The best lightweight setup for a traveling guitarist
It’s also perfect for writing, performing, and recording.
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I hate traveling without my guitar, but I rarely bring one with me on trips. My acoustic is too bulky and the electric requires lugging around an amp. Luckily I write about products for a living, so I’m something of an expert on finding stuff I can buy to solve my problems. Before a recent trip, I set out to find a solution that would allow me to play guitar anywhere—like with an acoustic—and plug into an amplifier when I want to play louder. I found a kit that does all that, and fits into a single guitar case that’s easy to lug on the road.
Guitars—especially acoustic models—haven’t changed much in the last 50-100 years. Most guitarists don’t have many complaints about the familiar form factors. I’ve tested out new guitar tech in the past, but none would fit my definition of a new guitar until I tried Fender’s Acoustasonic Telecaster. It’s not cheap, but the axe blew me away when I saw it and then again when I got to play it. It’s a hybrid acoustic-electric that combines a ton of new tech with the feel of a guitar that’s approachable and immediately comfortable in your hands.
The 22-fret, open-body, mahogany guitar looks like a traditional Telecaster—it has a similar shape and depth—but when you hold it, the instrument is much lighter. It does this without feeling flimsy or cheap. This solves one of my biggest issues with traveling with my acoustic-electric. The Acoustasonic Telecaster isn’t bulky and weighs 4.5 pounds, so it’s easier to carry around when traveling.
Unplugged, the guitar relies on Fender’s Stringed Instrument Resonance System—or SIRS for short—to control the flow of air into the body and help achieve a warm and full guitar tone. This is basically just a fancy way of describing the specific patent-pending design of the hollow-body guitar.
Plugged in, however, the guitar can mimic ten guitar body styles and various types of wood using their new “Acoustic Engine” which combines analog and new technologies. The processing power of the Acoustic Engine combined with the guitar’s three-pickup systems. Pickups are transducers that translate the vibration of the string into an electrical signal, which can then be played through an amp. The combined effort of these pickups and Acoustic Engine helps enhance the guitar’s natural tone, modify the resonance, and then produce the guitar’s multiple voices. For those familiar with guitar parts, the lineup includes a trio of transducers—a Fishman Under-Saddle transducer, a Fishman AcoustaSonic Transducer, and Fender’s new AcoustaSonic Noiseless magnetic pickup that helps reduce the hum of a guitar when plugged in.
Once plugged in, you can change the guitar tone and volume by using a five-position voice selector switch and two knobs—a volume knob and a voice blending knob. Each position on the voice selector switch features a pair of tones. Using the blending knob, you can choose how much of each tone you want to come out of the amplifier to tweak the overall sound.
All the pickups are powered by a built-in, 20-hour battery that recharges via USB. This is the first guitar I’ve heard of that includes a rechargeable battery to power picks instead of using a 9-volt battery. If you’ve got a long enough charging cord, you can keep it plugged in on stage while you play. The guitar currently comes in 5 colors—Natural, Black, Sonic Gray, Surf Green, and Sunburst.
In addition to the power cable, it also requires a typical 1/4-inch guitar cable. While you’re traveling, there’s no reason to get anything over 20-feet.
If you are on the road and want a small-amplification solution, pack a mini-amp with you. The VOX Amplug 2 Blues weighs just over 3 ounces and is a little bigger than a pack of gum, so it’ll fit in your suitcase. It draws power from two AAA batteries—it stays charged for up to 17 hours—and plugs directly into your guitars cable input. It allows you to adjust the gain, tone, and volume. They’ve also got portable options specific for bass, classic rock, a clean tone, a lead guitar tone, and a metal tone. If you don’t want to play out loud, but still want the amplification, plug your headphones into the AUX input.
You can really use any headphones to plug into your portable amp, but I’d recommend getting a pair that you could also use for mixing music at home. Sony’s large-diaphragm MDR7506 headphones are my go-to. The over-the-ear headphones have 40mm drivers, are designed to block out unwanted noise, and prevent sound from escaping into the room. They come with comfortable, padded ear pads, an extendable cord that can reach up to 9.8 feet, and a soft travel pouch.
For a more serious guitarist that uses pedals, snag a portable pedal case so you don’t have a bunch of loose wires hanging out in your suitcase. This Gator travel case is made out of aluminum, a mounting bracket with a slot for power supplies, and velcro adhesive strips. The 23.75 x 10.66-inch holder comes with a carrying case.
Even the best portable guitar isn’t worth hauling around if you can’t keep it in tune. Sure, you can download an app on your smartphone but I always prefer having one that I can clip onto the top of my guitar. This KLIQ UberTuner uses the vibrations on your guitar to detect pitch instead of a microphone so it’s easier to tune even in noisy environments. That’s something your smartphone will have trouble with. The KLIQ tuner has a large display and bright screen so you can easily see while you’re tuning and comes on an adjustable head so you can tilt the screen so it’s easy to see. There are also modes for guitar, bass, violin, and ukulele.
Instead of having your picks loose in your pocket or bag, grab a pick holder than can attach to the back of your guitar. This Dunlop pick-holder is spring-loaded making them easy to grab quickly, has a sticky adhesive on the back, and can hold up to 12 thinner picks.