Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
What Is a Travel Guitar?
Travel guitars are instruments that are easy to pack up and take with you. They may be acoustic guitars, acoustic-electric, or electric guitars, and the best models feature some pretty innovative styles and designs that cut down on size and weight.
Travel guitars are very useful. It's not always easy to take a standard guitar with you everywhere you go. Surely you'd rather a guitar you could stash in an overhead compartment on an airplane rather than check with the rest of the baggage to be tossed about haphazardly. Even when you're packing up your car for a weekend trip you might find space is limited.
There are a lot of reasons someone may choose a travel guitar, but as a guitarist you know the biggest one is this: If you can't play guitar for long periods of time you tend to become a little irritable and depressed. You end up doing strange things like shouting at squirrels for no reason and eating entire bags of marshmallows.
The best way to avoid this slip into lunacy is to make sure you have a guitar with you at all times, wherever you go.
For this post I've hunted down a few of the best travel guitars, made by some of the top guitar brands in the world. As always, remember this is all based on my own opinions and experiences. Be sure to do your own research, and check out the websites of the guitar manufacturers for the latest info on their products.
Mini Acoustic Guitars for Travel
Mini acoustic guitars do not require amplification, and because they are so small they make great travel guitars. Of course they're not going to replace your full-sized acoustic, but for use on the road they are very impressive. Some guitarists like to take them camping or on day trips because they take up so much less space than a full-sized acoustic guitar.
I’ve written an entire article on the best mini acoustic guitars on the market, which you can check out if you wish. Here is a quick overview of the top choices:
- Taylor GS Mini: If you are serious about guitar and can’t stand taking a trip without one, I highly recommend the Taylor GS Mini. This is a reduced-scale grand symphony design with a 23 ½-inch scale length. It’s small, but it sounds impressive, and you may find yourself picking it up more often than you do your full-size guitars. I know when I spent some time with one that belonged to a friend I found it hard to give it back!
- Martin Little Martin LX1: Martin is one of the best acoustic guitar brands in the world, and won’t be outdone in the mini acoustic guitar market. The Little Martin features an ought-style body and a 23-inch scale.
- Taylor Baby Taylor: The GS Mini is an amazing instrument, but it is a little more expensive than many players are willing to go for a mini guitar. Instead check out the Baby Taylor, a three-quarter size dreadnought instrument.
- Yamaha FG JR2: In my opinion Yamaha makes some of the best acoustic guitars for beginners, and I always point newbies in their direction. The FG JR2 is a tiny version of their FG model, and not only great for kids just starting out, but for veteran players to need something to take on the road.
- Cordoba Mini M: Cordoba is a company that builds excellent classical instruments, some of them at price points that are perfect for beginners and intermediate players. The Mini M certainly falls into that category, and in my opinion is the best travel classical guitar option.
Of course not all acoustic travel guitars look like downsized full-scale guitars. One of the best of all time, the Martin Backpacker, barely looks like a guitar at all!
The Martin Backpacker is probably the most famous travel guitar in the world, with it's funky shape and surprising sound. You know Martin is among the finest American acoustic guitar builders, but the Backpacker has become legendary in its own right.
This is a 24-inch-scale guitar with a 15-fret fingerboard. It's got a solid spruce top just like a full-sized acoustic, and uses Richlite as a fingerboard and bridge material.
Martin has been experimenting with more environmentally friendly tonewood alternatives like Richlite to ease pressure on worldwide Rosewood reserves. If you're worried about the environment, you can feel good about choosing a Martin guitar.
The Backpacker is available as either a steel-string or nylon-string classical model.
The Rover is Washburn's entry into the acoustic travel guitar field. Some might see it as an alternative to the Martin Backpacker.
It has a 24-inch scale length, and 19 frets with a cutaway fingerboard design. The top is spruce and the back, sides and neck are mahogany.
More on the Washburn Rover
Voyage-Air Transit Series VAMD-02
Voyage-Air has truly carved out a niche for themselves in the travel guitar market, thanks to some very innovative ideas. Their guitars are built to fold over onto themselves and fit into square pack-type cases.
At first look it may make you a little sick to your stomach to see a guitar doubled over like this, but rest assured Voyage-Air instruments are made for it. In fact, there are some pretty high-end quality guitars in the Voyage-Air lineup.
In the interest of keeping things budget-friendly, you may want to check out the VAMD-02. It's a 15/16 size mini dreadnought shape with a mahogany back, sides and neck, spruce top and rosewood fingerboard.
Amazing Voyage-Air Guitars
Acoustic-Electric Travel Guitars
Here are couple of acoustic-electric travel guitars designed for amplified sound in a compact size. You may wish to pair one with a headphone amp for personal practice, or with an super-portable amp battery-powered mini amp for the ultimate "rig-on-the-go".
Yamaha Silent Guitar
Here's a very cool travel guitar from one of the top acoustic guitar makers out there. The Yamaha Silent Guitar was originally designed to work with headphones, but has evolved into a tool for guitarists to use through traditional amplification, and even onstage.
