Travel Guitars

This will be a little bit different kind of post than usual, although I’m going to throw some kind of usual stuff in here too.

First of all, I just want to clarify something that might be misleading some readers, the name of my blog. I can see some people thinking, “Why is the name of this blog Presently Travelling when this guy is staying in one place?

Well, here’s the answer. When I first started this blog, I was preparing to hit the road for an undetermined period, driven by the facts I had at hand at that moment. I won’t go into all the details, but facts have a way of changing without notice, and they did so in this case.

I was intending to head out to BC when I first arrived in Elliot Lake, but life had other plans for me and I ended up staying here, although I never had, nor do I still have any idea what tomorrow may bring. For that reason, I keep the ‘things’ I own to a minimum, so that I can throw everything I own into my truck and move on. I’m not running from anything, I’m just adapting to the circumstance that life throws my way.

Having said that, I have two perspectives for looking at the term ‘Presently Travelling. One is, I’m on the road, visiting different places along the way. The second one is just as applicable, which is that life is a journey we all travel through, and I happen to do it by living in, and for, the moment, or ‘presently’.

So, there ya have it. This is why I decided to leave the title of the blog as it is, and this also explains the title of this post too.

Since I’m always conscious of keeping the things I own to a minimum, so that everything I own will fit in my truck, most things must be a manageable size. For example, I don’t own any large furniture, or appliances, not even a TV, but I never feel that I’m missing anything that I really need.

One thing that I really enjoy is music, and I carry my small music player in my pocket everywhere I go. When I’m hiking, it’s usually in my shirt pocket, but I don’t use head phones because that would separate me from the surroundings, and completely nullify the reason that I’m out there. When this little music player is at full volume, it’s just perfect for allowing me to hear the music, and also hear the sounds around me, like birds singing, or a snapping twig in the forest. You might say that it actually compliments my hikes very nicely.

Anyway, I have owned a guitar for most of my adult life, but I had to give up that full sized guitar when I hit the road, because it was just too big to take with me. Still, after I found myself in one place again, I wanted to get another guitar, but it must be of a size that is compatible with a mobile lifestyle. So, I started an intensive search for an affordable, quality, and good sounding travel guitar.

This blog post will be about that search, and what I found. Once I got into the search, I first checked out the most common examples of, what are referred to as ‘travel guitars’. These guitars nearly always have a full sized neck, with all the frets you would normally find on any full sized guitar, but they have tiny bodies.

It was very handy, in this internet age, to be able to go to YouTube and listen to the sound of any guitar I could think of, and I did this to give me an idea of how all these different travel guitars sounded. Granted, I did have to take into account the sound systems that these people were using to record the guitars, but I also listened to different videos of the same guitar, in order to offset any inaccuracies that the recorded sound quality might have caused.

I can tell you, without any hesitation, that all these long necked, small bodied guitars sounded tinny. I don’t care if it was a Martin Backpacker, a Washburn Rover, or a Johnson Trailblazer. The small bodies on these guitars just couldn’t produce a sound that satisfied me. I knew that I had to make some concessions, as far as sound goes, but the tinny sound, coupled with the fact that these guitars were all fairly long, just didn’t appeal to me.

Here are pictures of the three most common full necked, small bodied travel guitars that I looked at;

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The Martin Backpacker, of course, has a big share of the travel guitar market, just because of the name Martin, which is synonymous with quality guitars. However, I wasn’t so much after quality build, as I was after quality sound, and the Martin Backpacker suffered from the same tinny sound as all of the other similar guitars. Besides, I really didn’t care, at all, for the shape of this guitar.

Guitar.Washburn.Rover_.R010.Main_

The Washburn Rover is another well-known, full necked, travel guitar. I did like the looks of this guitar, and I found the sound to be, marginally, better than the Martin, but not really that much. So, I would give points to the Washburn for looks, but the sound was not acceptable to me.

johnson-trailblazer-travel-guitar-148x300

The Johnson Trailblazer, was again, marginally, better than both the previous guitars, but just not good enough.

So, I had eliminated all these long necked, small bodied guitars as possible travel guitars that would meet my needs.

