Now that I'm back from my trip to Mexico and caught up with real life, I thought I'd provide a bit more information on the PalmGuitar that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. If you missed the earlier post, the Palm Guitar is the best electric travel guitar I've tried. But, as with any travel guitar, there are trade-offs. Here's a quick summary of the specs:
- Solid body, one piece electric guitar
- Patented polyurethane composite body
- Short 20.239" scale / 20 frets, similar to a mini-Strat
- 26" length end to end
- Weighs 3.5 pounds
- Coil-tapped humbucker pickup
- Grover tuners
- .12 gauge strings
- Flat black finish
- Locking leather strap
- Padded ballistic nylon travel case
I've been using the upgraded "2.1" model which provides two additional options that make the PalmGuitar more like a conventional full-scale guitar:
- Leg rest (for seated playing)
- Strap arm (for better balance)
Having the PalmGuitar with me for a week while on vacation was great. It performed like a champ and I was able to play every day as well as during some long layovers at DFW airport. Although I didn't play it on the flights, I think you could do that quite easily in coach if you have an aisle seat or an empty seat next to you. The case is nicely padded and of better quality than I would have expected. And most importantly, it helps protect the guitar against the turbulance of air travel. One added bonus is that you can attach the case to a rollerboard-style suitcase, which makes it easy to keep a low profile when you're trying to carry on one-too-many bags.
Out of the Box Tone & Playability
Despite it's small size, the sound from this guitar is quite rich. The one-piece construction and heavy density of the body deliver great tone and a surprising amount of sustain. While purists might scoff at the notion of playing a polyurethane composite guitar, I suspect that in the future we'll see more guitars made from this substance. Why? Because it offers a density and consistency that are hard to find in wood. In fact, consistency of density may well be one of the key characteristics in creating a great sound, whether in guitars or in Stradivarius violins. And not only are there no variations in density in the models that are being created, there's no concern with heat or humidity affecting the tone. As Tim Richards has pointed out, every PalmGuitar sounds like every other one. You don't have to hope that you got the "perfect" wood. They are all perfect.
The fretboard is smooth and easy to play and has a nice satiny finish which contributes to the overall classy look. The PalmGuitar uses a slightly wider nut of 1.8", which might seem odd compared to, say, a Strat which has a 1.675" nut. But the reason is that this larger size nut matches the exact size of a Strat --but four frets down. In fact, the PalmGuitar's fretboard was designed to be comfortable for those used to a standard 25.5" scale Fender. It's like playing with a capo on the 4th fret. The dimensions of the 12th fret match the 16th fret on a Strat and so on up and down the fretboard as shown in the diagram below. The diagram also makes it clear just how much smaller the PalmGuitar is than your average guitar.
Once I plugged in the PalmGuitar, I was surprised at how much punch it was able to deliver. I don't know if this is due to the quality of the pickup, the heavier gauge strings or the density of the wood I mean, polyurethane, but it just sings! It's a nice fat tone, perfect for clean settings and if you push it, a bit further you get a classic gritty lead sound. And you can switch the coil between humbucker and single coil sound for added versatility.
All the components are high quality. The guitar was well set up with no fret buzz, no crackle in any of the electronics and the tuners were completely stable. I would say that the quality of this guitar is on par with any high-end "made in USA" name brand electric guitar.
But there are two significant things to keep in mind with the PalmGuitar. First of all, it does have a shorter scale and so you're not going to reach the 22nd fret in Dave Gilmour's solo on "Money." There isn't a 22nd fret. Given the shorter scale, it's tough to get beyond the 16th fret on this guitar. For a lot of players, I don't think that's a big deal, but its something to keep in mind. As I mentioned, it took me about an hour to get comfortable with the shorter scale. For open chords and bar chords upto around the 11th fret, it's an easy transition.
The second issue to be clear about with the PalmGuitar, is it's definitely a bit of an expensive purchase. The basic V2.0 model goes for $799 (with the padded case) and the V2.1 model goes for $949 with the added leg rest and strap arm. That's a hefty upgrade fee, but the strap arm makes the guitar much more balanced and easier to play.
While I wouldn't consider the PalmGuitar to be a luxury item per se, I would put it in the same league as name brand electronics. The quality is on par with a high-quality camera, like the Canon G9 I use for gigs, or the Sony laptop I have for work. It's not like it's diamond studded or anything, but it is a very high quality guitar and that's reflected in the price. There are definitely cheaper travel guitar options, but in my view, they don't have the same quality build, components or tone as the PalmGuitar. And of course, if you travel to the same locations routinely, you could just have a decent quality second or third full-size guitar stashed away waiting for you. But if your business takes you to different locations, that's when a travel guitar pays off.
If you're looking to rationalize the purchase, consider these two questions: How many trips do you take where you have no guitar? And what would you pay per hour if you could rent a high quality electric guitar on the road? I'm actually a pretty cheap guy, but I would gladly pay $20/hour of practice time to rent a guitar while I'm on the road. If you're on the road 30-50 days a year, it's a pretty good deal. And if you travel more than that, well, what are you waiting for? Basically, you're paying to get more playing time while you're on the road. The more you travel, the better the payoff.
Despite or perhaps because of the PalmGuitar's diminuitive size, it's also become my couch-bound favorite for practicing while watching TV. It won't replace my main axe, but it's getting more and more play all the time.
Here's a video showing off the PalmGuitar from within the confines of a 2-seat roadster.