When you’re going on the road, whether it is specifically to perform or you just can’t imagine being without a guitar at all times, you will likely find that your favorite axe is too heavy to manage easily. It is probably too precious to risk, as well. Travel can certainly be damaging to a guitar, and your most special instrument will be safer at home. We have collected five highly rated guitars, including electric, acoustic, and hybrid models, that deliver fantastic sound while still being light and compact enough to fit in an overhead compartment. Stick with us to discover your best travel guitar, no matter where you’re going.
Reasons to Get a Travel Guitar
The road can be hard on a body, and a guitar body is no different. Bumps, scratches, and scuffs can occur, especially because guitars aren’t exactly shaped for easy storage and transport. Travel can often include constant changes in humidity, which is also quite hard on your guitar’s tonewoods, finish, and electronics.
Travel guitars are built smaller for easier transport. The small guitar price point also tends to be less than the cost of a full-sized axe, but that’s not always the case. A lot depends on brand. And though a smaller guitar does have slightly different sound, there are lots of options that include acoustic, electric, and hybrid models.
Your best guitars, especially if they are collectible, are better left at home in temperature controlled storage. We have collected five guitars with a nice balance of size, durability, and price so that you can still have great sound in a more portable package, with less worry about damage.
Things to Consider when Buying a Travel Guitar
You know you don’t want to travel with your best instrument, but what features will you need in a travel guitar? There is a lot to consider, but the ultimate goal is to find an axe that no one can tell is your backup when you play. Following are some features to think about when making your choice.
Size & Weight
The size and weight of your travel guitar are the top considerations, but what you need those numbers to be depends on your mode of travel. In general, we have tried to stick with guitars that can fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane and qualify as carry-on luggage. Space considerations may be different if you’ll be in a car or bus.
In regard to weight, you might be more concerned with this if you need to carry it by hand for long periods of time. We have noted the weight and dimensions of each of the guitars on our list to help you decide.
Playability (Scale Length & Nut Width)
For ultimate comfort, you may want a travel guitar with the same scale length and nut width as your main axe. Scale length is the span of the strings as stretched from the nut to the bridge, while nut width is how wide the neck is at the nut. Most people consider guitars with a shorter scale length easier to play overall, but that might not be the case if you’re not used to it. This is totally a matter of personal preference.
The smaller body of a travel guitar will initially feel strange as it fits your body differently. When sitting down without a guitar strap, you may want an extension piece that allows the guitar to rest on your legs like your regular one would do. When standing, an adjustable strap should allow you to position such that your arms and hands are at a familiar level.
A travel guitar might not necessarily have the same bells and whistles as a full-sized one, but it’s usually pretty important to be able to plug your guitar into a portable amplifier. Another helpful feature is a headphone jack for when you need to jam quietly. Some smaller guitars also have a built-in tuner and effects or an aux input so you can play with an external track.
With all of the functional aspects discussed, we can’t forget how important it is to find a guitar with a look you enjoy. Your guitar makes a personal statement as says something about you as an artist. Several of the guitars on our list come in different finishes, so you can pick the one that appeals to your aesthetic sense and inspires your music.
Now on to the instruments! Check out our at-a-glance specs on the best travels guitars according to user reviews.
Top Five Best Travel Humidifiers 2018—Comparison table
28 x 5.2 x 2 in.
Red, Black, Natural
4.7 x 36.2 x 9.4 in.
30.5 x 10 x 3.2 in.
3 Different Wood Combos
28 x 5.2 x 2 in.
Antique Brown & Natural
40.9 x 17.8 x 7.3 in
Natural & Sunburst
1 Traveler Guitar ULEL BLK Ultra-Light Electric Black Travel Guitar with Gig Bag
This ultra-light model is a well-built and reliable portable electric guitar. It has the same playing area as a standard guitar but in a much smaller package. Indeed, this axe is 28% shorter than a full-sized guitar and 68% lighter than a full-sized electric. With no headstock and an ergonomic body design, you can stow it easily in an overhead compartment.
Traveler uses a proprietary in-body tuning system that works with standard tuning machines but is located in the body to maintain the full-scale neck in a smaller instrument. It also comes with a high-output dual-rail humbucker and a standard ¼ inch output so you don’t need a special amp or recording device when you want to connect.
