Thanks to new airline rules and regulations and their ever changing nature, musicians are often left to the mercy of airline employees when it comes to carrying a guitar. On a particularly bad day you might be forced to put check in your prized axe, and what happens from there is well described in the song "United Breaks Guitars". You just might also be contributing to the musical education of airline employees or putting them on shady moral grounds as they apply the five finger discount.
Seeing this problem as an opportunity, guitar brand Traveler Guitar built a whole product line with the traveling musicians in mind. Their guitars are shorter and fit the airline requirements, so it is guaranteed that you won't have to deal with surly airline employees... well, at least as far as guitars are concerned.
The model that will be the focus of this review is the Traveler Guitar Speedster Travel Electric Guitar, current selling at around $379.
Neck Through Body - Eastern American Hard Maple
Fingerboard - Ebonized Rosewood
Frets - 22-medium
Scale Length - 24 3/4 in.
Fingerboard Inlays - Pearloid
Neck Width at Nut - 1 3/4 in.
Body Width- 7 1/2 in. (Arm Detached)
Body Thickness- 3/4 in.
Overall Depth - 2 in.
Length - 28 in.
Weight - 4 lbs. 7 oz.
Pick-ups - Dual-Rail Humbucker
Hardware - Chrome 14:1 Gear ratio (closed gear)
Electronics - Volume/Tone
Finish - Gloss Black, Candy Apple Red Metallic, Black Metallic
If you haven't seen these guitars, they do look a little bit like the Steinberger guitars, as there is no headstock and the guitar is almost a little square chunk of wood built around the hardware. Unlike the Steinberger designs, these guitars have an attachable top wing that can be assembled for further comfort. The guitar also has 6 full blown tuners and the company has solved the tuning issue by providing an innovative string tension guide that wraps around the body for increased sustain.
For all intents and purposes, the Speedster is a real guitar. The neck feels normal and if you close your eyes and don't see the odd shape the feel is almost the same as on a real big boy guitar.
I was given this guitar to take on a recent overseas trip that was going to take me through several climate zones and altitudes. Checking in with the Speedster was no hassle - it was properly inspected and passed, and once I boarded it also fit comfortably in the overhead compartment. As a side observation I'll have to say that American airline employees are more used to dealing with instruments than their European counterparts. In France, for example, the guitar received a very thorough inspection and I was deemed something of a star by the security personnel for traveling with an instrument. Unfortunately, my newfound celebrity status only got me a prolonged security check, no first class upgrade.
The second part of my trip involved a lengthy car trek with changing weather temperatures and altitude. The guitar did have some issues keeping in tune due to the changing temperatures. Switching from hot to mild weather and mountain altitude rendered the Speedster almost useless as it could not hold its tuning on the first day. After it settled a bit and had a healthy dose of string stretching and retuning, things returned to normal. I am not sure whether it would be fair to blame it on this particular brand of guitar as probably any instrument would've behaved the same way. Maybe locking tuners could've helped, but I missed that impromptu jam.
Putting the guitar in "ready" mode was usually a breeze. The extra "flap" (attachable armrest) attaches to the body with a pin and a hand tightened screw. The parts got a little loose after a while and there was some play as the flap didn't attach as solidly to the body as I would've liked. The pin could also easily get lost and is not something that could be found in your local hardware store.
The one pickup and volume and tone controls on the guitar are adequate. The pickup is a single space humbucker and it sounds middle of the road - not too cold and not too hot. Acoustically, the guitar doesn't have an incredible sustain as it has a rather short body, but I couldn't honestly expect much considering the minimum amount of wood used in the construction. The neck felt good and the action was decent. The volume knob did get banged up due to the amount of trips and didn't feel very solid as there was some play in it as well. Both knobs had the feel of budget pots.
The Speedster plays and feels like a budget instrument and honestly I probably would've gotten a better performance and feel by unscrewing a bolt on neck on a $250 budget guitar, taking that in the case and assembling it upon landing. Still, it would've been as effortless as the Speedster.
Honestly, I got out of this guitar what I expected - a throw around axe for my trip. It is easy to carry, sounds decent and is airline friendly. I would have to say that for the price I thought it was a bit much. When you consider the alternatives - traveling without a guitar or getting one of your good guitars banged up or stolen, the Speedster looks like the smart choice!