When I first started my search, I had a cost of around $200. in mind, so that ruled out many possibilities. Even though that was my intended high price, I did look for used guitars too, trying to keep the cost to a minimum.

So, once I had ruled out the long necked, small bodies type of travel guitars, I started looking at other possibilities. There are other small guitars that are referred to as ‘travel guitars’, but the prices were now going up incrementally. Also, now that I was convinced that any guitar with a similar sized body to the ones I had already looked at would have a similar sound, I wasn’t all that optimistic about finding something that would suit both my budget and my ear.

I listened to, and considered, many other small travel guitars, of all brands, but couldn’t come up with anything that satisfied all my requirements.

In the end, it became clear to me that whatever type of travel guitar that I decided on, it would most certainly have to have a more scaled size, rather than having a full size neck, and a small body, or a small neck and a small body.

That left only one possibility, a scaled down version of a full sized guitar. What I mean is, a guitar that is proportionately reduced in the size of the neck and the body. These are commonly referred to as either 1/2 size, or 3/4 size guitars.

Again, Martin is probably the leader of the pack in these types of guitars, with the Little Martin being a well-known example. However, there is a price attached to this name, and I wasn’t willing to pay it, although I did like the sound that these guitars produced.

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Here’s an example of what the Little Martins look like. Notice, as I mentioned, that these guitars look like a full sized guitar, but the necks, including the number of frets, along with the bodies, are a smaller size.

Another guitar that fits into the classification is the Baby Taylor, which is a scaled down version of the well-known Taylor lineup of acoustic guitars. It’s sound was also perfectly acceptable to me, but, again, it’s price was not within my budget.

I started to rethink how much I was willing to spend to have a small guitar that would perform to my requirements, and I actually did start to consider uping my limit to $300. Fortunately, sanity prevailed and that idea died on the table, so to speak.

So, I was left with a conundrum. There must be some way I could have what I wanted without severing an arm or a leg. I continued my search, undaunted.

The next idea I came up with might seem a little far-fetched, but bear with me. Have you ever heard of a Guitelele? This is a cross between a guitar and a ukelele. They have gained some recognition as being a reasonable alternative to a travel guitar, since they are very small, and they do play, somewhat, like a guitar. However, they are not tuned the same as a guitar. The tuning on a guitalele is like having a capo on the fifth fret of a regular guitar. In other words, its tuned higher than a guitar, so the sound is also higher in pitch.

Still, I thought that I should at least give them a chance, to see how they compared, both in price and sound. Guitalele’s can be tuned down to the same tuning as a guitar, but the strings would end up being much looser than a regular guitar, possibly causing buzzing on the frets. To me, this ruled out tuning them as a regular guitar.

Size Comparison ~ Classical Guitar & Guitalele

This is the well-known Yamaha Guitalele, sitting beside a full sized classical guitar, just for size comparison. I did listen to this guitalele in a number of videos and wasn’t totally turn off by the sound, but it was definitely more like a ukelele sound than a guitar sound.

I also found some other Guitarlele’s on ebay, and some of them had very ornate mother of pearl inlays. Unfortunately, I couldn’t steal one of the images off ebay. They were most interesting, and I actually seriously considered purchasing one. After all, they were under the $200. limit I had set for myself.

But, alas, life intervened and sent me in another direction. Just by chance, I came across what seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. It had all the requirements I needed, the price was right, the sound was great, and the reviews were also very promising.

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This is the Cort Earth Mini. I don’t know if a lot of people would recognize this name, but Cort is a fairly well-known guitar manufacturer. I believe this model has only been around since 2010, but it has already garnered favor with many guitar fans.

I did an intensive search on this guitar and didn’t find one detractor of the sound, or the build quality. In fact, guitarists were very much on board with everything about this 3/4 sized guitar. It was quite commonly compared, favorably, to the Baby Taylor and Little Martin. Maybe just a smidgen below, but not that much when you take the price difference into account.

I watched a number of videos of this guitar in action, one of my favorite ones being a little girl and her father playing together. The little girl using a Cort Earth Mini. Here’s that video;

I have to admit, even though I’d watch many videos of these types of guitars, this one really impressed me. Not only the little girl’s playing, which was fantastic, but the performance of the Cort Earth Mini also.