This guitar comes with a nice padded gig bag, but no strap. Some users have reported that they felt like they needed a strap to stabilize the instrument for playing. It does have an included detachable lap rest for seated playing.
28 x 5.2 x 2 inches
Three year warranty
- Super light and easy to carry in the included gig bag.
- Full scale neck.
- Tuning system uses regular strings.
- No volume or tone controls.
- Body edge might not be a comfortable place to rest forearm.
- May be too light to stabilize on lap without a strap.
2 Martin Steel String Backpacker Travel Guitar with Bag
If you’re looking for a reliable instrument with a slightly heavier body, check out this Martin travel guitar. It has a solid spruce top and solid tonewood back and sides with a unique contour neck shape. A nice feel-good feature is that it is made from certified sustainable wood products.
This guitar has a 24” scale length with 15 frets and steel strings. Though it is neck-heavy and too small to really rest on your lap, the Martin Backpacker does come equipped with a shoulder strap to keep it secure while you’re playing.
Users appreciate the solid construction and the fact that it comes with both a travel bag and a strap. Though the volume is somewhat less than a full-sized guitar, most people weren’t bothered by it. Martin includes a thorough instruction manual that humorously describes “Care & Feeding” of your instrument. The Backpacker is a hard-to-beat travel acoustic guitar.
4.7 x 36.2 x 9.4 inches
One year warranty
- Well-made and sturdy.
- Comes with travel bag and strap.
- Nice low action.
- May be difficult to keep in tune.
- Too small to rest on lap.
- Could be too long to carry on smaller airplanes.
3 Cordoba Mini Travel Acoustic Nylon String Guitar with Cordoba Gig Bag
The Cordoba Mini is the lightest travel guitar on our list, weighing in at just 2.5 pounds. It comes with a travel bag and easily fits in the overhead compartment of an airplane. Still, it offers the playability of a full-sized guitar with a surprisingly loud voice. It has a thin U-shaped neck, 20” scale length, and 50mm nut width for the feel and spacing of a larger instrument.
Minis come in three different styles: Mini M has a spruce top and mahogany sides and back for a clear and complex tone; Mini R has a spruce top with Indian rosewood for the back and sides to provide a deep and full tone; and finally, the Mini O is solid ovangkol for a rich, warm tone and more exotic styling.
This is a nylon string travel guitar. It comes strung and tuned up a fourth from a standard guitar, which the manufacturer believes offers the most vibrant tone from such a small instrument. You may purchase E strings separately if you prefer standard tuning.
30.5 x 10 x 3.2 inches
Limited lifetime warranty
- Full width neck.
- Nice tone and ample volume.
- Comfortable lap guitar.
- No strap post or strap.
- Gig bag is a touch short.
- May need setup out of the box.
4 Traveler Guitar PRO BRN Pro-Series Hybrid Acoustic/Electric Guitar with Gig Bag
Traveler is one of the biggest names in travel guitars, and as such, the brand features twice on our list. This model is an acoustic-electric hybrid, so it really serves as two guitars in one. It has a one-piece maple neck and comes in an antique brown satin finish. Like all travel guitars from this company, it is a full-scale instrument that has relocated the tuning system to the body in order to eliminate the need for a headstock.
With a body thickness of just 1.5 inches and a length of 28”, this may be the best travel guitar for airplane trips. It also has a detachable lap rest to further support ease of packing. The included deluxe gig bag is very nicely padded and features additional pockets for accessories. This Traveler actually comes with a couple of nice ones – a shoulder strap and a stethophone headset for private listening without need of batteries or an amp.
The Pro-Series is perfect for anyone who wants an acoustic and electric guitar in one. It has a custom piezo pickup plus a single-coil electric pickup, allowing players to produce a breadth of tones and styles without changing instruments. The sound is great through either an acoustic or electric amplifier.
28 x 5.2 x 2 inches
Three year warranty
- Full length fretboard.
- Comes with a padded case with storage pockets + a shoulder strap.
- Stethophone headset included.
- ¼” jack is a bit shallow for some headphones.
- Needs the shoulder strap for balance.
- Touchy tuning.