At first glance it looks like it will take up just about as much space as a normal acoustic guitar, but it disassembles for stow away in a compact case. The body of the guitar is maple, the neck mahogany and the fingerboard and bridge rosewood.
The Yamaha Silent Guitar also includes some useful effects like reverb, chorus and echo, and even an MP3 input for jamming with recorded tunes. It's a unique feature in a travel guitar for sure.
Check Out the Yamaha Silent Guitar
Traveler Ultra-Light Acoustic-Electric
Traveler is one of the top guitar brands when it comes to travel guitars. As such, their company name suits them perfectly! They have an array of choices and some very clever design ideas.
One is the Ultra-Light Acoustic-Electric. It looks a little like the tiny-bodied guitars listed above, but it has some very interesting things going on. For one, the body and neck is a solid piece of maple.
It has a detachable lap rest to give a feel more like a full-sized guitar, and a Shadow under-saddle piezo pickup. Notice the lack of a headstock, and the way the tuning machines are mounted within the body.
This is a full-scale guitar wrapped up in a space-saving package, you can plug it into an acoustic amp or preamp just like any other acoustic-electric guitar.
The Traveler Ultra Light
Best Travel Electric Guitars
Electric guitars made for travel have to do a tough job. By definition, a travel guitar has to be a space-saving design, so how can you fit all the important stuff in there and still end up with a guitar that sounds good? Traveler and Voyage-Air have come up with some interesting solutions! They would be great paired with a mini guitar amp, which would fit right in the gig bag.
The Traveler Travelcaster Deluxe
Just when you think you’ve seen it all in the guitar world. How cool is this thing? The Traveler Travelcaster Deluxe includes all the important stuff about a Strat-style guitar and gets rid of the bits that get in the way.
It features a full-size, 25 1/2-inch scale, one-piece neck and fingerboard, along with three single-coil pickups, a volume and two tone controls, poplar body, a bone net and even a two-point tremolo system. The whole thing weights in at just a bit over five pounds.
According to Traveler it is 14% shorter and 35% lighter than a Standard Stratocaster, all while maintaining the full-size scale length.
For electric guitar players who don't want to sacrifice tone, and especially those who can't give up the full-size feel, in my opinion the Travelcaster is your best option.
Heck, if I were in a band right now I'd even consider grabbing one of these for the stage just to see people's reaction!
I am always impressed with Traveler guitars, but this thing is over the top. Amazingly, for a guitar that really doesn’t have much of a body, it also sounds really good.
Hear the Travelcaster Deluxe
Traveler Ultra-Light Electric
Like the Ultra-Light Acoustic-Electric, the electric version packs a whole bunch of great features in a travel guitar.
It's a full 24 3/4 scale, and has the a neck-though maple body and neck construction, Ebonized rosewood fingerboard and that cool headless, in-body tuner design. What looks like a wimpy single-coil pickup is actually a dual-rail mini humbucker. Nice!
It's worth noting there is also a "Pro" version similar to this guitar. That one has a removable lap rest with a volume and tone control, a custom acoustic pickup in addition to a single coil, and an interesting "stethoscope" feature that lets you hear yourself play without battery power.
Voyage-Air Transaxe Telair
Voyage-Air, too, has a whole bunch of amazing travel guitars beyond the scope of this article. But one more I will mention is the Transaxe Series Telair.
Like other Voyage-Air guitars, it folds in half (ouch!) to fit in a pack-sized case.
It has an Alder body, maple neck with maple fingerboard, custom Tonerider Vintage Plus Alnico Pickups and a three-way pickup selector switch.
If you dig the Tele vibe, but need to fly off to Saskatoon pronto, a guitar like the Telair might be exactly what you need.
Voyage-Air's DuraTrans case is one of the best in this review. It fits the guitar, plus other items you'd want in a carry-on bag such as your laptop and some extra clothing.
Tips on Choosing the Best Travel Guitar for You
Remember that even though most of these manufacturers say their cases will fit in an overhead compartment of an airplane, that decision is ultimately up to the airline. If you do a lot of flying you may wish to choose a model with a sturdier case in the event that your guitar ends up riding in the luggage area.
If you primarily want to use your travel guitar for camping, one of the acoustic models might serve you best. To my way of thinking, the less complicated something is the less of a chance it has of getting destroyed when you're off in the wilderness.
If you think you might want to take your travel guitar onstage, my choice would be the Yamaha Silent Guitar on the acoustic side. It has a useable preamp, and a very cool look.
And, for a stage-worthy electric travel guitar, the Travelcaster is just too amazing to pass up.
Of course if you go electric you are going to need an amp, I suggest checking out the Blackstar Fly for a great-sounding, battery powered mini amp that takes up very little space.
Good luck choosing the best travel guitar for you!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Guitar Gopher (author) on October 11, 2014:
Thanks Ladyguitarpicker. I know what you mean about the funky shape. There are aftermarket attachments available for the Backpacker so it can be held more like a full-bodied acoustic. Of course that would take up more space in the luggage. :-)
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on October 10, 2014:
Hi, Just thought I would read this hub. I had a Martin backpacker, but I didn't like it. I could not be comfortable with it too hard to hold. Nice hub.