Which travel guitar is best?
One of the main reasons behind the ubiquity of the guitar is its portability, however, a full-sized six-string can be unwieldy and inconvenient while moving from place to place. A travel guitar is a scaled-down instrument that slips into a slim case, is lightweight and eminently portable. While there is often a compromise in playability and volume, they make ideal companions when on the road and they are excellent tools for practice purposes. The Baby Taylor Acoustic-Electric is a fine example of a travel guitar that plays and sounds great right out of the box.
What to know before you buy a travel guitar
Acoustic vs. electric travel guitars
Most players opt for an acoustic guitar on their travels, as these are more versatile since they don’t need an amplifier to project their sound, and can be played anywhere. On the other hand, many players require the speed and playability of an electric guitar, and there are plenty of small-bodied and headless electrics that fit the bill perfectly. Hybrid electro-acoustic instruments with integrated piezo pickups are very popular, as these can also be amplified to boost their volume.
Steel vs. nylon string travel guitars
Many travelers use their newly-acquired free time to learn to play an instrument and the guitar is the most popular option by far. If the travel guitar is your first instrument, then string-type should be a consideration. Nylon-strung guitars are easier to play than steel-strung, as the strings are softer with a lighter tension. With that said, steel strings are easier to find while in far-flung regions and project better than their nylon counterparts. Also bear in mind that the type of instrument dictates the style of music to a large degree, and steel-strung acoustics are far more versatile than nylon-strung instruments in this regard.
Different designs of travel guitars
Travel guitars can be unconventional in their design as they have to prioritize portability. They can therefore either adopt the look of a regular guitar that has been scaled-down or trim down the body to its bare essentials. This leads to acoustic designs that are almost rectangular or are constructed with wire frames to cut down on mass. Many electric travel guitars are more neck than body, often using ball-end strings to negate the requirement for a headstock. These offer plenty of novelty value but can take some getting used to when playing.
What to look for in a quality travel guitar
A good travel guitar should be highly portable, meaning lightweight and small in size. It should also include a soft case (often referred to as a “gig bag”) to make it easy to carry and to protect it from knocks. Bear in mind that soft cases are not as protective as hard-shell cases and proper care must be taken when transporting your guitar from place to place. If you have an instrument with an unorthodox shape, it should come with a fitted case. If it doesn’t, see if the company sells one separately, or look for a close match as the last resort.
As with all instruments, build quality is an important factor, as it affects durability and tone. This is all the more essential in a travel guitar as it is more likely to be subjected to undue stress and knocks while in transit. It is also likely to experience differences in ambient temperature and humidity levels, which can seriously harm lesser-quality instruments. Check for cracks at the neck heel, around the bridge and at other stress points before you buy and ensure any hardware is untarnished and in good working order.
The richness of tone produced is a good indicator of the overall quality of the travel guitar and is essential to your satisfaction as a player. Well-selected woods and professional manufacturing methods contribute greatly to the sound of the guitar and this should be immediately apparent upon playing. If it is an electric or electro-acoustic model, plug it in to test the clarity of the pickup and ensure its electronic components are properly functional.
How much you can expect to spend on a travel guitar
You can spend as little as $100 on a travel guitar that is good enough for practice purposes and casual playing. If you want something that projects well, with good action and intonation, expect to spend $300-$500 for a high-quality small-scale instrument.
Travel guitar FAQ
Are travel guitars suitable for children?
A. Travel guitars make great instruments for children as they offer good quality on a smaller scale, to suit their smaller physiques. Should they outgrow the instrument, then they can use it as it was intended while traveling or as a backup guitar.
What accessories do you need for a travel guitar?
A. Traveling guitarists should have a selection of strings, guitar picks, a strap and a well-fitting case. Electric players should consider a small portable amplifier and some leads to connect it. All players should include a small digital guitar tuner in their accessories, as these can prove invaluable, especially when playing with others.
What’s the best travel guitar to buy?
Top travel guitar
What you need to know: This compact Taylor is beautifully crafted and versatile, as it can be played both acoustically or through an amplifier.
What you’ll love: With an ebony fretboard, mahogany top and Sapele back and sides, this ¾-size model is both exotic and aesthetically pleasing. It uses the Taylor ES2 pickup system with a built-in equalizer, chromatic tuner and a preamp, giving it volume and tone that belies its small stature.
What you should consider: Two CR2 batteries are required to power its small preamp.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top travel guitar for the money
What you need to know: The Traveler is a quirky electric option that is the perfect practice tool for the mobile musician.
What you’ll love: While it is highly compact, this guitar has a full-size fretboard, meaning you don’t have to compromise between playability and portability. Its clever design has a supporting arm that sits on your leg and a piezo pickup under the bridge for amplification
What you should consider: This guitar does not balance as well as a regular instrument and requires some support from the left hand.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: The LX1R is ideal for the solo player who is looking for a high-quality instrument and is prepared to pay a high price for the privilege.
What you’ll love: This is a small but perfectly-crafted example from one of the world’s most renowned luthiers. Its Sitka-spruce top has a pleasantly light tone that contrasts nicely with its rosewood back and sides. It is built in such a way that it projects surprisingly well, despite its reduced size.
What you should consider: The mini-Martin has no pickup and doesn’t stand up well to live performances.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Luke Mitchell writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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