BEST Travel Guitars
What we have here is arguably the best sounding sub-£1,000 travel-sized acoustic on the market. We adore the Taylor GS Mini but this small-bodied dreadnought from the House of Martin is simply astounding for the price. The Martin Dreadnought Junior is about the same length as the GS Mini but its body is wider and a little deeper. However, because the Martin’s soft nylon gig bag isn’t as padded and bulky as the Taylor’s, it takes up about the same amount of space which means you shouldn’t have any hassle taking it into the cabins of most airlines.
The Dreadnought Junior is equipped with a solid Sitka spruce top and, get this, solid Sapele back and sides (most other travel guitars use laminated back and sides). It also comes standard with a Fishman Sonitone pickup with volume and tone controls neatly tucked away inside the sound hole. The Dreadnought Junior comes in a hand-rubbed natural oil finish which will darken beautifully with age. It sits perfectly in the lap and is simply brilliant for smaller players who might find a full-sized dreadnought a little too cumbersome.
Soundwise, this particular traveller has very few peers. Its tone is resonant, warm, deep, loud and bright, pretty much all at the same time. It shares all the hallmarks of its larger stablemates and excels in all disciplines, whether it’s loud strumming, finger picking or soft thumb-based playing. Indeed, we’d go so far as to say it almost sounded as refined as our prized Santa Cruz. And that’s saying something. Also, after much research, we've found two string brands that really suit this guitar: D'Addario Phosphor Bronze 12s and, better still, Martin Retro 12s. So, if you’re in the market for a top-quality, solid-bodied electro travel-sized acoustic that sounds big and bountiful without breaking the bank then step right this way. We guarantee you will not be disappointed. Top dollar in every respect.
Martin Dreadnought Junior
Taylor GS Mini
We’ve been following the evolution of the travel guitar with much interest. These are acoustic guitars that are small enough to take on a plane as hand luggage – they easily fit into the aircraft’s overhead compartment – or strapped to one’s back while cycling or orienteering.
Martin can probably lay claim to starting the whole travel guitar thing with its plank-shaped Backpacker. It’s still the slimmest travel acoustic on the market and perfect for strapping to the side of a backpack, but its sound projection is extremely limited and it's actually longer in length than other similarly-scaled travellers. Seeing a smart opportunity, Taylor, that other prestigious guitar manufacturer, waded in with a fabulous mini dreadnought called the Baby Taylor. It sounded amazing for its size and weight and went on to sell in huge volumes – and still does. Not one to rest on its laurels, Martin soon fired back with its own mini acoustic which they called Little Martin. It’s slightly heavier than the Baby Taylor, better built and, in many respects, better sounding, especially the fully laminated LXM model which, bizarrely, not only sounds warmer than its solid-top brethren but is cheaper and much more robust (see review below).
Well now Taylor’s added a new musical travel companion to its already rosy roster and it's an absolute stormer. The Taylor GS Mini is a ¾ size acoustic along the lines of a small-bodied parlour guitar. It’s quite a bit bigger than both the Little Martin and Baby Taylor but, crucially, still small and short enough to take on board a plane as cabin baggage (unless, of course, you're flying with Ryan Air, Wizz Air or any of the other usual suspects). Like the Little Martin and Baby Taylor, it comes with an excellent soft but firm gig bag.
In terms of sound quality, Taylor’s really pulled out all the stops… this titchy traveller sounds so much more like a full-sized guitar. The sitka spruce-topped model on test is superbly built and has an appealingly warm, rich, full-bodied tone with excellent resonance and ample volume; flatpickers and thumb slappers will love it but it's just as great when strummed hard. It plays well with Custom Light 11 strings but really begins to sing with Light 12s. If you wish to play live, we suggest having a K&K Pure Mini fitted. This internal under-bridge pickup produces a thoroughly natural tone with no synthetic pluckiness, especially when matched with K&K's belt-clipped Pure preamp. A brilliant package.
If you’re looking for a high-quality travel and recording buddy or a very decent small-bodied guitar for your child or simply a second guitar to snuggle up with on the sofa, then this one ticks all the right boxes.
