There are a variety of different guitars referred to as ‘travel’ guitars.
Some are just smaller, while some completely re-invent the whole guitar design. In this article, we unpack the main differences to help you figure out if a travel guitar is a good fit, and if so, which style you prefer.
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What Is The Difference Between a Guitar and Travel Guitar?
In general, travel guitars are smaller than regular guitars. The smaller size makes them easier to carry around, transport, fit in aeroplane overhead lockers and other small spaces. In addition, some people just like smaller guitars because they are easier to manoeuvre, or because they are small people, or they just like to have a second guitar at work, and don’t need another full-size regular guitar.
There is no single style of travel guitar, they vary greatly, and we explain the different ways travel guitars are different from regular guitars, but also how they can differ from each other.
When it comes to guitar bodies, some travel guitars are just smaller 3/4 or 1/2 size variations of an acoustic guitar. So they still give a nice tone, of adequate volume. These produce a very similar sound to that of a regular guitar, however, it will not have the same volume, not the same tone as that of a full size regular acoustic guitar.
But some travel guitars have a uniquely different shape design to be extremely compact. For example, the Martin Backpacker is a specialist travel guitar that has a vastly different shape to that of a normal acoustic guitar. Given the body is so much smaller, the volume is significantly less, and the quality of tone is also significantly different. Many people think it sounds more like a ukulele than a guitar. The Martin Backpacker is not designed for performance or for the quality of sound, but just to give you a very mobile guitar you can easily take with you, and keep your chops up while away from home.
For those travel guitars that are just 1/2 or 3/4 variations of a full-size guitar, the neck will be a bit narrower, meaning the string will be a bit closer together. This can be difficult for someone with big hands as your fingers might bump into each other, or press the wrong string accidentally, but you usually get used to it and adapt your fingering accordingly. They will also have fewer frets (be shorter)
Whereas the travel guitars with vastly different bodies (e.g. Martin Backpacker) often have reduced the body size as much as possible, but preserve as much of the neck as they can so they are very similar to playing a regular guitar.
In a bid to reduce length as much as possible, some travel guitars adopt a ‘headless’ design. In a headless design, the string is fed into the guitar as the nut and then faster in the bridge and tuned from there. This makes them significantly shorter, without compromising on fretboard length while also removing one of the more vulnerable parts of the guitar (the head).
Scale refers to the distance between a guitars bridge and its nut, at the head end of the fretboard. With the 3/4 and 1/2 size guitars, this scale is decreased. Meaning the distance between these two points is less than that on a regular guitar. Though you can still guitar to the same notes, and play the same way with other instruments in the same key, the tone is not the same, it doesn’t have the same depth as when you play on the full scale.
On some travel guitars, they have preserved the same scale as that on regular guitars. However, the benefit, in this case, is just that the neck is the same length, so it doesn’t feel very different to a regular guitar. But given how much of the body is sacrificed for space and weight savings, there will never be a comparable tone to a regular guitar.
There are a few brands (Voyage Air)of guitar that have developed a folding mechanism, that allow the guitar neck to completely fold back, over the body of the guitar. In this way, the guitar can transport in a very compact sized case, and is very safe from damage, as the neck and head are the most vulnerable part of the guitar, given how fragile their attachment to the body is.
Given travel guitars are much smaller than regular guitars, they are usually quite a bit cheaper than regular guitars for the most part.
Travel Guitar Pros
The dominant benefit of a travel guitar is simply the reduced size and weight. If you are actually planning to travel then they are great. Your travel will be so much easier with a smaller and lighter guitar, and you still get to jam out wherever you are.
And if you are looking at travel guitars because of their smaller bodies, they can be great for smaller people to handle, especially when beginning, and great for kids to learn on.
Travel Guitar Cons
The main drawbacks of travel guitars relate to their playability and tone, depending on which one you play. A 1/2 or 3/4 size guitar could be a little bit harder to play, given everything is just compacted into a smaller space, and you will likely lose a bit of tonal quality given the smaller body and reduced scale.
But if you chose a specialized travel guitar, like a Martin Backpacker, then playability is still quite good, but you lose almost all tone. They are just designed to give you something to play and keep your skills up while away from home.
Is A Travel Guitar Worth It?
If you are travelling and want to take a guitar with you, then a 3/4 size travel guitar is a great idea. They play similar to a full-size guitar and you still get great tone and good volume. But they won’t be as easy to carry around as a specialized travel guitar, like a Martin Backpacker.