As a guitarist, having an instrument you can travel with is a big advantage. It vanquishes boredom and makes deep-woods (or desert-island) singalongs possible. And you’re always ready when inspiration strikes—as it often does—away from home.
When choosing an acoustic travel guitar, you have to think of it in terms of trade-offs. You’re always sacrificing something in the name of reducing the body length from the standard 48 inches. Every travel guitar negotiates these trade-offs differently. Ultimately, your needs and preferences will determine which model is right for you. How light and portable does your guitar need to be? How loud? How cheap?
Below we’ll break down some of the most popular acoustic travel guitars available to help you make this difficult (but ultimately kinda fun) decision and save you from resorting to a ukelele.
Traveler Guitar Ultra-Light Acoustic-Electric Travel Guitar
The big selling point of the Ultra-Light Acoustic-Electric Travel Guitar is a clever design that produces an incredibly portable instrument without compromising scale length (the distance between the nut and the bridge). If you’ve got a Les Paul at home, this guitar should offer a similar playing experience. (If you play a Stratocaster or Telecaster or full-scale acoustic, it’s still pretty darn close!) The frets are on the same scale, and the muscle memory you’ve developed playing on a full-scale guitar will do you just fine. By that same token, this guitar is not optimized for players with smaller hands, unlike many other travel guitars. If you’re of smaller stature or you’re buying for a child, there are other models that will give you that sweet spot between portability and playability.
The Ultra-Light is marketed as an acoustic-electric and comes with an acoustic-style under-saddle piezo pickup. But that said, it’s pretty quiet when not plugged in, so it’s not ideal for all situations. And if you’ve got to carry around an amplifier to be heard, that’s going to detract from its portability.
- A full 24.75-inch scale length with a total length of just 28 inches. It fits in most airplane overhead bins.
- 22 frets.
- Weighs less than three pounds. You could hike up a mountain with this thing for sure.
- Detachable lap rest to simulate the feel of playing a full-size instrument.
- Under-saddle piezo pickup and 1/4-inch output jack.
- Fun, freaky design. The maple neck-through-body construction is pretty solid.
- Available in five different colors: maple, vintage red, natural, antique brown and matte black.
- Three-year limited warranty.
- Quiet when not plugged in.
- A bit pricey at around $300. Some players may find it hard to justify paying that much for an “extra” guitar.
- Thinner neck that detracts from the full-scale feel.
Cordoba Mini M Travel Acoustic Guitar
The Cordoba Mini M takes different approach to retaining a full-size feel in a travel guitar, this time for nylon-string players. With a traditional acoustic body shape, the Mini M sacrifices scale length to hold onto better projection. If you’re used to steel-string acoustics, bear in mind that the classical guitar is a different beast—the fingerboard is flatter, the strings are more widely spaced, and the neck shape is conducive to classical fretting-hand technique. Cordoba advertises the Mini M as appropriate for children just learning to play. And the shorter scale and smaller body size are definitely kid friendly. But the full-width fingerboard may frustrate some younger players trying to fret six-string chords.
- 20-inch scale length, with a total length of 30.5 inches. It fits in most airplane overhead bins.
- 19 frets.
- Full 1.96-inch nut width. The neck will feel comfortable to musicians used to playing full-size classical guitars.
- Weighs 2.5 pounds.
- High-quality bone nut and saddle.
- Solid spruce top, laminated mahogany back and sides.
- Rosewood fingerboard and bridge.
- Fits in airline overhead bins with gig bag, included.
- Traditional construction and high-quality woods. A “real guitar” in miniature.
- Excellent sound for the size.
- Very well priced at under $200.
- Comes strung in A-standard (ADGCEa). You can order a set of E-standard strings, but the manufacturer warns they won’t sound quite as good at this scale.
- Shallow depth (2.5-3 inches)
- Fingerboard width makes it less than optimal for players with small hands.
