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On the Road Again: Acoustic Travel Guitars Take Off

Christian Wissmuller • March 2020Roundtable • March 2, 2020

Small-scale acoustic travel guitars are physically smaller and lighter instruments, but still generally with a full – or nearly full – scale length. The appeal of these guitars has been bolstered in recent years by high-profile usage by megastar artists, relative ease of play for newer musicians or young (or petite) guitarists, and the fact that travel guitars are specifically designed to (wait for it…) accompany you on the road.

While there are certainly electric guitars that qualify as “travel-sized,” for this Roundtable feature we kept the focus on acoustic six-strings and spoke with reps from five suppliers who’ve made significant impacts within this market segment.

Read on to learn who these guitars appeal to, how clever dealers display and promote them, and what to expect in the coming months and years.

For your brand, what are currently some hot sellers in the category of travel-sized, small bodied acoustics?

Andy Winston: Through best-sellers like the steel-string JR2 and APXT2 and the nylon-string .-size CGS102A and .-size CGS103A, Yamaha has always offered a wide variety of shorter-scale instruments. A few years ago, Yamaha re-entered the parlor guitar market with the CSF1M and the all-solid wood CSF3M guitars, which feature scalloped bracing and passive electronics. Last year, we added TransAcoustic technology to the CSF family to bring the CSF-TA to our customers. Imagine sitting and playing with your new CSF-TA and having reverb and chorus come from inside of the guitar. So cool!

 

Mitchell Nollman: Our travel guitars are gaining popularity in the marketplace. Martin offers a full line of travel guitars including our LX and Junior instruments. We launched a 000 shape and a cutaway at last Summer NAMM and all are selling well. Additionally, our smaller body guitars 0, 00, 000, and OM are all performing well across our line and are trending up.

Monte Montefusco: Taylor is fortunate to have made an enduring impact on the travel guitar category with our Baby Taylor. We’ve crafted thousands of these guitars every year since it was introduced in 1996. Bob Taylor reinvented the travel segment in 2010 with the award-winning GS Mini. In any airport around the world, it will only take a few minutes before you’ll spot a GS Mini gig bag strapped to the back of a traveling musician.

 

Taylor Buck: We’ve had an incredible response to our Cordoba Mini Series travel guitars. These are nylon string guitars with full-size feel and playability. The Mini is a 20” scale length – tuned up a fifth from standard guitar (ADGCEA). While the Mini II is a 22.9” scale, tuned to standard E tuning. Both of these models are competitively priced and provide crisp acoustic tones thanks to Cordoba’s expertise in nylon strings and small bodied instruments.

Adam Gomes: Many of our hot sellers in this category live in the Safari Series – hands-down, these are successful sellers for our dealers. These guitars are lightweight, size of a full body acoustic, and make comfortable travel companions for the seasoned musician as well as the beginner player. The main thing fueling the popularity of this series is the wide variety offered, leaving the window open to gain the interest of players of all skill levels. From creative designs and laser-etching, to wood selection and feature options, the Safari Series has something for all playing styles. Just like the Luna brand, if you want design focused to inspire you, I would suggest the Safari Starry Night, laser-etched Safari Tattoo, or maybe something with a unique wood sibling, the Safari Bamboo. There’s something for everyone.

What types of customers are drawn to these kinds of guitars?

MN: We find that seasoned players and new players are drawn to smaller bodied guitars and travel sized guitars. Seasoned players may just be looking at a different body size for a new sound or a travel guitar that they can take on the road. Smaller bodied guitars are also generally easier to play, so new guitar students gravitate toward them as well.

MM: Our original Baby Taylor appealed to frequent travelers and young players seeking a quality instrument to strum. When the GS Mini arrived, professional musicians started taking it on stage. The GS Mini delivers performance that keeps players inspired from the campfire to the concert hall. We’ve sold hundreds of thousands of them during the last decade.

