Out of the studio and into the woods: today’s top camping guitars
Peace and serenity can be overrated. Although not everyone wants to hear the sweet western plucking of “Hotel California” or the new-age twee of “Wagon Wheel” while sitting fireside, music is undoubtedly a part of the classic camping experience. However, despite the rich, full-bodied tones of a seasoned dreadnought, lugging around your beloved six-string to the nearest camping spot or while trekking 40 miles through the luscious evergreens of the Pacific Crest Trail is anything but convenient (let alone practical). Thankfully, the marketplace of travel guitars is burgeoning with an opulent, mahogany-lined — and carbon fiber constructed — array of quality options catered to the diehard musician who refuses to hit the backcountry without a pint-sized option for channeling their inner Denver or Dylan. They may never replicate the full-size experience, but they’ll surely fare better amid the humid, dust-strewn trails of the rugged outdoors than your stay-at-home axe.
Sometimes it’s all in the name. Measuring 24″ and weighing in at an astonishing 2.5 pounds, the lightweight travel guitar features the Pennsylvania-based company’s renowned craftsmanship and founding desire for quality construction. Encased in a simple cigar box-like design, the six-string instrument features a solid spruce top and a narrow 15-fret, mahogany neck with an accompanying width measuring just over 2 inches at the body. Though it may lack the heavy bass of it’s larger peers, it’s remarkably compact and sturdy, and capable of producing vibrant sound easily beguiling it’s minuscule appearance and affordable price tag. Martin even offers a nylon-stringed alternative with light, yet whimsically pleasant, tonal qualities. MSRP $330
Wilderness and instruments may not sound like a perfect pairing, but the handmade Alpaca Guitar lays any environmental qualms you may have to rest. The sterling, carbon fiber six-string is constructed to withstand the most rugged of natural elements, carrying flax fabric and bio-derived resins in tow for resisting water, dirt, bumps, bruises, and other commonplace obstacles you’ll likely encounter on the trail. Weighing 2.6 pounds, the lightweight guitar boasts an ergonomic, 20-fret design constructed of stainless steel, and showcases a three-point paracord system for directly securing the instrument to your rucksack or pack. The Alpaca’s 32-inch length only aids the beautifully-lush sound, helping deliver excellent mid-range without sacrificing treble. MSRP $575
Having been a heralded staple in the guitar world for nearly 40 years, the California-based Taylor is no stranger to producing a high-quality instrument on par with the likes of Gibson and Martin. The company’s ¾-size Baby Taylor lives up to the title, albeit with a 33 ¾-inch length and 19 ebony-lined mahogany frets. The six-string is impeccably constructed for its size given its laminated sapele back, Sitka Spruce top, and slightly arched design, while producing rich, earthy flourishes whether played in obscure tunings or high-strung to a tee. It’s not the most compact of the travel of guitars, nor is it one you’ll likely want to lug exhaustive distances through the mountains, but it’s perfectly suited for those those long nights of whiskey-fueled comradely. MSRP $400
Looks aren’t everything, especially when you consider just what the Blackbird Rider is capable of. The compact, ⅔-size guitar sports a unibody carbon-fiber framework, along with a resonance-driven hollow neck and an innovative, stereo sound port for reducing standing waves. It sounds superb, showcasing balanced tone and surprisingly-robust bass, along with an otherwordly sustain exceeding many full-bodied wooden alternatives. It can prove awkward while resting on your lap, yet it’s extremely ultra-light — weighing in just shy of 3 pounds — and built to endure the extreme humidity and temperature fluctuations of the outdoors. Though the 35 ½-inch length renders it a bit long, it also sacrifices little in terms of what matters most: natural sonic response. MSRP $1,600
If Neil Young, Trey Anastasio, and Dylan using a Vegabond isn’t enough of an endorsement for luthier Kevin Smith’s homemade travel guitars, we don’t know what is. The Vermont-based woodworker and his daughter have been crafting the rugged guitars since the early ’80s, producing streamlined guitars built of four differing woods — spruce for the top, mahogany for the neck, rosewood for the fretboard, and birch for the back and sides — while measuring roughly 33 inches in the length. Weighing a staggering 2 pounds, the Vegabond is one of the lightest guitars we’ve come across, and one well suited for modest excursions given it’s small frame and excellent, natural resonance. Plus, we doubt any big-name manufacturer is going to offer you a one-year warranty and an unconditional, satisfaction guarantee like Smith will. MSRP $500