Counting down the days until that well-earned vacation? Holidays are great as they provide plenty of time to recharge the batteries and indulge your passions. But what if your passion is playing guitar? How can you maintain a regular practice schedule while away from home?
In the following, we’re going to take a look at two of the most unique travel guitars currently on the market, along with a popular guitar gadget that helps you practice even if you don’t have a real guitar at your disposal.
But first, we’ll cover why it’s a wise decision to leave your favorite guitar at home when traveling.
The Case for Leaving Your Guitar at Home
United Breaks Guitars
Considering the video has had over 19 million views online, one can safely assume many fellow guitar players have heard the parody song, ‘United Breaks Guitars’
Essentially the song tells the story of Dave Carrol, (frontman for Sons of Maxwell) who endures the misfortune of his prized Taylor acoustic guitar being damaged after receiving rough treatment from the baggage handlers at United Airlines.
If you spend time on guitar related forums or have friends who play guitar and travel you will be aware that this is far from an isolated incident. Simply adding a ‘fragile’ sticker to the case of your guitar is no guarantee your guitar will reach its destination in one piece.
Rogue baggage handlers aside, there’s another important reason not to travel with a guitar you especially value, especially if you are heading somewhere more exotic.
Humidity and Guitars
Guitars are made from wood, wood being an organic material is subject to structural changes due to fluctuations in humidity.
For example, If you take your guitar from a humid environment to a relatively dry part of the world, the timber will contract. This may, in turn, result in problems developing in your neck e.g. warping or bowing, fret wires and other hardware items becoming loose. In extreme cases, the guitar may even develop a crack along the body.
Alternatively, if you take your guitar from a dry environment to a more humid area the wood has a tendency to absorb the moisture. This can cause the timber to swell which can have a detrimental effect on the playability and tone of the guitar.
Guitars that have taken on moisture and are especially ‘wet’ often sound dull and lifeless and certainly won’t inspire long practice sessions.
For the reasons listed above, I recommend leaving your best guitar at home.
While you could use a dedicated travel case, the fact that a good travel case can cost upwards of $600+ and may only get used 1 – 2 times per year (unless you are a touring musician), makes this cost-prohibitive option for most people.
So what’s a humble guitarist to do?
Don’t worry you have options available if you plan on keeping your regular practice schedule on track.
The Martin Backpacker
If ordering directly from the Martin website, customers can choose the soundboard and body timbers the guitar is constructed from along with the option of having a pickup included.
The guitar itself is designed for portability, featuring a light, yet responsive body and unique body shape making it ideal for slipping into a backpack, hence the name.
While you shouldn’t expect that classic Martin tone from one of these, the backpacker has been well-received by guitarists, and well reviewed with most buyers pleasantly surprised by the tone on offer and convenience of the body shape.
If you are particularly used to your Dreadnought or larger body guitar, you can also purchase the ‘Compadre’ from Kraftboy. This device fits on the underside of the guitar emulating the upper and lower bouts of a standard Martin Dreadnought, allowing the guitar to sit more comfortably in your lap. The Compadre is also easy to install or remove as required.
If you are into DIY projects you can also build your Martin Backpacker style guitar from a kit.
Voyage Air Foldable Guitars
If you prefer a full-size travel guitar, you may find the range of ‘Voyage Air’ foldable acoustic guitars, a better option.
While a little more expensive than the Martin backpacker, Voyage Air offers a number of body shapes including smaller body orchestra models along with their larger dreadnought series giving you plenty of choice if you prefer a particular body style over another.
Keep in mind these are full-size guitars, thanks to the patented hinge neck pocket design which allows the guitar to be folded in half for more convenient travel or storage.
Folding the guitar is a relatively simple process, you just turn the hand-tightened locking screw on the bottom of the neck pocket and the guitar simply folds in half.
If you are concerned about tuning stability, the team at Voyage Air claim their guitars stay in tune as well as a regular guitar, all things being equal.
In case you are wondering where you may have seen Voyager guitars before, the guitars were featured on season 4 of Shark Tank, receiving a great deal of interest from Kevin O’Leary who was less than impressed when the team from Voyage Air were not prepared to negotiate on their patent rights.
The company has since gone on to partner with Fender guitars on a limited run (150 guitars) under the iconic Fender name.
Guitar Chord Practice Tools
If you simply don’t have the room for either a dedicated travel guitar or a foldable guitar, chances are you can find room for a guitar chord trainer.
Sliding to a very manageable 30cm by approx. 5cm size, these relatively inexpensive and compact, lightweight devices represent the first 6 frets of a standard guitar neck and allow you to practice your open chord positions without lugging a full-size guitar along with you.
While a chord trainer isn’t a substitute for a real guitar (and isn’t intended to be) they may just keep your fingers nimble and familiar enough with a guitar neck for a short period.
As you can see, traveling doesn’t mean you need to neglect your guitar practice. Thanks to travel guitars such as the Martin Backpacker and Voyage Air folding guitar and gadgets such as the guitar chord trainer, you can stay on top of your practice and keep your fingers nimble.
But if you do happen to find yourself stranded without a guitar or chord trainer available, keep in mind you can always rent a guitar from a local retailer or brush up on your theory until you have a guitar back in your hands again.