I now had my sights set on a Cort Earth Mini, but where to buy one? As usual, I first went to ebay. I did find these guitars on ebay for as low as $240., which was a bit more than I had budgeted for. However, I felt that I could compromise in order to get something that I knew would perfectly fit my needs.

Still, I hesitated to spend that much, since I knew that the cost of shipping and the possible cost of importing, since the only sellers I could find were in the US, would be quite high.

I, again, considered my options. One possibility came to me, although I knew it was a long shot. Maybe I could check the kijiji online ads, to see if anything comes up. So, for days I watched the kijiji ads and, unbelievably, there it was, a Cort Earth Mini in excellent condition for only $90.00.

Now I had another hurdle to jump. Would I be able to convince this person to ship it to me? Usually, kijiji sellers are hesitant to ship items, partly because they are concerned about payment. However, I was able to convince this guy that he would have the money in the bank before he shipped the guitar, so there was no risk to him. There was a certain risk to me if he just decided not to send the guitar, even though he had received payment for it. I knew that there was nothing I could do in that case, but I was confident that he would send it.

Anyway, I did receive the guitar via Canada Parcel Post and I was very happy with it. It was exactly the same as the one I have pictured above, with the gig bag. It did need new strings, which is something that I expected.

Still, I was so taken by the sound of the electric version that the young girl in the video was playing, and I wondered how much it would cost to add that feature to the guitar I had. After reading the comments under that video, I learned that the father had added, what’s called, an under saddle pickup to the girls guitar, so I went to ebay to search.

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I ended up getting a pickup similar to this one. It has a preamp installed in the end pin jack, so there would be no need to cut a large hole in the body of the guitar for one of the larger preamps. It’s what’s known as an ‘active’ pickup, which means it has a power supply to the preamp via a 9 volt battery. Installation was fairly easy, and I felt that I could do a decent job myself.

I also wanted to replace the plastic nut, saddle and pins that are standard on the Cort Earth Mini. I upgraded to Buffalo Bone components to replace these items. That set only cost me ten bucks on ebay, and I feel that it was a very cost effective improvement.

For strings, I decided on a new set of D’Addario Flat Tops, to mellow out the sound, and also to reduce finger noise while sliding along the strings.

Now things were looking, and sounding, real good. I was creating the best travel guitar that I could possible have. Also, while I was fitting the new Buffalo Bone nut and saddle, I needed to set the action on the guitar, which was, more or less, a process of trial and error. I used sandpaper to remove material from the bottoms of both the nut and the saddle until I got the action just where I wanted it.

For those that are unfamiliar with the ‘action’ of a guitar, it’s, basically, the distance between the strings and the frets. A high action is hard on the fingers, since you will need to press on the strings that much harder to force them down on to the frets. However, you don’t want to set the action so low that the strings start to buzz on the frets. It’s a delicate job to set the action perfectly.

After I was finished reworking this guitar, I have to admit, I’ve never had a guitar that was set as well as this one is. It’s about as perfect as one can expect. The action is fantastic all the way down to the bottom of the fret board which, I found in the past, is no easy task.

So, here I was with the perfect electric, acoustic travel guitar, but where would I plug it in? I had no amplifier, and I’m not sure that the neighbors would approve anyways. However, I already had something in mind before I added the pickup. I wanted just a very small amplifier that I could plug a set of head phones into for practice. I wasn’t looking to shake any windows, or book a concert hall for a performance.

So where did I go? You got it, ebay. For twenty bucks I ended up with a very small guitar amp, which I can plug my guitar into, and also plug a set of head phones into. But that’s not all, this unit also allows you to input MP3 files as back up music that you can play along with. It also has an overdrive setting that gives that neat kind of distortion sound to the guitar.

All told, the cost of the guitar and all the improvements I made to it came to around $170. So I’m extremely happy with how all this worked out. I now have, what I feel is, the best travel guitar I could possibly have gotten.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Wish I knew how to play an instrument, good luck

    Reply

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