Travel guitars are no longer obscure, niche instruments or novelties – some of the world’s leading manufacturers now make travel guitars that sit alongside full size guitars in their lineups. While a scaled down guitar isn’t as likely to have the rich tones that you’d expect of a full size model, the best travel guitars don’t sacrifice sound for size.
In this guide I will be reviewing the 7 best travel guitars on the market in 2021. In order to give a fair comparison, we will be looking at each instrument on the same criteria – build quality, playability, sound, and overall value for money.
- Our Top Three Picks
- Traveler Guitar Travelcaster Deluxe – Our Top Pick
- Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy – Best Budget Option
- Traveler Guitar LTD EC-1 – KGR Editor’s Choice
- Martin Backpacker Steel String
- PRS SE Parlor P20
- Hofner CT Series Shorty
- Taylor BT2 “Baby Taylor”
- Buyer’s Guide
- Final Thoughts
Our Top Three Picks
The Traveler Guitar Travelcaster Deluxe was declared our overall best pick in the travel guitar category. It’s undeniably cool, and while it literally defines the travel guitar genre, it is well spec’d enough to hold up to live performances and even recording. The pickups are well rounded, giving life to the mids and highs without sounding tinny. In all, this model is built without compromise, and has all the features of a full size electric guitar at a fraction of the size and weight.
The Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy Flat Top is our best value pick. As a parlor size acoustic guitar, it’s ideal for travel. It’s ¾ scale lightweight, and really well made considering the price. It offers truly old school looks, and a surprisingly rich, sweet sound. It’s made with an Agathis top back and sides, a durable wood that will stand up well to the rigors of travel, and at this low price, you aren’t likely to worry about keeping it shiny!
The Traveler Guitar LTD EC-1 is our editor’s pick – if you’re in the market for a high end travel guitar that pulls out all the stops, this is the one for you. It’s a full scale guitar with a Les Paul style body, and yet it fits conveniently in most airplane overhead baggage compartments. It’s packed with incredible features, and the finish is absolutely beautiful. This is a real head turner that will get you noticed wherever your travels take you.
Traveler Guitar Travelcaster Deluxe – Our Top Pick
A full featured travel guitar that stands out from the pack
The Traveler Guitar Travelcaster Deluxe is a striking guitar with an instantly recognizable silhouette. It is clearly inspired by the Stratocaster, yet the entire body fits inside the area of the pickguard. This guitar is 100% full scale and is equipped with a fast, 1 piece, bolt on maple neck. Tuners are precise and offer superb stability – they are laid out 3×3 and are mounted on the headstock, so transition from a full size guitar should be straight forward.
It’s lightweight and comfortable, weighing in at around 5lb, which is about 35% lighter than a full size. The body is poplar, a traditional electric guitar tone wood, prized for low weight and rich tones. Also contributing to the excellent tone is the bone nut. If you’re concerned about tonal issues due to the reduced mass, you needn’t be – the sturdy construction keeps things tight, and it’s fitted with a big trem block for increased sustain.
The pickups are laid out in traditional Stratocaster style SSS layout, with a 5 way selector switch. They offer excellent clarity and the bell like tones that this layout is famous for. Even though it’s 14% shorter than a full size Strat, it’s still equipped with a fully functional vintage style tremolo system for maximum expression, and an adjustable 2 point fulcrum bridge. Action out of the box is excellent, but in case the standard setup doesn’t suit you, it does have standard Strat style adjustable saddles.
The Traveler Guitar Travelcaster SSS is available in 2 finish options, surf green, and gloss black.
Verdict: This is the instrument that defines the travel sized electric guitar genre. It’s not likely to replace a full size instrument full time, mainly due to the ergonomics, but if you’re looking to avoid compromising on features, the Traveler Guitar Travelcaster is a great choice! Build quality is excellent, and it’s clear that quality components have been used throughout, as evidenced by the well rounded tones and smooth, crackle free pots, and all for under $300!
Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy – Best Budget Option
Vintage styling that’s perfect for campfire strumming
Our best budget option is the Gretsch G9500 “Jim Dandy” Flat Top. This is a 24” scale parlor guitar that oozes old school style. It’s finished in a beautiful vintage sunburst with an off white pickguard that really sets the look off. The top, back and sides are made from Agathis, a tone wood that is related to the pines that would have been used on the early acoustics that inspired the G9500 – this keeps both the look and the sound authentic, but provides durability that isn’t possible from soft woods like pine.
The bridge is a no pin design, which makes string changes much faster, and because there’s no pins to lose, you’re less likely to encounter issues while out on the road. Gretsch have kept this guitar is pure acoustic to cram as much quality as they could and keep the price rock bottom. It’s made with a steel reinforced, set nato wood neck. The neck is joined to the body at the 12th fret, and the bouts are extended, meaning this guitar, like the smaller guitars of old, is able to project far better than its size would suggest.