AG: Customers and players alike are drawn to the Safari Series due to its universal appeal and because it fits many purposes. These guitar bodies are small enough for kids and the perfect size for up-and-coming guitar players wanting to learn and develop an identity as a player. At the same time, I work with several songwriters that prefer to set aside their full-body Luna acoustics and take their Safaris to every writer’s round. There are those musicians that simply prefer playing live gigs and recording with a smaller guitar. In the case of one artist that joined the Luna Artist roster recently, he won’t leave home without his Safari Koa Supreme Solid-Top with the round back and Fishman electronics.

TB: Honestly, these Minis are a fit for all guitar players. They make it possible to always have a guitar around at all times. Young musicians may also find the smaller-bodied guitars a bit easier to hold.

AW: The beginning player is one we always hold dear to our mission, so creating new musicians by crafting the finest guitars at all price points has long since been a calling for Yamaha. But now, with the growth of our CSF series, we are seeing the recreational player and hobbyist adding this intermediate-size guitar to their collections. Our customers have sent us photos of our travel-size guitars in boardrooms and even at campsites!

Are there any particular challenges specific to these smaller acoustics when it comes to design and construction?

AG: Not even in the slightest bit. The Safari Series proves we can build a small-body travel guitar with a variety of design options and features, and it will still produce the almost identical boisterous sound you’d hear from its dreadnought sibling. And at a fraction of the cost.

MM: Most consumers assume that a travel-size guitar should cost less than a full-size instrument. However, there are no design or production shortcuts to manufacture a smaller guitar. For an instrument to sound great and hold up to environmental change, additional investment must be made in the development process. It’s challenging to deliver the winning combination of performance and value to meet customer expectations.

TB: Regarding the Cordoba Minis, the design and construction is completely unique to the size. It’s not as easy as scaling down a full-body into a smaller frame – the sound response is completely different. So, the construction of the instrument needs to be completely redesigned and optimized to match the smaller interior. It was also a major focus for our Mini line to find a scale length that was small enough to be portable, but still be able to hold E tuning. During our development we found that many guitarists preferred their travel instrument to be in the same tuning as their full size guitars, so landing on the 22.9” scale length for the Mini II was the perfect answer to this need.

AW: The biggest hurdle any manufacturer faces is getting smaller instruments to sound as full and rich as their larger counterparts. At Yamaha, we met this challenge by building our parlor-sized CSF series in the same manner as our full-size FG and A Series guitars. Every CSF guitar has a solid Sitka spruce top and the same scalloped interior bracing that makes our other guitars balanced in tone and rich in depth.

MN: Martin has been making small body guitars since 1833 and selling them successfully. Regardless of size, tonewoods, bracing, and overall instrument design are critical to a guitar’s performance.

What are some “best practices” adopted by dealers who are especially successful selling travel-sized acoustic guitars?

TB: Travel guitars are practical because of portability, but they also make great gifts! What player doesn’t want to have a guitar-to-go?

MN: The most successful dealers offer a wide selection of guitars that allow their customers to test drive different sizes and styles within select price points. Our dealers know their customer base and typically try to offer a selection that will most appeal to their customers. For travel guitars, we offer two great design options: the LX and Junior Series. LX guitars have high pressure laminate back and sides and are very durable and scratch resistant. Our Junior series guitars are solid wood construction and have no compromise when it comes to tone.

AG: There are many crafty approaches adopted by dealers that help them sell travel acoustics. In many cases, travel guitars are a great transitional guitar. From uke players that eventually may want to play guitar, to full-time musicians looking for an acoustic that’s more practical to fit their needs. Keep this in mind when placing travel guitars on the showroom floor.

AW: As with any instrument consultation, the dealer should always find out who is going to be playing the guitar and in what environment the guitar will be played. To Yamaha, the “who” question is very important since it determines what size (parlor) instrument they’ll recommend. And remember, if you find out the guitar will be used by a beginner or child, offer to restring the guitar with a more beginner-friendly gauge or type of string. I like starting kids with the “silk & steel” set of strings since those bass strings are under less pressure and much easier for tender fingers to press down to the fingerboard.

