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Voyage-Air VAOM-1C Folding Acoustic Guitar Review

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Flatpicked Standard Tuning
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Fingerstyle Standard Tuning
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Fingerstyle DADGAD
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Video Review:

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The Voyage-air is the brainchild of master luthier Harvey Leach, who developed this instrument to be attractive, to sound great, to play great and... to fold. I was dubious about that. Guitars, we have been told for decades, are a delicate balancing act; they’re like the bumblebee—they’re really not supposed to work at all, and by some miracle of physics they don’t immediately implode as soon as you put strings on. So imagine my surprise when I opened the shipping box, removed the case for the first time, pulled out the guitar and unfolded it and found it was almost in tune after a voyage of almost 2000 miles.

It’s considered a “travel guitar,” and it truly is a remarkably portable instrument; however, that label does it a disservice, because honestly, it’s a damn nice guitar. It just happens to have a nifty set of hinges at the heel that allow the neck to fold over on the top, making it far more compact and transport friendly. The Voyage-air is already revolutionizing the world of travel for many world-class professional guitarists, such as Thom Bresh and Jody Maphis, who won’t leave home without their Voyage-air guitars. There’s also a growing group of Nashville singer-songwriters who have adopted this guitar as the essential new tool that allows them to work anywhere without sacrificing what a full-bodied guitar brings to their craft. The case (included) is ultra-light and high-impact, and can be worn like a backpack. There’s enough storage inside to accommodate the ultimate songwriting kit: the guitar, a laptop, and a digital recorder.

I decided to call Harvey Leach and learn a little more about how this unique instrument came into being. He said it began in the usual way: a guitarist asked him if he could make a guitar with a removable neck for easier transport, and having made about 350 guitars with bolt-on necks, he thought it would be possible. However, after some experimentation, he came to the conclusion that the process of removing a neck from a guitar is daunting enough for somebody who does it all the time, let alone somebody who isn’t a trained luthier. He scrapped that idea and hit upon the notion of a hinged neck. “In making it simpler for the user I made it much more difficult for me, but the goal is always to make it as functional as possible for the player.”

The production team now includes Lance McCollum and Hank Mauel, both builders of highly prized boutique instruments. They, along with Leach, are the current “custom shop” for Voyage-air. If you want something other than what the factory offers, they will build whatever you want, and it’ll cost about what a custom handmade Leach, McCollum or Mauel guitar will cost, which is dependent on materials and ornamentation.

In Good Hands
One of the first models ended up in the hands of Thom Bresh, who wanted Leach to send him one without any preface. “He wanted to play with it—see how intuitive it really was,” Leach said. The first time he saw Bresh playing his guitar was at a NAMM show. “He was sitting at this booth playing, and there were a bunch of people around, so he stopped in the middle of a song and said, ‘Watch this!’ and proceeded to unscrew the bolt without de-tuning the guitar. I was horrified—everybody knows if you take all the tension off a guitar all at once it’s gonna poke a big hole in the ozone layer or something—but Bresh just went for it, and the crowd was standing there dumbfounded when they saw it fold. Then he said, ‘Oh, that’s not all, hang on!’ and he tightened it back up and just started playing. I had no idea it would stay in tune. I hadn’t talked to him about de-tuning it; it hadn’t even occurred to me that he’d do it any other way. That just shocked me. Sometimes the guys who have all the training get so caught up in what they know is supposed to be right that it takes somebody who has no idea about all that to show them how something really works. That was quite an epiphany.”

In a phone conversation, Bresh made a point that hadn’t occurred to me; when you’re flying with a guitar and you have to walk for long distances through airports, guitar cases—especially those sturdy enough for air travel—get extremely heavy and your hands stiffen up and cramp, making it difficult to go straight from the airport to the stage. “This guitar is—period, the end—the greatest guitar when you have to fly,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about turning it over to somebody to find someplace to put it—I’ve just got it with me. I put it on my back and walk wherever I need to go, and it’s so light I almost forget it’s there.” Bresh tends to travel with an arsenal, and is really excited about how many more Voyage-air guitars fit into his trunk than conventional guitars. For many working musicians, the price of a tank of gasoline has a dramatic impact on income and expenses; to be able to fit everything we need into a smaller and more economical vehicle can mean the difference between profit and loss. Jody Maphis may have put it best: “Harvey’s whole thing is, ‘If it’s not a great guitar, what’s the point?’ For traveling there’s never been anything like it, but when you get to the gig and you need to use it, it’s exactly what it needs to be.”

The Voyage-Air Unfolded
I received for review the VAOM-1C, a smallbodied mahogany model. The playing experience with this guitar is pretty much exactly like playing any other fine factory-made guitar. It’s extremely comfortable to hold, with a body depth of 3-3/8” at the neck and 4-1/8” at the end pin. The fit and finish are top notch; the tone is rich and satisfying, and it plays very much like a Martin or Taylor in the same price range. Just looking at it, there’s no way in the world you could tell there is anything “different” about it—and you can’t by playing it, either. The gold-plated “strap-bolt” does double duty as a slightly oversized strap button, so unless you are paying really close attention, you’d never, ever know it wasn’t a conventional guitar. The premium mini Schaller-style tuners are gold plated with black buttons. With simple tortoise binding and a black and white purfling rosette, it’s lean and clean, simple and very attractive.

Go to Page 2 for more the rest of the review and the rating...