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.
(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.
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
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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 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
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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 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.
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
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
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 Fernandes Nomad
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.
Fernandes Nomad Bass
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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)
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.
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 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.