Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Electric Travel Guitars

Today we will look at electric travel guitars. There are a lot of acoustic and acoustic/electric travel instruments, but for now we will mainly look at electric travel guitars.

The Chiquita

The first electric travel guitar I ever played was the Chiquita. Luthier Mark Erlewine and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame designed this guitar in the late 1970’s. Despite its small size, it was a joy to play.

The Chiquita comes with a Schaller bridge, modeled in the Bad-Ass wrap-around style, so there was no need for a stop bar. It had only one open DiMarzo humbucking pickup. The neck was bound and the fingerboard was made of rosewood. The six tuners mounted on the offset headstock were also made by Schaller. On the unique body is a single volume control.

The model I played was displayed in a hardshell case.. I later found out it was manufactured by the Samick Musical Instrument Company of Korea and distributed by the Hondo Guitar Company through IMC.

(International Music Company was founded in 1973 by Tommy Moore. Ten years earlier he had traveled to Japan to secure the rights to distribute simple rhythm instruments to the United States school market. He then traveled throughout the Pacific Basin and established relationships and joint ventures to create and sell fretted musical instruments and electronics. These companies are well known, such as Tokai Gakki and Samick. In 1969 he secured worldwide distribution rights for Samick fretted instruments. In 1983 his company was appointed distributor of Akai Electronic Musical Instruments servicing dealers in North America. This company also acquired distribution rights for Charvel/Jackson guitars and opened a plant in Ontario, California.)

In the early 1980’s, the Chiquita was selling for just under $300. I also recall a less fancy version with no neck binding that was not as expensive.

Hondo stopped distribution of the Chiquita in 1985.

Mark Erlewine currently manufactures so all Chiquitas in the United States. His own company, Erlewine Guitars, produces and sells them. Erlewine is a custom luthier who builds beautiful guitars for people like Mark Knopfler and Billy Gibbons. His business is in Austin Texas. The custom order electric guitars he builds are exquisite. Though the Chiquita can be found in some music stores, it is more accessible straight from Erlewine. You can see is advertisements in most popular guitar magazines.

The Chiquita is a mere 23 inches from top to bottom; It is an extremely short scale guitar coming in at only 19 inches from nut to saddle. The Chiquita weighs only 4.5 lbs. The short bound neck comes rosewood fingerboard bearing 23 frets. The body is made of solid Honduras mahogany. This guitar uses special strings made for it that can also be purchased through Erlewine guitars. The strings are heavy gauge, as the short scale requires larger diameter strings to maintain tonality. The first string is .013 inches diameter. Some guitarists opt to use regular strings, therefore need to tune up one and a half steps to G to stay in tune. The Schaller tuners that come standard on the Chiquita have 16-1 ratio tuners. A string size chart is displayed on the back of the headstock.

The Chiquita can be purchased with a gig bag or hardshell case, both costing extra. The current US model costs $600-700 US dollars.

The Lazer

I have often seen Johnny Winter photographed with an odd-looking guitar known as the Lazer guitar, which is created in the Steinberger style. Erlewine guitars also manufacture the Lazer.

As with the Chiquita, it too was originally made by Hondo guitars of Japan through the mid 1980’s, but currently manufactured and available through Erlewine Guitars.

The Lazer that Winters plays is a Hondo model.

What makes this guitar unique is that it has a full size neck with 24 frets. The body size, shape and bridge mounted tuners contribute to making this a travel size instrument. The locking tuners are oversized with thumbscrew mechanisms at the distal end and it is known as a Wine-O-Matic bridge.

Regular ball end strings can be used and locked into place on both ends to maintain tonality. The neck travels through the body for added sustain. The rosewood fretboard has white mother of pearl star position markers.

This instrument is longer than the Chiquita, but still less than a meter being only 31 inches from the top to bottom. The scale is 25.5 inches, which is similar to a Stratocaster. This guitar has a single coil pickup in the neck position and a humbucker in the bridge position. There are only two controls; one for volume and one for pickup selection. It weighs in at around six pounds.


Hondo discontinued both the Chiquita and the Lazer in 1985.


They can be found on eBay and through personal ads for between $250-300.

Erlewine Guitars continues to sell high quality hand-made versions of the Lazer and the Chiquita, but they are quite expensive, clocking in at over $600.

The Shorty by Hofner

Click to enlarge
In the 1980’s Hofner Guitars of Germany was selling an electric travel guitar they called “The Shorty.”

