Best Travel Guitar
Do you love hearing the world as much as seeing it? Is a casual night with your guitar strings and the sights your idea of happiness?
Creative inspiration can strike at the strangest of times. You might be struck with it in the middle of a crowded food market, or halfway up a mountain. But when it happens, you can play to your heart’s content with a travel guitar at hand.
From mini guitars to streamlined electric guitars, there’s an instrument for every guitarist. Here’s how to choose the best travel guitar for you.
Choosing the Right Travel Guitar
The good news? The best travel guitars don’t need to be ukeleles. These days, there are tons of options for the savvy musician to see the world and express it through music.
The catch is knowing how to navigate those options. This is largely a question of personal preference.
Mini Guitars vs. Travel Guitars
First, it’s important to distinguish between mini guitars and travel guitars. Remember, you don’t have to travel with a ukelele if you don’t want to. On the other hand, you don’t need to lug your regular guitar either, especially if you’re worried about damaging it.
Travel guitars are full-sized or nearly full-sized guitars (a guitar with a full or almost full scale length) which has been refitted to a compact body. They can be mini guitars, but not necessarily. They may come with other build features that make them easier to travel with, like a collapsible neck.
A word of advice: because travel and mini guitars are compact, they won’t sound quite the same as a regular guitar.
One of the key features separating a travel guitar from a junior or kids guitar is the scale length.
A kids or junior guitar, which has a reduced scale length (one-quarter, one-half, or three-quarter) suitable for children’s hands. A travel guitar gives you a full or almost full scale length, but sized down to fit a compact body. This gives you the performance flexibility of a regular guitar, though the sound will be slightly different due to the compact body.
Acoustic Travel Guitar vs. Electric Travel Guitar
If you’re more of a Kirk Hammett than a First Aid Kit-type strummer, you don’t need to break out your folk credentials to travel with your guitar.
These days, travel guitars are available as both acoustic guitars and electric guitars. You don’t need to travel with an amp, either—plug your guitar into your smartphone, pull up GarageBand, and play your little heart out.
Of course, traveling with an acoustic guitar doesn’t require any accessories or an electric charge. Think about where you’ll travel, the availability of plugs, and what else you’ll need to use your phone for.
Folding/Removable Neck vs. Standard Construction
Historically, travel guitars were simply sized-down regular guitars. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, though, some travel guitars go one step further. Now, instead of worrying about the guitar neck, some travel guitar options come with a neck that’s foldable or even completely removable.
This offers a lot of convenience. With the neck folded or removed, you can fit your guitar in your suitcase or backpack. Plus, that means you can travel with a standard-size guitar more easily.
On the other hand, traveling with a standard-size guitar means the weight of a standard guitar. You’ll also have to tune the guitar every time you unfold or reattach the neck, which means it’s not ideal for impromptu singalongs.
Strings vs. MIDI
The most fragile part of your guitar is the strings. One option to sidestep the issue is MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface.
MIDI was originally invented to help multiple instruments communicate with each other, an essential function when creating music with multiple instruments. It doesn’t transmit sound, but rather a universal musical language (a.k.a. binary code) via a digital signal to a computer.
As a travel guitar option, a MIDI guitar isn’t really a guitar at all, but a MIDI controller shaped to look and function like a guitar. Many of them can easily fit in luggage. The downside, of course, is that you have to connect to a computer to generate sound.
Classical vs. Steel String
If you’d prefer to stick to your strings, travel guitars now offer a variety of string options to prevent any last-minute runs to the local music store to replace snapped strings.
Basically, when you shop for a travel guitar, you have two choices: classical strings or steel strings. Classical strings are made of nylon, while steel strings are more durable. Most travel guitar brands offer guitars with both options.
Either way, you’ll have to loosen the strings or outright de-string your guitar prior to travel, so it’s mostly a question of preference.
Gig Bag vs. Flight Case
Last but not least is your guitar’s protective gear. If you’re not using a travel guitar with a removable neck, you have two case options. The right fit is mostly a question of how much you abuse your guitar in transit.