Martin has been making top-quality acoustic guitars since 1833 but few of us have ever been able to afford one. Until they developed this little strummer. The beauty of this particular budget entry is that it’s been designed with travelling in mind. When flying, just slip it into its natty gig bag, sling it over your shoulder and take it on as hand baggage – it fits perfectly into the locker above your seat. Yet it doesn’t sound cheap and small; far from it. Its tone is rich and deceptively deep, and it holds its tuning extremely well. These little guitars have been used on countless recording sessions – they really give music an earthy low-fi touch. Red-headed troubadour Ed Sheeran uses one, no less.
Little Martins are available in a variety of solid wood tops and there's a particularly warm sounding and robust all-laminated model (LXM) which is ideal for hotter, dryer climates. The Little Martin is also available as an electro model with built-in pickup and volume and tone controls. Being so small, the Little Martin also makes a great learning guitar for kids, with superb action straight out of the box. Best strings for it? Elixir Custom Bronze – they’re light enough on the fingers but still taut enough to resonate well. And they last for ages.
We’ve always loved the Baby Taylor. It was, after all, the first quality travel acoustic guitar on the market and it still sells in big volumes. Although Martin’s Little Martin range is still our first choice, there’s something wonderfully woody about the tone coming out of the dreadnought-shaped ¾-size Baby Taylor. Despite the Martin being a little heavier, both guitars are almost exactly the same size, so it’s down to your own ears when deciding between the two. To our ears, the Baby Taylor is a bit brighter in tone and perhaps more suitable for finger picking – it really does sing with an earthy, organic, low-fi voice that’s very pleasing to the ear. The Martin, on the other hand, produces a slightly warmer sound that is better for strumming; this is especially the case with the all-laminated LXM model. The Baby Taylor comes with laminated Sapele back and sides and is available with a choice of two solid tops: blonde Sitka Spruce (which darkens beautifully over time) and rich Tropical Mahogany. And, like the Little Martin, it also comes with a cosy gig bag with shoulder straps for easy transport.
Faith Nomad: Mini Neptune & Mini Saturn
British luthier Faith has entered the mini travel-sized guitar arena with a couple of well-specced crackers that give most of the competition on this page a good innings. Both the Neptune and Saturn are about the same size as Taylor’s amazing GS-Mini only these guitars are solid bodied throughout and equipped with a piezo pickup beneath the bridge saddle and a side-mounted preamp replete with three-band EQ, a phase switch to reduce feedback and a digital tuner. That’s some package for a guitar roughly £40 shy of the GS-Mini.
The Nomad is available in two different styles and woods. The Mini-Saturn (pictured right, £459) is dreadnought shaped and has a solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides while the Mini-Neptune (£469) is parlour shaped and uses mahogany throughout. Looks wise, the Neptune walks it with its small curvy body and gorgeous dark mahogany satin finish. But the plain-looking Saturn trumps the Neptune for overall projection. Both guitars have mahogany necks and twelve frets up to where the neck joins the body; ample real estate for most guitarists.
These two guitars are exceptionally musical and eminently playable, but the Saturn has more bottom-end tone and quite a bit more volume. That said, it’s also quite bright and a little bit boxy sounding, though that may warm up after a while. The Neptune, on the other hand, seems quieter in volume projection but its tone is tighter and a mite warmer. It’s a tough call, to be sure, but having played both guitars side by side using various picking and strumming disciplines, our personal consensus is that the Saturn really suits fingerstyle and especially thumb-based playing while the Neptune sounds better when played using a plectrum. Both models are perfect for travel or snuggling up with on the sofa.
That said, to our ears neither guitar has quite the overall sound package of the Taylor GS-Mini (that guitar is just so deliciously warm) but then you need to bear in mind that the basic GS-Mini doesn’t come with onboard electronics (the Electro version costs about £590). Needless to say, both Nomads come in their own soft gig bags for easy transportation. And yes, although bigger than the Baby Taylor and Little Martin, you should have no trouble taking either guitar aboard most airlines, except of course Ryan Air and WizzAir.
Lindo LDG-VOY Voyager Electro
Our search for the ultimate travel-friendly acoustic guitar continues. This homegrown electro acoustic from Bristol-based Lindo ticks a lot of boxes. Its body is almost as shallow as that of the Washburn Rover but its sound projection is way better. Naturally its acoustic volume can’t compete against the fuller bodied acoustics from Martin or Taylor but for its size, it produces a remarkably tight, pleasing tone that actually improves the harder you strum it. Indeed, that smaller sound stage can sometimes be a bonus because you can play this guitar hard without causing too much of a racket.