5 Fender CT-140SE Acoustic-Electric Guitar with Case - Travel Body Style
Pretty much everyone is familiar with the Fender brand, whether they play or not. Now Fender has ventured into travel guitars with their CT-140SE Acoustic-Electric Hybrid. Based on the classic Auditorium style, this is a very pretty and recognizable body that has simply been scaled down to 23.5” for ease of travel. It comes with a nice sturdy hardshell case that will protect your instrument better than a padded gig bag.
It has a solid spruce top with scalloped “X”-bracing and rosewood back and sides. It comes in either a Sunburst or Natural finish. The neck is easy to play due to the rolled fingerboard edges and the thin profile of the Auditorium style is easier to hold than a thicker Dreadnaught. The travel-friendly Fender features the Fishman Presys pickup/preamp. The sound has been described as cheery and rich, but not overly strong on bass.
This Fender guitar is a great choice for people who need a smaller travel guitar but like a little weight and heft to their instrument. At nearly 13 pounds, it rivals a full-sized electric guitar. For that reason, this model is not the best for carrying on your back all around town, but it does fit nicely on your lap for playing without need of a special lap rest.
40.9 x 17.8 x 7.3 inches
Two year warranty
- Full sound with crisp highs.
- Comfortable lap guitar.
- Includes hardshell case.
- Case lock can be tricky.
- Longer and heavier than other travel guitars.
- Slightly limited on bass tones.
Guitar Maintenance Tips
Guitars are delicate instruments that need a fair bit of maintenance under the best of circumstances. When you have a travel guitar that is in near-constant motion and takes the bumps of life on the road, it will require extra TLC. Your guitar is a significant investment, and preventative care will extend its life.
Following are the top tips about guitar maintenance that every player should know.
1. Humidity Affects Performance
Most guitars are made of some combination of tonewoods, which are highly sensitive to humidity. Excess moisture in the air will be absorbed by the porous wood, and acoustic guitars are especially at risk because of their thin construction. Moisture leads to swelling, which can cause a separation in the joins at multiple points on the instrument.
On the other hand, air that is too dry causes the wood to shrink and potentially warp or crack the guitar’s neck. You can tell that your guitar is too dry if the frets start to feel sharp where they come away from the wood surface. You may also notice that your guitar has become flat where it should be bowed outward in a gentle curve.
The ideal relative humidity, for the comfort of humans as well as instruments, is somewhere between 45-55%. The best way to protect your guitar from either too much or too little humidity is simply to put it back in its case when you’re not playing it. Yes, it looks great on a stand or hung on the wall, but you can control the humidity level of a case much more easily than an entire room.
There are products available that can monitor the humidity level around your guitar, and those than can remove or add moisture as needed. This is a worthwhile investment in the health of your instrument. If you ever notice cracks or separated joints on your guitar, it’s time to take it to a professional.
2. Cleaning is Crucial
The most common way for your guitar to get dirty is by playing it. The natural oils in your skin can leave marks in the finish and yucky deposits on the fingerboard. Sweat and dead skin also play a part in degrading the guitar’s surface. The solution is to keep a clean, dry cloth in your case and give your instrument a thorough wipe down before and after each session.
You can also buy special guitar cleaning products, but make sure that the kind you buy is appropriate for the particular finish and style of your guitar. A professional can help you if the finish on your axe is damaged.
3. Conditioning the Fingerboard
While the body of your guitar is carefully finished and sealed, the same is rarely true of the fingerboard. You may have noticed that this area is always the first to show signs of excess dryness. Conditioning the fingerboard with a specialized product is the best way to keep it healthy. The best brands of conditioner will also lift grime while polishing.
Some products are labeled for guitars but won’t do your instrument any favors – avoid ones that contain silicone and make sure whatever you choose is designed specifically for natural wood fingerboards. Be careful not to over-condition, as too much moisture is just as damaging as too little. If your fingerboard has cracked or has loose frets, head to a repair shop.
4. Properly Restringing
Restringing your guitar is a basic skill that it’s important to learn, but it can be challenging. Getting it wrong leads to problems like poor intonation, difficultly tuning, and frequent string breakage – all totally frustrating when you just want to play. When it comes to restringing, be patient and go with the learning curve.
The process of restringing your guitar depends on what type of guitar and bridge you’re working with, but you always start at the bridge. Most steel-strung guitars take a bit of the pressure off of you with a series of slots or else a set of bridge pins designed to keep the strings secure. If it has pins, they can be pulled out by hand, or if they’re stuck, with a pair of tweezers.