It came with a full-sized maple, bolt-on neck that had a 24.75 inch rosewood fretboard with 24 frets, one humbucking pickup, chrome hardware and a gig bag. The length of this instrument was 32 inches and the price was considerably less than the Erlewine instruments.

The dot fret markers were made of abalone and medium-jumbo frets are used. The body is basswood. The bridge is a wrap around style that is similar to the BadAss bridge.

This guitar has a volume and tone control. It comes with a single ply pickguard. The instrument has two strap buttons, of which one is placed directly on the neck’s heel to offset the weight of the headstock. Recently The Shorty has been reissued. Check out Amazon.com.

Pignose PGG-100

Pignose Industries, the maker of those little battery powered amplifiers, came out with a small guitar a few years ago. This is unique since it comes with a built-in one watt amplifier.

The Pignose PGG-100 guitar has 24.25 inch scale for it’s bolt-on maple neck. The 22 fret fingerboard is made of rosewood and has dot markers. The bridge and saddle are adjustable.

The guitar comes with a ¼ inch headphone jack that can be plugged into an amplifer. The only control is a combination potentiometer for volume with a push/pull on/off switch. The control cover is their own design and looks like a pig snout.

On the body, directly below the strings is a speaker with metal grill and a tortoise shell plastic pickguard. It is a handsome looking instrument.

Aria AMG – 10
click to enlarge

Why does the Aria AMG–10 look similar to the PGG-100? Because Aria makes both instruments. With a few changes, such as the 6 on a side headstock, slightly different body shape, white pickguard and the volume knob cover without the snout, the Pignose becomes the Aria.

The AMG-10 has a built-in one watt amplifier,  the body is made of alder and the 22 fret, bolt-on neck is made of maple and has a rosewood fingerboard. The neck has a 24 inch scale and joins the body at the 20th fret.

The two controls are a potentiometer for volume and a switch to turn on the built-in single watt amplifier. The hardware is chromed with a fixed Strat-style bridge. The guitar comes with one humbucking pickup.

The Aria comes in Black, Midnight Blue, Pearl White, Candy Apple Red.

The Lapstick


The Lapstick is a short scale guitar compact enough to fit into the pocket of an overcoat. It has a scale length 3/4 of a normal instrument and can be tuned a minor third (G) to a fifth (B) higher than normal.

It is equipped with a 9 volt battery-powered preamp which allows the use of headphones in any situation which requires silent, private practice time. The battery will provide about 50 hours of use.

The preamp has three positions: normal, over-drive and distortion. The guitar sport a ¼ inch headphone and amp jack. The thumbscrew tuners are a unique touch.  The volume control is on the body under the strings.

This guitar was designed by Philip Neal and Pepijin De Blecourt and distributed through Torres Engineering of Holland and the UK.

Traveler Guitars

The Escape by Traveler

Traveler Guitars manufacturers eight different models of travel guitars. The original model was the Escape, which is a full 25 ½” scale acoustic/electric travel guitar equipped with a headphone preamp. It was designed as an acoustic instrument, although it has a solid body.

The Escape comes with a custom Shadow piezo pickup & EQ system that can be played through headphones or an amplifier. All models of Traveler guitar have the tuners in the center of the body and the Escape is no different. The maple neck bears a rosewood fret board with 22 medium frets. The body is carved alder with a natural finish. The guitar weighs a mere 3.75 pounds. The controls are on the upper bout.

The Escape 1 and Escape 2 by Traveler


Currently the Escape comes in two other electric models. The body of the Escape-1 resembles a small one pickup, Les Paul. This series of guitars have one volume and one tone knob. Uniquely there is a built in Pocket-Rocket amplifier, which is turned on and off through a switch near the knobs.

The Escape 2 is a Strat shaped guitar with twin single coil pickups. Both models were co-designed by famed luthier John Carruthers.



The Speedster by Traveler

This model has a teardrop arm support and a unique roller style bridge.

In addition to its compact size and portability, the Speedster is built for performance with a high-output dual-rail humbucker pickup, a unique roller-style bridge, and volume and tone controls.

The arm support can be detached for travel, the whole package fits neatly inside a high quality gig bag (included) and is small enough to stow in airline overhead compartments. This weighs in at only 3 pounds.

The Ultra Light by Traveler

This is Travelers most economic model, weighing in at only 3 pounds and 28 inches long. It comes with a detachable metalic leg rest frame and has one dual-rail humbucking pickup. The maple neck goes through the body. The 22 fret fingerboard is ebonized rosewood with dotted position markers. The scale is 24.75 inches. The depth of the body is 5.25 inches. It comes with a padded gig bag.