The first thing you notice with the Lindo Vogager is the exemplary build quality; this strummer is one of the best built travellers we’ve reviewed. It’s beautifully constructed from headstock to end pin and comes bedecked with gorgeous mother of pearl inlays around the binding and the sound hole. Its solid spruce body is also polished to perfection. Indeed, the build quality alone far exceeds the asking price; and that’s without figuring in the excellent on-board pickup replete with three-band Eq and presence control.
The Voyager is about two inches longer than the Little Martin but because its scale length is a near full-sized 24 inches, you get an extra three inches of fretboard to play with, and longer frets in general. Like most travel-sized guitars, it is neck heavy but its scalloped shape makes it very comfortable to cradle. Intonation throughout the scale is spot on and the action is very good though some players might prefer it to be a little lower; we’d suggest first changing the strings to a lower gauge like a .011 to .052 and see how you get on.
The Voyager is available with either a hard case or soft gig bag. The hard case is almost the same size as that for a full-sized electric so don’t bother with it unless you’re a stage artist who is happy to check the guitar into the aircraft hold. We’d suggest the gig bag instead as you’re more likely to be able to take it on the aircraft with you.
So, should you get one? If you’re a jobbing live muso we’d say absolutely – it sounds especially good through a Fishman Loudbox Mini. But if it was solely for on-the-road acoustic accompaniment then the Little Martin still makes for a louder and more satisfying travel companion.
An ingenious design, that’s what this is. What’s the one piece of wood you can lose on a guitar without affecting the tone too much? The headstock. That’s what California's Traveler has done with all of its guitars. It’s removed the headstock and fitted a unique string clamping mechanism on one end and a row of nicely machined twist tuners on the other. The result is arguably the most compact full-sized series of acoustics on the market. Pop it into its natty gig bag, sling it over the shoulder and you could probably sneak this acoustic past even Ryan Air’s beady-eyed baggage spies.
The AG-105’s solid spruce-topped dreadnought-shaped body is perfect for travelling with. Its body is almost exactly the same size as that of a Baby Taylor but its combined length is three inches shorter; and that’s figuring in a full-sized 25½-inch fretboard. More importantly, The AG-105 gives both the Little Martin and Baby Taylor a good innings in the sound department. True, it’s brighter than both (this should mellow with age) and it’s not as tuneful or as deep in tone but that shorter stature could just be the deciding factor. We like this travel buddy's size, overall tone and unabashed quirkiness, but it's not quite in the same league as the Little Martin or Baby Taylor.
Traveler Acoustic AG-105
Tanglewood TWR T Roadster
If you can’t stretch your budget to a Little Martin or Baby Taylor then perhaps consider this cheap and mostly cheerful alternative. The body shape of the Tanglewood Roadster is very close to that of the Baby Taylor, only a little less curved. It’s a pretty looking guitar but it certainly doesn’t compete with the build quality of either the Baby Taylor or Little Martin. There’s not much wrong with the choice of woods (it features laminated mahogany back and sides and a solid cedar top) but there are some serious concerns with the quality of the machine heads which are not remotely precise and are very difficult to tune, especially when down tuning. The fitted strings, too, are cheap and nasty and do little to tickle the fancy (we’d advise changing them straight away to Elixir Customs). The general finish isn’t bad, mind, though you can see plenty of cost cutting in the rough feel of the bridge and the general lack of design flourishes. The action's not bad, though, and the fretboard's intonation is okay.
For the price, the Roadster sounds surprisingly half decent. It’s boxy and harsh when played with a pick but use the thumb and fingers and it delivers a much warmer tone that is perfectly acceptable for music on the go. We’d certainly favour this traveller over the Washburn Rover, but we can’t really recommend it as a learner guitar because those machine heads make it really tricky to tune. You get what you pay for. And in this instance a keenly-priced but unsophisticated traveller with cool gig bag to match. But change those strings immediately!