Martin LXK2 Little Martin Koa Guitar
If you’re looking for a travel guitar that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, you can always go with a 3/4 student model. They won’t be as stunningly portable as some of the more innovative designs, but they’ll sound and feel like a guitar. And kids can play them too. The Martin LXK2 “Little Martin” is one great option. The company skimps a bit on materials to create an affordable beginner instrument whose sturdiness you can still trust: a great sounding and feeling guitar that you won’t be afraid to take on the road and let the kids mess around with.
- 23-inch scale length, with a total length of 34 inches.
- 20 frets.
- Weighs 8.5 pounds.
- Sustainable Richlite fingerboard.
- Authentic guitar sound.
- At $300 – $400, the price is fair.
- High-pressure laminate (as opposed to solid wood) top.
- Doesn’t fit in overhead bins on smaller airplanes.
- Cash-strapped players might do better to spend a little more on a Taylor GS mini to get a parlor guitar that can also work as their primary instrument.
Taylor GS Mini Acoustic Guitar
The GS Mini is Taylor’s take on the 3/4-size acoustic, a scaled-down version of its popular Grand Symphony guitar. This guitar is best for the player just looking for something a little less cumbersome and more child and small-hand friendly than a standard guitar and sounds unapologetically killer.
- 23.5-inch scale length, with a total length of 36.5 inches.
- 20 frets.
- Solid wood top.
- Good enough to gig and record with. This could work as your main guitar.
- One of the least portable options for a travel guitar.
- At around $500, it’s fairly priced, but a bit more than some will want to pay for an “extra” guitar.
Yamaha SLG200S/SLG200N/SLG200NW Silent Guitar
The Yamaha SLG200S is another silent “acoustic” travel guitar. That is to say, it’s extremely quiet when played unplugged, but emulates the feel and sound (when plugged in) of an acoustic. The shape allows you to set the guitar comfortably on your lap, and the upper bout comes on and off quickly, increasing its portability. The guitar’s onboard electronics include tone controls and allow you to blend a digitally modeled guitar sound (round, beefy) with the undersaddle piezo microphone (bright, brittle). It also comes with an onboard tuner and reverb and chorus effects.
If you love the sound of it (and many do), it could be pretty handy in a live setting. You can switch to an acoustic guitar for a couple songs without needing extra mics or a whole other rig. And because there’s no resonating chamber, you don’t have to worry about unwanted onstage feedback.
Ultimately, the SLG200 would really nail it for the player who needs a guitar on the road to practice or write songs silently with a realistic acoustic tone pumping through the headphones. It’s less ideal for the campfire singalong. The Yamaha SLG models have a rabid fan base, to be sure. Likely, anyone who wasn’t completely in love with it would be turned off by the price point.
- A full 25.5-inch scale, with a total length of 38.18 inches (nylon) or a 25-inch scale, with a total length of 38.18 inches (steel-string).
- 19 frets (nylon) or 22 frets (steel-string).
- Weighs 4 pounds, 10 ounces.
- Comes in two nylon-string versions and a steel-string version.
- Aux input for playing along with recordings.
- A “full size” guitar that fits into most airplane overhead bins.
- Sculptable tone.
- Perfect for silent practicing with headphones.
- Onboard chorus and reverb.
- At more than $600, you better love it.
- Not for communal playing, unless you plug it into an amplifier.
Martin Backpacker Travel Guitar
The Martin backpacker is the classic, strum-a-few-chords-at-the-peak-of-the-mountain guitar. It’s much smaller and lighter than a regular guitar but the kid-friendly scale length is not terribly short. It’s shallow, and has a little bit of that “tuna box” sound, but projects surprisingly well. And it comes in both nylon and steel-string versions.
It’s best to play with a strap, as the body design does not allow the guitar sit naturally in your lap as you play.
- 24-inch scale length, with a total length of around 33 inches.
- 15 frets.
- Weighs 2 pounds, 2 ounces.
- Comes in both nylon-string and steel-string versions.
- A Martin for $229?!
- Does not sit comfortably on your lap.