Best Travel Guitars – Small, Lightweight and Built for the Road

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Are you looking for a small acoustic guitar that sounds great but that’s compact enough for travel? Or maybe you want a more portable option for family outings, jamming around the campfire or beach parties. Or perhaps you’d heard that small travel guitars have a great tone (which, as we’ll discover, is partly true). Or maybe you’re just curious to know more about them.

backpacker guitar

If any of the above related to you, then you’re in the right place. We went on a mission to find the best travel guitar, and this is what we found.

At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Travel Guitar on the Market

Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.

Here’s what we’ll cover.

What is a Travel Guitar?

Travel guitars generally come in two varieties.

  1. Smaller versions of a full-size guitar (¾ or ½-size) which have the same shape and proportions of full-sized versions, but smaller. A ½-size size is 33 inches tall, while a ¾ size measures at 34 inches. This is a significant difference compared to a full-size averaging at around 40-42 inches.
  2. The ‘Traveler’ type is a tiny, thin bodied guitar which is highly compact and, as the name suggests, perfect for traveling.

Asides from the size and them being more comfortable to transport, there’s another less documented benefit: their sound.

Many players prefer these smaller sized instruments for the mid-range heavy sound that smaller guitars produce. Whereas dreadnoughts and other large acoustic guitars can give out a boomy, low-end sound, small body guitars encourage something lighter and, to many, more pleasant-sounding.

Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations

There are a few things to consider before rushing out to buy a mini-guitar.

Traveling

Compared to other instruments such as drum kits (although there are some pretty decent portable ones now) guitars are relatively good for traveling anyway. That said if you’re planning to do extensive traveling for months at a time, and size and weight is an important consideration, one of the ‘traveler type’ guitars may suit you much better as they’re incredibly small and light. If you want something more substantial but still portable, a ¾ or ½-size guitar will do you nicely. Also, if you’re planning to busk your way around the world (lucky you), consider what you’re going to sit on. There are some superb collapsible lightweight guitar chairs that give you the right posture for playing.

Built-in Pickup

Will you need to mic it up? If so, get a model with a built-in pickup. Although sound engineers can mic up acoustics, they often don’t like doing so, and if you’re playing into a mic you’re limited in terms of how much you can move. A built-in pickup will instantly transform your acoustic into an amplified guitar, making life easy for both yourself and the sound engineers you deal with.

Budget

Some of these are quite high-end in terms of price. It tends to be the ones with built-in pickups that are higher in price. The choice of wood also plays a big part in the price – a lot of mahogany and solid-spruce top models will ensure quality but are on the pricey side. However, if you sacrifice the solid-spruce for laminate spruce, the price often comes down.

Product Round-up and Reviews – Best Travel Guitar

Orangewood Dana Mini/Travel

Orangewood Dana Mini/Travel Acoustic Guitar with Spruce Top, Ernie Ball Earthwood Strings, and Premium Padded Gig Bag Included

The Orangewood Dana Mini/Travel is a ¾ sized concert model which looks stylish and simple. It’s a light wood color and has an optional pick-guard which can be stuck on to protect the finish. The top is layered spruce, and the back and sides are made from mahogany which gives it a rich, warm tone and makes it a pretty good fit for blues. It may be small, but it projects a surprising amount thanks to its X scalloped bracing which brings the most out of the woods and its shape.

Who is this suitable for?

It lends itself to mid-range sounds beautifully and will suit players who like to create delicate sounds and have a gentle way of playing. It will be less suited to people looking for something that they can take out to gigs, or to those specifically looking for a six-string to take on the plane/train.

PROS

  • Layered mahogany back and sides give it a warm tone.
  • X scalloped bracing mean that it projects well for its size.
  • It’s very budget-friendly.

CONS

  • The spruce top is layered (not solid).
  • There are no electronics.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Cordoba Mini II MH

Cordoba Mini II MH

The Cordoba Mini II MH is a tiny instrument that has a natural wood finish and is made entirely of mahogany, giving it a consistently rich, warm sound that is also mellow and well-balanced. Despite its small size, the Cordoba Mini II is quite deep sounding, giving it a depth of tone and a generous amount of projection. It’s a classical guitar, meaning that it has nylon strings and there’s no pick-guard option. There are also, of course, no electronics included in this instrument.

Who is this suitable for?

It will suit beginner players and seasoned fingerstyle players alike as a portable, pleasant-sounding instrument that they can easily transport. It will be less suited to rockier players, or those who are looking for something that they can amplify with ease.

PROS

  • Body, back, sides and neck are mahogany, giving it a consistently rich and warm sound.
  • Nylon strings are easy on beginners’ fingers.
  • Deep body.

CONS

  • Nylon strings don’t suit all styles of playing.
  • There are no electrics.
  • There’s no pick-guard.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Martin LX1E

Martin LX1E Little Martin Solid Sitka Spruce/Mahogany HPL Acoustic/Electric w/Gig Bag

The Martin LX1E is a small electro-acoustic model that’s made of mahogany, giving it a rich, warm and smooth tone. It’s also got a solid Sitka spruce top and X bracing. Both help to enable a superior resonance in the sound. It comes fitted with a high-quality Fishman Sonitone pickup, making it easy to plug in and play. It also means you won’t need to fork out for an additional pickup and acoustic guitar preamp when you realize you need one for gigging (it’s going to happen). It has no pick-guard, which is a shame because the natural wood finish looks beautiful and it would be a shame to ruin it, but that wouldn’t be a problem for fingerstyle guitar players.

Who is this suitable for?

