Another customer-driven addition at Vagabond was the addition of a pickup option. Their guitars now come with the option of either a Martin Thinline pickup ($85 extra) or a Martin 332 Plus pickup system ($129 extra). “Since giving customers the option of adding pickups onto their guitar, nearly 90 percent have purchased guitars with the added option,” says Smith.
Some shops are more adept to customization and changes than others. “Some people call or email with specialty specifications for their own rig, like less width in the neck, but we don’t really do custom work,” explains Miranda’s Green. “We have two standard guitars, each of which are pretty much typical dimensions of their corresponding acoustic counterparts. Our shop has a limited number of staff and we can barely keep up with our regular orders, let alone custom jobs.”
Meet The Travelers
One might assume that the market for travel guitars exists solely for professional and traveling musicians, needing the flexibility to practice anytime and anywhere. But we discovered that the great majority of customers in the travel guitar market are businessmen, pilots and even active soldiers in the U.S. military.
Guitar builders have gotten a sense of who they’re making these guitars for through message boards and emails. “We’ve had a number of professional musicians who’ve purchased our guitars, but business travelers and pilots seem to be the majority,” says Green. “Businessmen and professional musicians are no different because they both want and appreciate a quality product.”
|The Traveler Ultra-Light shares the basic components of the Pro Series but keeps things even lighter with a detachable lap rest
The success of these companies is evident in the glowing feedback they often receive from frequent travelers. “I love playing the guitar (Miranda CFX 200). I have taken it on the plane without a hassle, practiced on the train to San Francisco and got great practice while camping,” reads a testimonial on Miranda’s website, from J.F. in California. “I’m delighted with my new Miranda and impressed by what you have accomplished. It’s easy to imagine how much effort went into the design and prototyping, as well as the patent process and manufacturing,” adds D.C. in Arizona. “The design, in particular, is intelligent and innovative.”
Instead of trying to develop more traditional models and expanding into other customer demographics, travel guitar companies have realized that it’s better to fly inconspicuously under the radar of the industry giants. “Someone recently said to me, ‘Why don’t you go after this demographic?’ but I’ve said since we started this that our demographic is our demographic,” emphasizes Oliver. “We’re not in control of our demographic; our demographic is in control and it has always been the same. It has been the 42-year-old male, airline pilot or businessman who has been playing for 15 years.”
Of course, traveler guitars don’t just sit in overhead storage compartments; members of the travel guitar family wear their accumulated mileage like a badge of pride. “I recently received a letter stating how many thousands of miles a particular Israeli commercial pilot has flown with his Miranda guitar,” says Green. “However, one email that sticks out in my mind is one I received with a picture from a man in a Santa Claus suit in Finland.”
Recently Vagabond’s Smith had to do something he doesn’t do very often. “I just received one of my guitars back with a request to have it refurbished,” says Smith. “But this wasn’t an ordinary recondition. It was from a soldier who served during the [first] Gulf War and his guitar was plastered with dust and sand.”
When Alaskan climber, Vern Tejas, looked to test his physical and mental boundaries, he turned to his Traveler Pro Series guitar for moral support. Tejas impressively strummed his guitar on the “Seven Summits,” the highest points of each continent. He most recently conquered Mt. Kosciuszko (7310 ft.) in Australia. “I love playing my Traveler guitar all over the world, especially on top of the continents,” says Tejas. “I love the portability and durability, and you should see the locals light up when they know you have a guitar strapped to your back.”
Most guitarists practice with their feet safely attached to the ground, but only one guitar company can boast an out-of-this-world experience. As mentioned in their catalog, the Martin Backpacker – the guitar that helped establish the traveler niche – has been played by NASA astronauts while orbiting the Earth.
To Infinity and Beyond
|Climber Vern Tejas on top of the world with his Traveler.
The travel guitar sector is definitely poised for growth in the years ahead, but the founders of these small companies can’t seem to agree on the direction that growth will move. More features and smaller designs are inevitable, but will tradition be pushed aside for the sake of technology? For some builders, the possibility of expanding the technology available on their guitars is exciting. In addition to incorporating headphone amps into their guitars, Traveler is looking to include an equally advanced feature on their latest model, which won’t be released until later this year. “We have a model coming out with an iPod interface,” says Oliver. “We’re really excited about someone being able to take one of our guitars and plug in a laptop with some jam tracks or an iPod and just play along.”
Even with technology on his side, Oliver doesn’t see a problem with eventually incorporating an iPod interface into every Traveler guitar. As technology continues to shrink things down, the opportunity to increase the marketability of the Traveler brand to a wider audience grows. “As things continue to get smaller, we plan to standardize more options on our guitars,” says Oliver. “I don’t think it’ll ever be the cell phone, camera and email, but you’ll see more options improving the appeal of travel guitars.”
While Traveler has found a solid market for technology driven guitars, Miranda and Vagabond feel most comfortable making traditional instruments with a travel spin. Neither company has plans for any major changes on the horizon, but they suggest that some modifications and additions could be possible. “We may develop a left-handed version of our steel string model [S-250] because of its increasing popularity, especially with U.S. players,” says Miranda’s Green.
Worth the Trip
As the amount of traveling we do increases and security tightens across the globe, travel guitars continue to be the best bet for getting your instrument to your destination unscathed, whether it’s that arduous business trip or the obligatory visit to Aunt Bertha’s every summer. Even though these guitars exist in a microcosm of the larger guitar industry, there is an impressive variety of designs and options to choose from. Whatever turns you on, whether it’s sleek design and lots of options or a classic, traditional sound and feel, these guitars are the ticket to a more tune-filled trip.