It also comes in a nylon string version.


The Traveler Pro Model

This guitar weighs 3.5 pounds and is 28 inches long. It features a single coil pickup and a piezo saddle pickup. This guitar comes with a detachable wooden leg rest. Most features are identical to other Traveler instruments, however this guitar comes with a stethoscope or as Traveler calls it “a stethophone headset to allow private listening. How about that!

The Ministar Castar

The Ministar Castar is a travel electric guitar that is modeled on the pickup arrangement of the Fender Stratocaster. The price is relatively affordable at $199.99/$119 street. The Castar weighs only 3 pounds, it has all the features of a full sized Stratocaster.

This guitar features a maple neck with a 22-fret fingerboard, an adjustable bridge and nut, master volume controls, an on/off switch, three single-coil pickups, die-cast tuners, a tremolo bar, an arm rest rod, extension rod for the strap and a gig bag.

It also has a one-piece construction to allow for maximum tone, sustain, and strength.


This guitar is made from one piece of maple wood, reminds me of the LaBaye 2X 4. The is the only travel guitar to come with a tremolo unit. It features 3 matched pickups, the center one has reversed polarity. The scale is 25.5 inches. There is a single volume and tone control and a 5-way selector switch. The tremolo unit is adjustable. The Castar comes with a gig bag, cord and strap.

The Ministar company makes around 17 different models of guitars (including a 12 string) and basses, with differing pickup arrangements. All come with built in headphone amp and onboard tuner.




The Fernandes Nomad

Fernandes guitars are known for their pointy, heavy metal, strat-style instruments. The Nomad is just the opposite. The body and headstock are sort of half-moon shaped with a cutaway on the body. The Standard Nomad has a hardtail strat-style adjustable bridge.

The body is made of alder, the bolt-on neck is made of maple capped with a 22 fret rosewood fretboard with dot position markers topped with a composite nut. The radius is 14 inches, which is fairly flat.

The Nomad comes with a built-in 5 watt amplifier. The speaker is mounted in the upper bout. It comes in black, hot rod flame, USA flag and UK flag finishes. The tuners surround the unique headstock. The single pickup is a high output humbucker. This guitar has an on/overdrive/off switch with LED and one volume knob.

Fernandes Nomad Bass

The Fernandes Nomad also comes in a bass model. It also has a bolt-on maple neck and an alder body. The neck is topped with a rosewood 22 fret fingerboard with dot position markers. The scale is 24 inches.

The nut is made of composite material. The Nomad bass includes a built-in 10 watt amplifier. The piezo pickup is under the bridge saddle. No humbucker for this baby. There is an on/off switch with LED and a single volume control. It comes in black, pewter or metallic blue.

Both instruments come with a soft case and retail for $299 US. They are powered by a nine volt battery.

The Fernandes Deluxe (discontinued)

Fernandes made a Deluxe Model Nomad with lots of bells and whistles. This guitar has been discontinued. But it was a very unique instrument.

The Nomad Deluxe came with the same features as the Nomad, but included a built in drum machine/rhythm trainer that allowed the user to create an infinite loop programmed with differing patterns and tempos. The drum unit came with adjustable volume.

The sound processor came with 25 programmable effects. Ten could be used at the same time. The Deluxe had a built in chromatic tuner allowing for 4 different tuning points.

It had 40 factory preset sounds and 40 user presets to customize your sounds. In addition to the usual output/headphone jack it also came with an input jack for an expression peddle. The Nomad Deluxe had amplifier modeling features and cabinet simulation. Perhaps you could pick one up on eBay.

Soloette Guitars

Wright Guitar Technology owned by luthier Rossco Wright has come up with 6 guitars and 2 bass travel guitars.

The SongBird and The DragonFly Steel String guitars for practicing acoustic and performing electric guitar players. Both instruments are a frame with tuners on the bottom end. A metal frame allows the instrument to rest comfortably on the players leg and gives the illusion of a traditional guitar shape.

The SongBird is a nylon string instrument with what one would expect on a classical guitar. No position markers, 19 frets and a wide nut that is 2.05 inches and a 16 inch radius.

For those that want lower action and strings that are spaced closer, Wright makes the Songbird Hybrid with side dot markers, 22 frets and a narrower neck. The tuners on all Soloette models are behind the bridge. The pickup on these models is a hollow tube that doubles as the bridge saddle. The body is made of maple or padauk.