Cordoba Mini O
Santa Monica-based Cordoba was founded in 1997 and specialises in nylon-strung classical guitars – like this gorgeous mini model on review here. The Mini is available in three different solid tops: Mini M (Mahogany); Mini R (Rosewood); and Mini O (Ovangkol). We were sent the Ovangkol model and it looks absolutely stunning with gorgeous inlay details around the soundhole and a beautiful finish throughout. It’s a real head turner this little strummer and truly wonderful to snuggle up with on the sofa.
The Mino O’s closest competitor on this page is arguably the Hawaiian Kanile’a GL6 Islander reviewed below. Both instruments are the same length and use the same ADGCEA tuning. But, as we’ve tried to explain in the Kanile’a review below, both instruments have had us scratching our heads. The build of the Mini O looks a little bit more classy but because its body is quite a bit bigger, you lose a couple of frets against the Kanile’a’s longer neck. The Cordoba’s action is also a little higher and its specially-produced Aquilla strings are a tad thicker and not quite as satisfying to play. But that sound! Oh yes, this little guitar rewards the player with a warm, rich, plucky tone that is just so appealing to the ear, especially when finger picked. It's remarkably loud, too, which isn't surprising given the larger body.
As we’ve said below, we find it impossibly difficult to decide between the two. Build quality is exemplary on both instruments though the Cordoba looks much more expensive than it actually is. The Cordoba also comes with a cute, padded gig bag and the Kanile’a doesn’t. Ultimately you should decide but, whichever you choose, rest assured you’ll be going home with an instrument that will stay perfectly in tune, sound amazing and provide you with years of finger picking fun. For these reasons we’ve elected to give both instruments our Best Buy award. Cordoba is distributed in the UK by Selectron (www.selectron-uk.co.uk).
Kanile’a GL6 Islander guitarlele
We’re amazed so few musicians have heard of the guitarlele. For travel purposes it fulfils all the criteria of a travel acoustic guitar and makes for a fine recording instrument, too. In a nutshell, the guitarlele is a cross between a ukelele and a classical nylon strung guitar. Consequently, it has six strings instead of just four, and it's tuned just like a guitar when capo’d at the fifth fret (ADGCEA). This configuration makes the guitarlele much more versatile than a ukelele and much easier to play, especially if you’re a guitarist.
The GL6 Islander is part of Kanile’a’s all-laminate budget range and while it certainly can’t compete against its £900+ K-branded, solid-wood siblings, it still sounds amazingly rich in tone and is stupendously well built. The Hawaiian-designed Islander is made from laminated Asian Acacia and has a long, wide 22-fret mahogany neck mounted to a Super Tenor ukelele body. First and foremost, this instrument is truly wonderful to play. It sits nicely in the lap and the top quality black nylon strings have a lovely taught feel about them. It may sound a mite thinner than the Ashbury and Cordoba but its tone is exceptionally tight, twangy and surprisingly loud. There are no boomy overtones either so it should slot into a recording very nicely indeed.
Unlike many other guitarleles, Kanile’a has opted for a bridge pin system and an acoustic-style headstock with good quality open back machine heads rather than the usual classical-style backward facing tuning head arrangement and complicated bridge. This arrangement makes changing strings so much easier and it looks neater, too. All in all we’re hugely impressed by this no-nonsense traveller. Taking the much cheaper Ashbury out of the equation, we really find it difficult to choose between this and the excellent Cordoba Mini O. We’ve done loads of tests using plectrums, finger nails and thumbs and both instruments have excelled in all disciplines: the Cordoba is louder and has more presence but it’s also a we bit boxy when strummed hard while the Islander sounds a bit thinner but is more tuneful when strummed. Both deserve a full high five!
Ashbury AU-40G Guitarrita
We first heard one of these nylon-strung guitarleles (a ukulele crossed with a guitar) being plucked in London’s Hobgoblin folk instruments store and couldn’t believe the lush harp-like sound it generated. So we called one in and we’re glad we did. Like all guitarleles, the Guitarrita has six strings and is tuned just like a guitar, only in the key of A rather than E. It’s only 70mm long and 25mm wide so it should meet pretty much every airline’s cabin baggage requirements.