Look towards the headstock and you’ll see the impossibly cool, vintage style open tuning machines and retro “Jim Dandy” typeface.
Verdict: The Gretsch G9500 Jim Dandy Flat Top is a solid choice for budget conscious players who don’t want to be without a guitar during their travels. It offers solid wood construction throughout, an uncommon feature at this price. The sound is unlike anything else in the category, and while the raw, delta blues tone isn’t for everybody, the compact size and powerful projection combination make it an ideal travel companion for anybody.
Traveler Guitar LTD EC-1 – KGR Editor’s Choice
A luxury guitar that can go anywhere
For the LTD EC-1, Traveler Guitar teamed up with ESP to create the finest travel size electric guitar on the market. To look at, this guitar is stunning – this deluxe version has a Les Paul style body made from mahogany for superior tone, and a quilted maple finish that would look right at home on a $4000 PRS. By removing the headstock and compressing the body, Traveler Guitar have managed to keep a full 24.75” scale, and still make this guitar 24% shorter and 29% lighter than a full size LP style instrument while retaining the ergonomics, comfort and playability. The EC-1 is customizable too, with adjustable saddles to correct both action and intonation.
Another of this guitar’s more unique design features is the layout of the tuners, which to save space have been embedded right in the center of the body. The strings wrap around the bridge and through the body to the machine heads, which are located on the back. What makes this guitar stand out the most is the built in amplifier – within this tiny body, there is a headphone preamp, meaning there’s no need to even carry a mini amp with you. Simply plug in your headphones and away you go. To ensure full, rich tones, it’s fitted with a full size ESP Designed active humbucker. Further to that, the built in amp even has clean boost, overdrive and distortion settings, giving you the ability to access a full tonal range without the need to carry anything other than the guitar and headphones.
The Traveler Guitar LTD EC-1 is available in quilted maple Dark Brown Sunburst, or quilted maple Violet Shadow finishes.
Verdict: If you’re in the market for a high end guitar to take anywhere, there aren’t many better than the Traveler Guitar LTD EC-1. It’s made with premium materials, and in a much more conventional style than typical electric travel guitars, which significantly enhances playability.
Familiar Martin quality and tones with unconventional styling
The Martin Backpacker is one of the lightest, most compact travel guitars available thanks to its paddle-like styling. The design isn’t universally appealing, but the fact that Martin was able to make a guitar that retains the character of their larger instruments in such a compact package, and at such a low price is incredible. The tone is sweet thanks to the solid spruce top, and the nice, medium height action keeps it playable for most guitarists.
The 15 fret neck is quite thick, and just about perfect for fingerstyle. It’s short scale at 24”, but it’s still comfortable for most players. Despite the fact that there is no truss rod adjustability, intonation is fantastic, and tuning stability is amongst the best of any travel guitar. Some purists might be disappointed to learn that it has a Richlite fretboard, but in all honesty, fretboard material on a guitar of this size and style is almost indistinguishable tonally, so in reality this is a perfect, hard wearing material for a travel guitar.
The Martin Backpacker comes in a natural finish and is supplied with a handy backpack style gig bag.
Verdict: The Martin Backpacker Steel String will never sound as rich as a D-45, but regardless of its unusual shape and small size, the sound is surprisingly full. It is made in Martin’s Mexico plant, and is subject to the same QA process as any other Martin, so quality is assured. In all, this is a great choice if brand is as important to you as sound.
Legendary PRS design in a travel sized package
The PRS SE P20E is a former best overall winner in our 7 best parlor guitars review, but in the travel guitar category we’ve decided to select the P20 acoustic only version. This version is built to the same standards and specs, but without the pickups. To refresh your memory, it features full, solid mahogany construction, from the top to the neck, back, and sides, and this combination provides a beautiful warmth that holds up against any full size guitar. The genuine bone nut and saddle also help with the fantastic tone.
Of course, it has the classic “birds in flight” fretboard inlay, and PRS headstock, so, even though this brand isn’t widely known for acoustics, people will be in no doubt as to what you’re playing. The body features an X brace/classical bracing hybrid which provides excellent top resonance with a stiff back and sides for excellent parlor style projection, despite the condensed size.
As far as playability is concerned, this guitar is amongst the best in this field. It has a typically chunky PRS neck, accurately described as “wide fat”, which feels great in the hand. It’s on the more expensive end of the scale, but you’re getting an heirloom quality instrument that plays beautifully and looks incredible.
Verdict: The PRS SE Parlor P20 is a high end parlor guitar that is at home on the road is it is on the stage or in the studio. It’s a quality instrument that should provide many years of joy thanks to its world class build quality and warm, punchy tone. It also comes with a gig bag, which should be helpful on your travels.