The Jazz guitar comes with one neck mounted humbucking pickup and the Dragonfly comes with twin pickups.


The Little Thumper Bass uses nylon string and the Wright saddle pickup. The Soloette Bass has similar features, but it comes with a fretless neck.




The Voyage-Air Travel Guitar

A year or so ago there was a television show for inventors. People would bring their inventions and be judged by four people that had knowledge of patents, marketing and the like. I recall the gentleman that invented the Voyage-Air guitar coming on the show to discuss his most interesting folding guitar. I am not sure what the judges decided, however the company is still in business and the concept, in my opinion is a great idea.

Recently Voyage-Air has come out with two models of electric guitars that can be folded in half and stored in a traveling case that is approved for airline carry-on, called the Transair electric series.

The Belair Limited Edition VE-R1 has a unique shape with Les Paul style acoutrements.

The body is made of alder and has a cutaway. The neck is Canadian maple with a rosewood 20 fret fingerboard and dot mother of pearl position markers. It comes with twin Tonerider pickups. The scale is 24.75 inches. The tuners are 3 on a side and it includes a DuraTrans Semi-Hard Case.

The Telair VE-T1 has the same unique shape as the Belair but the elctronics layout is similar to a Fender Esquire with one single coil in the bridge position.

The Strobel Rambler

The Rambler Travel guitar is a completely portable instrument that breaks down to fit into a briefcase
or computer bag.  This instrument was designed by luthier Russ Strobel.

The Rambler features locking tuners located on the bottom of the guitar.


The strings are loaded from the top of the neck.

Dual humbucking pickups provide a  full sound and excellent tone.

Separate tone and volume controls provide a wide range of equalization. Intonation and string action is set with a fully adjustable Tune-o-matic bridge. The adjustable nut allows string action to also be adjusted at the top of the neck.

This guitar weighs less than five pounds and with a length of 30 inches  Scale length is 24-1/2”  with  21 frets.The guitar can be broken down to separate the neck and body.  This is accomplished by merely loosening a single thumbwheel on the top of the neck and remove the StringKeeper.  Wrap the strings around the body through the StringCatcher, tuck the StringKeeper between the middle tuners.  

Finish removing the neck by loosening four thumbwheels. 

The Rambler comes in Cherry or Tobacco sunburst. 

It is a gorgeous and well made instrument.

16 comments:

mike said...

this post is so cool! i like several of these, but i have to say that i like the chiquita the most (simply going on looks, of course lol).

Mr Noble said...

wow! never seen The Belair Limited Edition VE-R1 before. thanx for the post! :D

Marteau said...

Hi there,

Nice piece on travel guitars.
I just wanted to comment that the lapstick has only one designer, and that is the one and only Phil Neal :)

Acoustic Guitar said...

Hi such a nice post i have some great thought about music want to discuss Acoustic Guitar

Tonks said...

Nice blog .
visit my web to get more about electric guitar .
at : http://kindsofmusic.com/?cat=8 .

thank's before

GozXamaica said...

Hello. Thanks for the great travel guitar info. Why has Fernandes discontinued the Nomad Deluxe? I anyone going to make a travel guitar with digi-effects?

Thanks!

David said...

I'm a commercial pilot who also plays guitar...so it would only be a natural interest for me: Travel Guitars. Let me share some of my experiences.

I'm not familiar with the Chiquita. These were hard for me to find, and in the end I didn't bother continuing the search as I had concerns about replacement parts, etc.

The Traveler Guitars are at Guitar Center and have tried them...I also see some coworkers use them but I was never impressed by them. Maybe it was the workmanship, I am not sure...just didn't take to it.

The Fernandez Nomad sucked...I had one of those (new) in the 90's. I kept breaking strings due to some bad engineering on the bridge. I was clumsy to hold to and didn't seem very balanced. Besides the audio was just downright silly...not to mention the looks. Kind of looks like an elephant doesn't it? This is why it wasn't selling.

I tried the Stewart Guitar's Stowaway...wanted one for about 10 years. It is basically a Strat that has the neck pop off and slide into the body. Can slip into a brief case. Lusting after these for 10 years, I finally got one and was so disappointed that I sent it back the next day for a refund. I think if I spent some time setting it up and fixing saddle and pickup heights, neck adjustments, intonation, etc. I could have made it work.

