list and wondering if it’s playable in the same way as a regular guitar. The good news is that yes, absolutely they are playable. In the same way that jumping from the thin neck of an Ibanez RG-style electric to a 50’s style Stratocaster neck may take a bit of readjustment in your technique, so too will the leap from a regular to certain travel-sized guitars. It’s not difficult to adjust though. You may also have to sit differently to accommodate the smaller body, but as these guitars are inherently lighter in weight, this shouldn’t cause too much of a headache. Or, more accurately, backache.
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Who might use a travel guitar?
The breadth of today’s range of travel guitars means there is a guitar to suit most playing styles and genres, so the quick answer is that yes, there is a travel guitar for everyone. In terms of scenarios, travel guitars are, as their name suggests, designed to be taken places ordinary guitars cannot reach.
Small enough to fit on your back as you scale a mountain, or taken on a plane as part of your hand luggage, travel guitars give players the freedom and convenience of being able to play anywhere, at any time. For that, we applaud them. Let’s examine some of the best travel guitar options available today.
The best travel guitars you can buy right now
If the more outlandish styles of travel guitar aren’t for you, maybe the Baby Taylor will be. This ¾-sized dreadnought comes with all the quality and projection you’d expect from one of the acoustic world’s biggest names, just in a size that can be hauled around anywhere without breaking your back. Or, indeed, your wallet.
The Baby Taylor would be the perfect option as a second (or third) guitar in anyone’s collection, designed to be stashed in the included gig bag and taken anywhere. Players with larger hands may feel a bit cramped navigating the 22.75” scale length, but for the majority of people the Baby Taylor is easy to recommend.
We weren’t lying when we said travel guitars can jar a bit visually. The Martin Backpacker has a unique body shape, that’s for sure, but coming from a name like Martin you can rest assured this guitar will perform brilliantly. What surprised us was the volume and projection this little guitar pumps out, thanks in part to the solid mahogany used in the body.
Originally launched in 1992, the Martin Backpacker has carved itself a nice niche in the world of travel guitars, and its exceptional build quality means it will last for many more years to come.
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While not officially marketed as a travel guitar, the Steinberger Spirit GT-Pro Deluxe definitely fits the bill due to its distinctive size and shape. The classic Steinberger ‘headless’ design is correct and present, making the same bold visual statement of its more expensive stablemates, yet the decision to use wood over composite materials makes the whole thing more cost-effective and suited for travelling.
Despite the smaller body, the Spirit GT-Pro Deluxe features a scale length of 25.5”, making the actual playing area larger than that of a standard Les Paul. It’s also pretty rare to find neck-thru bodies at this price point, which all adds up to a decent value instrument regardless of how you end up using it.
It’s called ‘cognitive dissonance’. That conflict you feel when something you know to be right is challenged. The Traveler Travelcaster Deluxe is a relative example; to look at it, you can instantly see those famous Stratocaster outlines of the pickguard, the three single coil pickups and the control knobs. Yet the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed anything on the body that isn’t underneath the pickguard has been shaved away, leaving a guitar which is 35% lighter and 14% shorter than a regular Strat.
Weighing in at only 5 lbs, the Travelcaster Deluxe may take some getting over visually, but in use it provides that same Strat experience, the same 25.5” scale length and the same tonal versatility of those pickups. If you can get over the cognitive dissonance, it may just be the perfect travel guitar for you.
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The Hofner Shorty has been around since the 1980s, and has long been a favourite for players looking for a portable electric they can travel with. It provides full scale-length familiarity which, when combined with the tiny body, makes for a comfortable playing experience. The single humbucker at the bridge is meaty enough to blast out your favourite riffs, while you’ll feel instantly at home with the classic maple/rosewood combination neck and fingerboard.
Sure, it’s not going to win any awards for tone, and you’re unlikely to see them used on album-of-the-year contenders, but as an inexpensive way to add a bit of portability to your line-up the Hofner Shorty is well worth consideration.
Choosing a travel guitar doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on your needs. The Traveler Escape Mark III comes equipped with plenty in the way of tools and toys, and it all comes in 26% shorter and 10% lighter than a standard dreadnought.
The Escape Mark III features tuning pegs within the body itself, which means it has no need for a headstock and is instead strung in reverse. The onboard electronics are both extensive and useful too, with an under-saddle Shadow NanoFlex piezo system, tuner, aux-in and studio headphone out making for quite a comprehensive setup for the traveling player.
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If you’ve surveyed the list of travel guitars and decided you simply can’t compromise on size or dimensions, then the Voyage Air VAOM-02G2 might be the answer. You see, guitars are fundamentally quite an awkward shape to travel with, largely because of the neck. Voyage Air solves this problem by including a patented neck hinge which, quite literally, folds the guitar in half. Simple!
It is a radical solution to an age-old problem, and makes travel with a full-sized dreadnought acoustic a much more agreeable situation. The guitar itself is decent, and the neck hinge has been tested within an inch of its life so can be relied upon, despite how strange it might feel the first few times you unfold it. Just remember to slacken those strings off before you execute the fold…