Thread the ball ends of the new strings tightly against the pins and press the pins back into place firmly with your thumb. If your guitar just has slots, make sure they are facing forward as you thread the strings.
Classical guitars are a little trickier. You will need to tie a knot to keep your new strings in place. You can use whatever method works for you, but it’s usually easiest to do after you’ve threaded the string through the bridge. You don’t need to tie the string too tightly as its natural tension should do a good deal of the work.
After the bridge, move on to the headstock. If yours is solid, simply loop the string through the tuning post and wrap it halfway around the post until the short end has passed under the length of string. We recommend wrapping the string clockwise around the posts for the three lower strings and counter-clockwise around the posts for the upper strings. Once the end of the string has passed under the stretched portion, bend the end up and over the string to lock it in place. This method should ensure a secure fit and straight string-pull.
If your headstock is slotted, the method for restringing is basically the same, except that the strings are fed from front to back before looping the end around the posts. The strings should be able to wrap around the posts at least twice during tuning in order to maintain the tune and minimize breakage.
If you find that your tuning is always going out or your strings keep breaking, head to the guitar shop and ask an expert to demonstrate their favorite technique.
When to Ask an Expert
You’ve invested quite a bit of time and money into your guitar and it means something to you emotionally as well. So for more complex problems, it is best to seek the advice of a qualified guitar expert. You may be able to tell that there is a problem with one or more of the components on your axe, but fixing the issue is another story.
Call for help if you have problems with neck alignment, the nut, a maladjusted bridge, or out of whack truss rod. Any cracks or split seams should also be dealt with professionally.
Storing Your Guitar
So now that you’ve chosen the best travel guitar for you, it is time to think about storing your other guitars that will be left behind. As lovely as they look sitting on a stand, these instruments are very susceptible to changes in humidity. Kids and pets charging around have also damaged many a guitar! It’s always best to keep your instruments stored in a safe case. Let’s look at some of the styles and features available.
Gig bags are soft-sided cases that zip. While they don’t protect quite as well as hardshell cases when your guitar gets packed with heavy things on top of it, gig bags have come a long way in recent years and are nicely padded these days. They are also lighter and can often be slung over your shoulder, which makes them nicer to carry especially if you have to walk a fair distance. Another good thing about gig bags is that they can be waterproof.
These cases, as their name implies, have a stiff shell that retains its shape even if the guitar isn’t in it. There is a huge range in quality of these cases, so don’t assume that just because you have a hardshell, it is going to stand up to the kind of beating handed out by hurried airline baggage handlers. Hardshell cases need to be properly lined inside to keep your instrument from sliding around, and made of tough, long-lasting materials.
A hygrometer is simply a device that reads the humidity of its location. When it comes to caring for your guitar, you’ll want to keep a small one in your guitar case. It can let you know if the atmosphere is too dry or two wet to be ideal for your instrument. Some cases have built-in hygrometers, but not many. Luckily there are lots of available hygrometers that are designed especially for guitarists. Once you know the relative humidity of your guitar case, you may need to either humidify or dehumidify the environment to protect your axe.
There are a couple different kinds of humidifier made for guitar cases. Many feature a small sponge that rests inside a plastic compartment. Simply wet and wring out the sponge, place it in the plastic receptacle, close the top, and toss in your guitar case. They are made to be drip-proof, but as the water in the sponge evaporates, it humidifies the air within your case. Other guitar humidifiers use a special gel.
If your guitar is spending a lot of time in very humid environments, you may need to reduce the moisture inside your guitar case. For this, all you need is a small desiccant dehumidifier. There are plenty of available options that use silica gel beads sewn inside a cloth pouch.
All you need to do is toss the pouch into your guitar case and keep an eye on your hygrometer to make sure it is reducing the humidity. When it doesn’t seem to be working anymore, the pouch needs to be taken out and the beads recharged – this usually means warming up the pouch so that the beads are forced to let the collected moisture evaporate back into the air.
Have you settled on the best travel guitar for you? These five options encompass a range of types, styles, and sizes to meet just about any need. You no longer have to worry about your best and most expensive guitar getting damaged or even stolen as you travel. While the smaller size of a travel guitar does take some getting used to, it’s totally worth it in the end. Now hit the road!