But I had already tried the Voyage-Air Guitars...the Belair and the acoustic. I purchased both! Wonderful instruments. The Belair is easier to travel with as it is a very large, but protected computer bag. The acoustic plays beautifully, but is just too big to travel on the airlines with. Even if you put "Fragile" stickers all over the case...other passengers don't care...they just want to make their bag fit at your expense. Sad but true. So too much stress traveling with the Voyage-Air Acoustic Guitar. Don't forget about humidity adjustments too. The Belair I will keep but still requires setup time. If you are going one destination for the week, then fine, just leave it against the wall in the hotel and it would do you very well.

I just ordered a Lapstick guitar from Phil Neal. For those long-haul flights...this seemed like the perfect idea as you could actually practice WHILE traveling. What a novel concept. You tune it to "A", but you can either transpose your music or just play it as it reads. I plan on doing the later. I could fit this guitar in a carry on bag...so what if someone wants to compress your bag in the overhead too. No "Fragile" stickers needed here.

Anyhow...this is my evolution of the travel guitar over the course of 13 years. I haven't yet tried the Lapstick but I am hoping this will solve my guitar-itch while traveling. The runner up would be the Voyage-Air Belair...full sized, yet very musical and portable...and that is what traveling with a guitar should be all about!

In summary, anything that you have to put together is probably not going to get played as much as you think when you consider that you are traveling to far away places to see people and places...so the least hassle to playing the guitar, the better.

GozXamaica said...

Hi David,


Thank you so much for your feedback. I'm somewhat of an intermediate guitar player. My main instrument is my voice. I use the guitar to accompany my singing, but I also want to learn a bunch of riffs. What's more, I don't feel right if I don't play at least 20 minutes of guitar a day. When I can manage my life and time better, I like getting hours of practice in a day.

In any case, I had a Fernandes Nomad Deluxe and it was stolen from my friend's car outside of a club we were having a gig. When I received my insurance money from the stolen guitar I bought a regular size Ovation acoustic-electric. Because I am more of a singer-songwriter and I was just learning my barre chords I thought it was the appropriate thing to do. It was the right thing to do.

I had a travel guitar similar to the Martin Backpacker that I used to practice fingerpicking when I rode the bus.

Truthfully, the Fernandes Nomad Deluxe is now a dream novelty. I would not pull it out on a bus. But, I've been lusting after it ever since mine was stolen. I was smitten by the DigiTech effects. I just learned that the Fernandes Nomad Deluxe is still available from Japan.

The Voyage-Air guitar sounds like it is a great instrument. However, I feel hesitant about having to put a guitar together. And I guess one day I may need to get over my fear of having to tune a guitar to “A” all the time. Congratulations on your Lapstick. When I start gigging in a big way I may buy one for travel. Let me know how it goes. From the reviews and the videos I've seen, I think you will enjoy it. Its maker appears to be an authentic dude. Phil Neal rocks!!!

stocksystm said...

I just bought a Traveler Escape EG-1 guitar. The salesman at Guitar Center said I could easily remove the neck if I wanted to put the guitar in my suitcase.

I was wondering if anybody had any experience with this.

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russ strobel said...

I thought maybe I should weigh in on these electric travel guitar comments. The Strobel Rambler (available as a Custom or Classic model) was designed to be a "gigable" guitar that happens to break down in fit in a computer bag or briefcase. All the above mentioned travel guitars have a place, but not on stage (although Johnny Winter has been seen playing one of the comptetive guitars). The point is, if you want a travel guitar that plays and sounds like a real guitar, please check us out at strobelguitars.com.

0871 numbers said...

Since the earliest days of music, instruments and woods have had a relationship, and electric guitars are no different. The woods used in electric guitars are often referred to as tonewoods.

Anonymous said...

I used to travel with a Steinberger guitar. I was small enough to go in the overhead compartment with no problem in it's gig bag, played wonderfully and sounded great.

Rob said...

Great post! I linked to you and added a few more options in my post:

http://guitaridiot.com/best-travel-electric-guitar/

Mefiant said...

stocksystm:
You asked about removing the neck on the Traveller Guitar. I have the Escape EG-1 Sunburst purchased a few years ago. This version of the guitar has a Schaller Roller Bridge. Removing the neck worked ok, but it was a bit of a pain in that the rollers moved all over the bar because the string pressure did not keep them in place. I had to adjust the string spacing for each string which was a real pain. If you do it with this bridge, use clear nail polish between the roller and the thread to keep them in place.

I recently bought the Black EG-1 that looks like the LP Custom. This bridge does not have that issue because it has the Golden Age Roller Bridge and the rollers are designed such that they will stay in place.