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You Can Take It With You
As a group, travel-sized guitars tend to get mixed reviews. They don’t sound like their full-sized cousins. They’re relatively cheap. And their function-first engineering—most feature laminate or composite backs and sides—cause purists to turn up their noses. But compared to earlier attempts at the travel niche (yes, Martin Backpacker—we’re talkin’ to you), these guitars generally live up to their promise as decent-sounding, pack-able performers. And their narrow bandwidth can also add an interesting voice to your studio arsenal. Here’s a look at a few of the more widely available travel acoustics. Prices are not manufacturer’s list, but are typical online and store prices.
Baby Taylor ($299)
For years, several import manufacturers have produced 3/4-size guitars aimed at students. But the Baby Taylor and the alien-looking (and sounding) Martin Backpacker were the first instruments marketed exclusively as travel guitars. The Baby Taylor is now one of the standards of this class. The satin-finish spruce top and sapele laminate sides/back produce a small but satisfying sound. Sized a little larger than a baritone uke, the Baby’s mini-dreadnaught shape also feels like a guitar. While early versions often had tuning problems with the 22 ¾” scale, those appear to have been addressed.
Little Martin ($299)
The spruce-topped Little Martin LX-1 rates highly among mini-axes, with its small 00 (Grand Concert) shape. The laminated neck is, surprisingly, even easier to play than the Baby Taylor’s. The HPL composite back and sides produce a fuller and more mature tone (bear in mind, we’re speaking in relative terms here). However, be aware that the LXBlack and the LXK2 (Koa) models both use a composite top that sounds like socks have been stuffed into the body. The tone is nothing like the LX1 spruce top. Go with the wood-top model.
Taylor GS Mini ($499)
A couple inches bigger than everything else here, but still considered a travel guitar, the GS Mini offers serious guitar tone. Available with either a spruce or mahogany top, an arched, laminated sapele back and sides, and a 23 ½” scale—and yes, it’s more expensive—this guy will shut up many of the whiners who compare everything to a full-sized dreadnaught. While it’s not that big a sound, it’s definitely legit and a very pleasant surprise.
Yamaha JR2 ($149)
The 3/4-size Yamaha offers a cheaper option to the Taylors and Martins but, unfortunately, the JR2 simply doesn’t measure up. The tone and volume are disappointing. While it might be a suitable beginner guitar for smaller-handed students, its short 21 ¼” string length can also produce more tuning problems. It would be hard to recommend the JR2 as a legitimate instrument for adults.
Breedlove Passport ($499)
Billing itself as a travel guitar, this is a slightly different animal. The C250/CMe-T is tuned up a fourth (like a capo on the fifth fret), so naturally, it doesn’t sound as deep as its standard-tuned competitors. But it can offer a bright, punchy, mandolin-like alternative to your stage or studio mix (especially if you don’t play mando). With standard built-in electronics and tuner, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Let us know if you run into other noteworthy brands. And then plan your vacation. With all these guitar choices, there’s room in your back seat for at least one.