This instrument is quite expensive, but the clarity and quality of the tone make it well-suited to musicians who want something of high quality that they can proudly gig with.

PROS

  • Mahogany neck, back, and sides give it a rich, warm tone.
  • The solid Sitka spruce top offers a superior resonance.
  • There’s a Fishman pickup and tuner included.

CONS

  • It’s quite expensive.
  • No pick-guard.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Martin Steel String Backpacker

Martin Steel String Backpacker Travel Guitar with Bag

The Martin Steel String Backpacker is designed purely for its ease of use and portability. It’s extremely thin: the body is hardly wider than the neck, and the neck itself is also very short, only containing 16 frets, so perfect for those fans of short scale guitars.

Despite its ‘novelty’ kind of looks, it’s also a quality piece of kit that’s easy to tune and sounds much better than you’d expect. It has a solid Sitka spruce top, which gives it an excellent resonance, and its made of solid tonewoods. It’s not the cheapest instrument here, but it does come as part of an impressive bundle, including everything you need to get going.

Who is this suitable for?

There are no electronics, so this isn’t the kind of instrument you’d put before a sound engineer, but it’s perfect for those who need something reliable that they can carry around without the stress that can accompany transporting an instrument. It will be less suited to those who want something a little bit louder that they can plug in.

PROS

  • The ‘backpacker’ shape is exceptionally portable.
  • It has a solid Sitka spruce top, which gives it an excellent resonance.
  • Comes as part of an impressive bundle, including everything you need to get playing.

CONS

  • The unusual shape won’t suit everyone.
  • There are no electrics.
  • No onboard tuner (though there are many free tuning apps you can download to your phone, so it isn’t such a problem)

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Washburn RO10SK-A Rover

Washburn RO10SK Rover Spruce Top Acoustic Travel Guitar with Bag, Tuner, Strap  (Natural)

The Washburn RO10SK-A Rover is another extremely thin, portable model. It also comes as part of a bundle, just like the ‘backpacker.’ It has a mahogany neck, body, and back which give it a rich, warm tone and there is also a solid spruce top which has excellent resonance and projection. The thin shape still has the grooves of a full-size guitar, and the neck is also full-size, so you have access to all of the notes you might usually use.

The bridge and fretboard are rosewood, adding to the smoothness and the tuners are chrome die-cast, so you can trust it to hold its tune.

Who is this suitable for?

As it’s budget-friendly, it will suit those who are used to quality but need to make a cheap purchase that enables them to play while they’re away. It has no electrics, so it might not be the best one for gigging with. The unusual shape might also be ill-suited to some players.

PROS

  • It has a thin, extremely portable shape.
  • Like the ‘backpacker,’ it comes as a part of a bundle.
  • Mahogany neck, body and back give it a rich, warm tone.

CONS

  • No electrics.
  • The shape won’t suit everyone.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Traveler AG-450EQ

Traveler Guitar 6 String AG-450EQ Acoustic/Electric with Gig Bag (Sunburst), Right Handed

The Traveler AG-450EQ is very short in terms of size, but it still has a full-scale neck. This means that you don’t have to sacrifice what you’re used to for the sake of portability.

What’s more, the fretboard is rosewood so that you can enjoy a smooth playing experience. There’s a built-in piezo pickup and tuner, as well as a line out and even an AUX in. There’s also a pick-guard, so you don’t need to worry about damaging the body. It uses a modified version of the traditional bracing system to encourage a higher volume than you’d expect of such a small guitar. It has a mahogany back, body and neck which give it a rich, warm tone and the spruce top helps to project this consistently and smoothly.

Who is this suitable for?

The Traveler AG-450EQ is quite expensive, but its smoothness, comfortable shape, and high-quality electronics make it the perfect option for those who are looking for something that they can use for jamming and even gigs. It will be less suited to those looking for the ultimate in lightness and portability, who aren’t interested in plugging in.

PROS

  • Mahogany back, body and neck give it a rich, warm sound.
  • There’s a piezo pickup included.
  • Includes a built-in tuner and an AUX in so that you can play along with MP3s.

CONS

  • It’s expensive.
  • The spruce top is laminate, not solid.

CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

So, Which Should I Choose?

If you’re looking for something that is small, that you can transport from A to B without even making it obvious that it’s a guitar, the Washburn RO10SK-A Rover or the Martin Steel String Backpacker are ideal. The Washburn is a budget-friendly option, which combines high-quality features like a mahogany neck, body and back with a smooth shape and a full-sized fretboard. The Martin Steel String Backpacker has a smaller neck, and its body is extremely thin, but the solid Sitka top ensures that it still sounds great and it’s easily the most portable on our list.

If you need one that you can plug in, the Traveler AG-450EQ or the Martin LX1E are your best choices. The Traveler AG-450EQ is made from mahogany, and its electrical features include a built-in tuner and an AUX in, as well as a piezo pickup. The Martin LX1E also has a built-in tuner, with a Fishman pickup. It has a solid spruce top which gives it excellent resonance and projection for its size.

For people on a budget, the Orangewood Dana Mini/Travel comes at a very reasonable price and would make a beautiful travel companion, with its delicate, mid-range sound and warm, smooth tone.

If you’re a classical guitarist, the Cordoba Mini II is our nylon string option here. It has a mahogany body, back, and sides and the body is also thicker than a lot of travel-sized guitars, meaning that you have a little more control over your dynamics and projection.


 

Featured image: Housing Works Thrift Shops / CC By-SA 2.0

Ged Richardson

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He's a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band 'Django Mango' and a lover of all things music. When he's not ripping up and down the fretboard, he's tinkering with his '79 Campervan.