Vacation Guitars

Summertime Blues

Summertime is vacation time and vacation time is when I have to figure out which instruments I’ll bring with me on this year’s vacation. I get the summertime blues when I can’t bring a guitar with me on vacation.

If you’re considering your vacation or travel guitar options here’s some things to consider:

Do really need to bring a guitar? It’s a vacation. What about a smaller instrument like a ukulele or mandolin. I have used each of those as vacation instruments in the past. It won’t help with your guitar chops but they are stringed instruments, very portable and it can be fun to try something new. Relative chord finger positions on the ukulele are the same as on the high four strings of a guitar (relative meaning you aren’t in the same key as on guitar but chords and progressions still have the same relationships).

Do you want/need an acoustic or an electric guitar to travel with – or both? An acoustic will probably be bigger than an electric but other people will be able to hear you without an amp. That could be good or bad. An electric guitar will either need a built in headphone amp or you will need to bring a headphone or small amp if you want to hear decent sound. Sometimes though, you just need to practice and not having an amp is fine.

Do you want a full scale guitar or a shorter scale instrument?

One of the easiest solutions for a short scale acoustic instrument is to get a beginner/child’s reduced size guitar such as a 3/4 scale instrument and use it as a travel guitar. You can also find small sized electric guitars if that’s what you want. There are also acoustic and electric guitars made especially for travel. The Baby Taylor, Martin “Little Martin LX” acoustic guitar, the Martin Backpacker and the Washburn Rover are all short scale guitars suitable for travel. The Backpacker and Rover are specifically for travel.

What’s most important to you in a travel guitar? Cost? Size? Ruggedness? Sound? Obviously, how you weigh these factors will influence your choice in travel guitar. My criteria included something I wouldn’t worry about getting damaged while traveling but that gave me a full size guitar experience. Thus I searched for and found full scale instruments that were travel friendly. There are many choices these days (there haven’t always been such a great selection). Here’s what I’m currently using.

I have a Traveler Escape guitar I use as my electric travel guitar. The Escape is supposed to be an acoustic-electric instrument with an under saddle transducer pickup and an acoustic preamp/headphone amp built into the guitar. I plan to write about how I’ve modified this guitar in the future so for now let’s just say it’s no longer an acoustic guitar. But it is built for travel and fits easily in the overhead compartment on an airplane.

An alternative to the Escape, when space is less of a concern, is a Danelectro ’56 U3 re-issue I own. It is a compact guitar in a Les Paul shape but light weight due to its semi-hollow plywood and Masonite (fiber board) construction. It is a fun guitar, has an almost indestructible body and is quite travel worthy. The sound unamplified is surprisingly loud.

My acoustic travel guitar is an Arts & Lutherie Ami Parlor Guitar with a solid spruce top and wild cherry back and sides. The guitar has a full 24.84″ scale length. The neck joins the body at the 12th fret keeping the total length down to 34 1/4″. The guitar came with a gig bag. This guitar has a terrific tone and great volume for such a small instrument. It is also a great buy. My only complaint is that the fingerboard width seems narrow. Many parlor guitars have fingerboard widths wider than usual for steel string instruments (e.g., 1 7/8″). The Ami nut width is fairly standard at 1.72″ (~ 44 mm). Is it really narrower? It is if you compare it to a Martin OM28. But compared to a American Strat the width is actually slightly wider (as I measured it with a steel pocket ruler in 64ths of an inch) 1

One last thing. Travel guitars and smaller instruments are great instruments to play even when just sitting around the home. Because they are smaller than normal, they fit better into a variety of home sitting situations (e.g., on the sofa next to your spouse while watching TV, by yourself in your recliner, in a rocker on the porch – where else do you sit and play guitar around the house?). So remember, they aren’t just for travel when you are trying to convince your significant other that you need a new instrument before you leave on vacation.

What type of guitar or instrument do you bring on vacation?

(Read about my first trip without a guitar, “World’s Fair without a Guitar“).

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Footnotes

  1. See “Some Neck Widths” for the measurements I made to determine that the Ami neck isn’t as narrow as it seemed.

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