However, it’s only since pitting it against the excellent Cordoba Mini-O and Kanile’a GL6 Islander that we’ve discovered some of its limitations. Firstly, the neck on this instrument isn’t anywhere near as long as the aforementioned competitors. And that means the frets are much closer together which could be tricky for players with larger hands. It also uses classical style stringing and, as a result, it’s not only more difficult to restring but players who place their wrists on the bridge will keep catching the ends of the strings on their clothing or have their wrists scratched. No big deal but a bit annoying, frankly.
From what we can gather, the body on this instrument is constructed from solid flame oak and it’s an absolute corker. If Ashbury improved the neck and the classical-style headstock on this guitar and approached the same ball-end stringing system as the Cordoba or Kanile’a they’d have a true winner on their hands. In many cases the Ashbury actually sounds richer and deeper than both the Cordoba and Kanile’a. Play it with a pick and you get an earthy ethnic sound. Strum it and it sounds like a baritone ukulele or use your fingertips and enjoy the aural splendour of a stringed harp. If only it was easier to play and held its tuning better.
The Guitarrita is equipped with a flame maple headplate, classical-style open geared machine heads and Aquila nylon strings. It also comes with a natty gig bag. It’s a cute-looking thing, too, and titchy enough to curl up with on a tour bus, pop into an airline cabin compartment or take on a camping trip. And what’s more, it’s cheap as chips. Highly recommended.
Cabin-friendly, travel sized bass guitars are very thin on the ground but we’ve found a little cracker in the 21” Kala U-Bass. California-based Kala is best known for its excellent range of ukuleles and the U-Bass is, to all intents and purposes, a baritone ukulele-sized four-string bass guitar. Yes, we know what you’re thinking. Surely an acoustic bass guitar with these diminutive dimensions would sound downright horrible. Wrong. Yes, we admit that when played acoustically, it’s quite quiet but not much quieter than some full-sized acoustic basses we’ve heard. However, plug this little electro marvel into an amplifier – there are plenty of titchy travel models about – and you won’t believe the rich, deep, beautiful tone it generates. Close your eyes and you’ll think you were listening to a full sized upright bass.
It’s all down to the thick custom polyurethane strings. And what’s more, they’re tuned to the standard EADG configuration. Sure it takes a while to acclimatise to the shorter 20” scale – the frets are naturally closer together – and the rubbery strings themselves roll about under your fingers. You might also need to reach for the Talcum powder if your fingers are sweaty because rubber, as we all know, can be quite sticky. However, you soon forget about these small anomalies because it just sounds so damn good.
We presented the gorgeous mahogany version to Red Box’s bass player whose currently in the studio recording his parts for their next album and he immediately put down his Fender Precision and started laying down some choice bass riffs. The U-Bass is the perfect accompaniment to acoustic-based music like folk, country, skiffle and jazz but, frankly, you could use it for any style of music. We also played it using a pick and it created a delicious rubbery tone without any metallic pick sounds coming off the pickup.
The U-Bass comes in a hard cabin-sized, violin-style case and is fitted with a high-quality electro pickup replete with volume and tone controls. It also features an integrated tuner. And speaking of tuning… Polyurethane strings are very stretchy by nature so tuning them requires about three full rotations of the tuning peg just to get them up a semitone.
Build quality is exemplary throughout and involves three choices of solid woods: mahogany, spruce or acacia. Extra design flourishes like the beautiful inlays and specially-designed machine heads suggest that this is more than just a travel-sized bass. It’s a genuine, must-have addition to any self-respecting bass player’s armoury. As renowned bassist Tal Wilkenfeld succinctly puts it: ‘less space, more bass’.
Lanikai LU21 Ukelele
The ukelele is probably the easiest musical instrument of all to learn to play. It only has four strings and they’re tuned just like the four highest pitched strings on a guitar, only in a different key. You’ll get a good number of chords out of it simply by fretting one or two strings – it’s that easy. The uke is also the ideal travel companion, especially if you go for a titchy soprano model. However, don’t be tempted by anything under the magic £60 bracket as anything below this price is likely to be a pig to tune and have poor intonation. It won’t sound too good either. The Lanikai LU21 is a fabulous introductory model. It keeps its tuning once the gut strings have bedded in (about a week) and it sounds earthy and rich, especially when played with a thumb. And, of course, it’s so small you could fit it in your suitcase or pop it in an aircraft's overhead locker.