A tiny electric guitar with a big humbucker punch
The Hofner Shorty CT Series is a full scale micro-electric guitar based on the original 1980s version. It’s loaded with a full 24 fret maple neck, with a cutaway that gives you access to every note on its rosewood fretboard. Because of the tiny basswood body, this guitar is incredibly quiet when played acoustically, which is ideal for practicing technique in situations where making noise isn’t an option.
It has a single, bridge position humbucking pickup which is bright without being too tinny. For a guitar at this price point, the pots are also surprisingly good, with no crackle, and no noticeable drop off, allowing you access to a wide range of tones through the volume and tone knobs. The small body is excellent for travel, although for playability it’s better suited to guitarists who like to play standing up.
Intonation out of the box is excellent, but should you need to adjust it, you can do so easily with its tune-o-matic style bridge. It comes with sealed machine heads that provide excellent tuning stability. Action is nice and low, making it comfortable to play, and the neck is fast.
Verdict: The Hofner CT Series Shorty is a great value option for anybody looking for an electric travel guitar. It’s very inexpensive, but still really well made. The small body can make it feel a bit neck-heavy, but this is easily overcome with a properly adjusted strap.
Sweet Taylor sound designed for the road
If you prefer a more traditional guitar for your travels, and you aren’t a fan of the parlor body shape, the Taylor BT2 Baby Taylor might be just what you’re looking for. It offers a familiar dreadnought body style in a ¾ size package. It’s small and light enough to take almost anywhere, and you won’t sacrifice tone and projection. The top is a beautiful tropical American mahogany, and the back and sides are layered sapele – this provides a pleasing tone that’s brimming with mid range punch.
It’s a very well spec’d guitar, coming with an ebony fretboard with well finished frets, and a Tusq nut, both of which really add resonance – plus intonation is good, thanks to the compensated micarta saddle. It comes with one of the nicest gig bags of any travel guitar, too, so you can be confident that it shouldn’t take damage when you’re on the move.
Verdict: Overall, the Taylor BT2 Baby Taylor is a great acoustic guitar that can hold its own as your only instrument if necessary. It is extremely well made, and fixtures, fittings and components are of the highest quality. If you can only have one guitar, and you need it to be portable, you can do a lot worse than this!
If you’re a guitarist who travels regularly, you’ll know the pain of having to leave your axe behind. Having a travel guitar in your collection ensures you can keep up your practice no matter where you go, or just strum away the hours when there’s nothing else to do.
What Kinds Of Travel Guitars Are Available?
Despite the travel guitar market being quite niche, there are a growing number of manufacturers making reduced sized instruments in a range of styles. You can find travel guitars in both electric and acoustic form, and no matter what your taste is, you will find something to suit. These instruments are available in traditional, albeit smaller, styles, or in contemporary shapes designed to cut size and weight down to the bare minimum while still retaining playability.
What Are The Features To Look For?
Just like full size guitars, there are certain features in a travel guitar that help them to stand out as better than the others. First of all, is it small enough? Of course, this is going to depend on your specific needs – if you’re taking it in your car, or even on a train or bus, your size needs will differ from somebody who is planning to take their guitar somewhere with actual size restrictions, on an aircraft for example. If you do plan to fly with your guitar, look for instruments that specifically mention that they fit in an overhead bin in their description.
You will also need to consider playability. It is all well and good buying a tiny guitar that you can take anywhere, but if it can’t hold a tune, or has an action high enough to drive a car under, it won’t be a pleasant playing experience, and you may not end up using it at all. Fortunately, there are many travel sized guitars on the market with great necks, solid tuning stability and, in some cases, even adjustable saddle height.
Next, consider the scale that you’d like to play with. There are reduced size travel guitars that closely resemble full sized ones, but in the process of shrinking the body, also reduced the scale. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but if you’re a player with large hands, you may struggle with a reduced size fretboard. On the other hand, there are some incredibly creative designs that efficiently use every inch of available real estate and manage to cram full scale fretboards into “barely there” bodies.
Another important feature to look for is overall build quality and durability. Travel guitars will likely see a lot of miles, and over those miles they’ll undoubtedly pick up some scars. How well a travel guitar can hold up to these dings is down to how well it’s made. The unusual size and shape of many of these instruments does mean that finding aftermarket gig bags or even hard cases is difficult at best, so it’s always a good idea to look out for guitars that come with a case of some description to provide some protection between uses.
Travel guitars are so varied in style and functionality that it can be hard to know where to get started if you’ve never shopped for one before. Fortunately, the manufacturers have put a lot into improving the intelligence of their design in recent years, so function isn’t always sacrificed for form.