Regular readers know I've been obsessing about the perfect travel guitar lately. It's a tough category and there's probably no ideal travel guitar that will meet every guitar player's needs all the time. Instead, it's a category where you have to decide what compromises you're willing to live with (price, portability, scale, quality, ruggedness etc) and then pick your poison. Still, there's been a fair amount of innovation in travel guitars in the last ten years --we've come a long way from the Martin Backpacker!
Nonetheless, it was with some skepticism that I wandered over to PalmGuitar to see what they had on offer. Their early products were built from some custom alien super-duper graphite composite and priced accordingly. But earlier this year, PalmGuitar rolled out a new Version 2.0 model (as well as an even better 2.1 upgrade) which have put this on my short list of best possible travel guitar.
PalmGuitar's top guy Tim Richards sent me one of the new models to test out while on vacation in Mexico and I gotta say, this guitar is something special. I don't think the photos really do it justice. In fact, this is one of the first guitars I've had where my wife has said "it looks cool." And if you're trying to keep a balanced budget in your household that's an important consideration!
The Version 2.0 model is essentially the same compact, short scale (20.25") electric as the original, but instead of alien super-duper graphite, they've switched to some even better alien injection molded patented polyurethane composite nano-technology. I have no idea what that means. But the theory is it's a lot like wood in its density and resonance, but without the worries about warping due to temperature or humidity changes.
I've only had the PalmGuitar for a few days, so here's the quick summary: this is a drop dead gorgeous travel guitar that raises the game for everyone. The components are top notch (including Grover tuners, and a sweet coil tap humbucker) and it's absolutely rock solid due to its one piece construction. I don't know what the alien polywhatever stuff is, but this guitar plays great. Unlplugged there's a nice, rich tone owing to the use of heavier weight (.12 gauge) strings. So string bending is a bit more work, but nothing you can't get used to. And once it's plugged in, you get the flexibility of humbucker or single (split) coil sound. It's not going to sound exactly like a Strat, but it's a decent start, especially if you've got any kind of effects on a Pod or headphone amplifier.
As with any travel guitar, there are tradeoffs. The most notable of these is that the PalmGuitar is not a full scale 24.5" scale (Fender) or 25.5" scale (Gibson) guitar. Instead this uses the same scale as a kid's mini-Strat, a modest 20.25". I was initially skeptical that this would work, but I did take the time to go test out a mini-Strat on a few occasions, and at least for the first 11 frets, it's no big deal. As you get to fret 12 and beyond, the space between frets becomes quite compact. Overall for open chords, bar chords above the 10th fret and for most solos in the 12-16 fret it's no big deal. But this is not the guitar to be doing chords at the 20th fret. On the plus side, it makes stretching across chords in the first 12 frets a whole lot easier.
Personally, it took me about an hour to adjust to playing on the more compact scale. That's it. It's no worse than typing on a laptop computer, which I've been doing for 20 years anyways. But what you get is a high quality guitar that you'll take with you on the road. This guitar is small enough that you can play it in a coach airplane seat, on a train, a bus or in the backseat of a taxi. And there's no setup. Just pull it out of the better-than-expected padded case and you're good to go.
I'll try to write up a full review next week. Meanwhile, it's hot here in Mexico, the beer is cold and internet connectivity is sporadic. Not too good for blogging, but great for guitar playing!
Update: I've posted a full review online.