MM: Having a wide assortment of models is a must. Travel-size guitars appeal to seasoned players as well as budding musicians starting their journey. All of these players have a variety of aesthetic and sonic tastes. Ensuring your store has a selection of color, finish, tonewood, and plug-in options is key to earning travel guitar business. The cost of offering a robust selection is relatively low compared to stocking full-size guitars. The small guitar category easily provides the best opportunity to acquire new customers.

Have you been noticing any particular shifts of note when it comes to these sorts of acoustics – either on the vendor or consumer side?

AW: We are now seeing almost every manufacturer offering short- to mid-scale guitars to service this portion of the buying public. This year’s trade show saw many exotic wood offerings, as well as a lot of different composite and man-made materials coming into the category. However, our focus and reputation at Yamaha have always been built on quality, durability and innovation. We’ll always deliver products boasting cutting-edge technology that no other brand can offer.

MM: Customers are discerning and willing to spend more on an instrument that fits their needs. We have seen the average sale price of travel guitars increase over the past few years. Musicians are seeking pro-level quality in their smaller guitars and are expanding their budgets to meet these requirements.

MN: Since Ed Sheeran burst onto the music scene in 2011 playing his Martin LX, we’ve seen an increase in interest in our travel guitars. Many artists have followed. Some of our travel guitars come with onboard electronics making them easy to plug in and get a much bigger sound than the typical small-bodied guitar.

TB: The demand for a good-sounding mini guitar has been around for a while, but it hasn’t been until the last few years that the craftsmanship could hold up and produce good sound. Many of the past mini guitars were cheaply-built and sounded tinny. Now with mini-sized guitars such as the Cordoba Mini Series and steel string variations like the Guild Jumbo Junior, the technology has allowed for well-built, incredible-sounding instruments.

AG: The Luna brand has a strong presence. Dealers and consumers (and the #LunaTribe) have grown to expect each instrument to embody some level of creativity that will inspire them. In 2020, we introduced two unique new models with electronics, which has been anticipated for some time. The Safari Koa Supreme Solid-Top features a Sonitone Fishman Preamp system, located underneath the sound hole, making the guitar sound plush through an amp ($329 USD). The Safari Tribal Tobacco Sunburst features a basic preamp ($199 USD), both come with branded gig bags. These two Safaris give our players an up-scale or a basic option, with the ability to amplify your sound.

Expectations for this market segment in 2020?

MM: Guitarists will push the upward boundaries of what they desire from travel  instruments. We’ll continue to craft guitars that push the category forward. Our new GS Mini-e Koa Plus was introduced to rave reviews at the NAMM Show. This model is our most feature-laden travel guitar to date, and dealer response was tremendous. Taylor master guitar designer Andy Powers has endless ideas about further advancing our small guitar designs for the future that will surpass the wishes of today’s player.

AG: According to statistics and feedback from our dealers, it’s safe to say the small guitar market will keep growing. The past few years we’ve seen smaller acoustics increase in popularity. Safaris went from being a cool travel guitar, to becoming a household name among smaller-body acoustics. In the world we live in, people are always searching for practically. Same goes for musicians – not to mention they are less expensive to own!

MN: Martin is committed to offering a full line of travel guitars and smaller bodied instruments. We’d encourage anyone to play our travel and small bodied instruments and compare them to any brand in the market.

TB: The trend will grow as more and more musicians seek out ways to create quality music on-the-go. Travel guitars are the perfect musical companion. Get out and play!

AW: More growth! Parlor-size instruments are too much fun for everyone not to want one for themselves. At Yamaha, we continue our quest to be the best guitar available at any size, for any customer. The CSF series is no different. From exemplary build-quality to balanced tone, our CSF guitars keep Yamaha at the front of the stage, no matter where in the world that stage might be.

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