A gig bag is a soft, padded carrying case, usually with external pockets for various accessories. It doesn’t offer as much protection as a hard-shell case, but it’s way lighter, less cumbersome, and usually less expensive.
A flight case is a lighter version of your usual guitar case. It has a slimmer profile and is made to protect your guitar without the bulk of your regular case.
The Best Travel Guitars
Now that you know what you’re looking for, here are three of the best travel guitars for three major categories: acoustic, electric, and classical.
Best Travel Acoustic Guitar: Martin Steel String Backpacker Guitar
For acoustic guitar fans, the current king of travel acoustic guitars is the Martin Steel String Backpacker Guitar. Seriously, if you want an acoustic travel guitar, this is as good as it gets.
In the usual fashion of this trusted guitar brand, you only get the best of the best. It comes with a sleek spruce build with a slim design, fitted with a 24-inch scale length and a unique fret design. Unique is the best word for this body shape, but don’t let looks fool you—this little guy performs.
Actually, you’ll be surprised by how much volume and projection this quirky little body can produce. That’s thanks to mahogany in the body.
And while Martin’s quirky looks are loud, the body is also surprisingly light. It’s one of the smallest travel guitars currently available, with the instrument and strap weighing in at a mere two pounds.
On the downside, the unusual body shape isn’t for everyone, and it takes a bit of getting used to. While the instrument has some lungs on it, it’s too small to be an ideal option for professional musicians. Basically, this is the guitar for folks who love music but aren’t traveling to put some mileage into their musical career, mostly because it only has 15 frets.
Best Travel Electric Guitar: Traveler Guitar Ultra-Light Electric Travel Guitar
Naming a brand Traveler Guitar is a bit on the nose. Fortunately, the brand saved its creative juices for crafting a great traveling instrument. Which is why the Ultra-Light Electric Travel Guitar is easily the best pick for the best travel electric guitar.
When they say ultra-light, they mean it—this guitar is 28% shorter and 68% lighter than a standard electric model while retaining 100% of its size between the nut and bridge. In plain English, it won’t feel like the usual electric, but it comes pretty close, and that’s without all the extra weight.
One major downside is that this is more expensive than the Martin guitar. A $329 guitar isn’t a small investment, regardless of how well it travels.
From a practical perspective, shedding weight comes with sacrifices. In this case, balance. Some reviewers say it’s hard to balance or that it’s too light to play on comfortably, while others say this is easily overcome with a few days’ practice.
It’s still not ideal for professional musicians, but as electric travel guitars go, it’s a fantastic lightweight option to break out your Red Hot Chili Peppers solos anywhere in the world.
Best Classical Travel Guitar: Cordoba Mini M Travel Acoustic Nylon String Guitar
If sound quality matters most, then the Cordoba Mini M is…well, the ultimate travel instrument.
The brand is known for producing high-quality classical guitars, and the Mini M shows the brand’s virtuosity. It’s made with the best possible wood materials, including a solid spruce top, which contributes directly to the sound quality.
Unlike the other two guitars on this list, the Cordoba Mini M has the feel and playability of a full-sized classical guitar. That’s because the neck width and fret spacing are typical of a full-sized classical guitar.
Fans of E tuning won’t love this as much, as E tuning transforms it pretty dramatically into a lackluster instrument with weaker sound and poorer string tension. You’ll find the best sound at A tuning, but the sound you get is warm, bright, loud, and vibrant.
It’s certainly worth the price. Of the three, this is the most budget-friendly option.
A travel guitar is not a junior guitar—it features a full scale length. When shopping for one, look at features that make your guitar easier to travel with, like a foldable neck or the choice of a MIDI controller instead of a stringed guitar. You can travel with a hard case or gig (soft) case. Our three favorite guitars are the Martin Steel String Backpacker Guitar, Traveler Guitar Ultra-Light Electric Travel Guitar, and the Cordoba Mini M Travel Acoustic Nylon String Guitar.