Journey Instruments OF-420
The hazards of traveling with a guitar have been well documented. Just watch Dave Carroll’s viral 2009 video for his song “United Breaks Guitars,” about the unfortunate fate his beautiful Taylor met when mishandled by a major airline. Today, guitarists have a handful of fun and inexpensive carry-on options—small guitars such as the Mini Martin and Baby Taylor, foldable instruments like the Voyage-Air, and easily disassembled models, including Yamaha’s Silent Guitar.
Add Journey Instruments’ OF-420 to that growing list. At just 18 inches long and 12.5 inches wide, it’s a real enigma. At first, it’s hard to see how this guitar—whose neck dangles precariously from the body, hanging on by its six strings only—can be used to make music without the services of a repair expert. But snap the neck into its pocket andvoila!—the guitar is ready to play. Amazingly, it’s even in tune. What’s more, it has a robust and well-balanced sound that belies its compact body.
Given this guitar’s diminutive size, it seems only natural to first give it a workout on some fingerpicking. Played with basic Travis picking and country-blues patterns, the OF-420 has a snappy sound with a clear treble matched by an ample bass response. The instrument has a surprising amount of headroom and responds well to the nuances of picking in a normal tuning as well as a slackened tuning like DADGAD.
When strummed with a flatpick, the guitar has a decent amount of volume, but somehow feels a tad lacking in fullness. And while you wouldn’t necessarily lead a bluegrass jam on this instrument, it would be plenty good for campfire strumming, accompanying a singer, practicing, or composing.
The OF-420’s neck meets the body at the 14th fret and incorporates a dual-action truss rod with carbon-fiber reinforcement. Though it has a short scale of 24.5 inches, the neck does not feel dinky, thanks to its generous C-shaped profile and standard nut width of 1.75 inches. The action is comfortably low, and the neck is easy to play in all of its registers. All of the notes sound true and clear up to the 20th fret, and the intonation is spot-on.
The guitar sports features befitting of a costlier, full-size guitar. Most notably, it has a Manzer Wedge—a design the luthier Linda Manzer pioneered in the late 1980s, in which the body is tapered from bass side to treble, allowing for greater comfort than a body of uniform depth, not to mention improved visibility of the strings when played.
The review model boasts a tightly grained, solid Sitka spruce top; a genuine mahogany neck; and lovely dark rosewood back, sides, fretboard, and bridge. Wooden detailing lends an organic feel to the proceedings. The body has plain maple binding; rosewood is used for the headstock cap, truss-rod cover, and rosette. Ebony bride pins with shell dots are another attractive flourish.
Overall, the craftsmanship on the OF-420 is good. The frets are tidily crowned and polished, with no jaggedness at their edges; the slots on the bone nut and saddle are similarly clean. Inside the guitar, things aren’t executed quite as well. The bracing could have been better sanded, and there’s some excess glue here and there—details that, to be fair, should hardly be deal-breakers in an otherwise nicely built guitar.
A proprietary three-piezo under-bridge transducer pickup is standard equipment on the OF-420. This system lacks the preamp and controls on many acoustic-electrics and connects to an amp via a quarter-inch plug at the endpin—handy for plugging in and playing with a minimum of fuss. Through a Fender Acoustasonic amp, the pickup captures a fairly realistic snapshot of the guitar’s natural sound. When used in conjunction with recording software on a laptop, tablet, or even a smartphone, this feature lends itself nicely to recording ideas on the go with good, quality sound.
In the Bag
The OF-420 comes in a ballistic nylon bag with two padded handles and twin hideaway straps. Even with the guitar inside, it weighs only about seven pounds.
The exterior of the bag includes padded compartments designed to fit accessories, easily accommodating a laptop, its power supply, a few pedals, and a handful of cables.
The interior is well padded, as well. Half of the case houses the guitar’s body, while the other half contains a zippered pocket with extra padding for the neck. A sheath with a Velcro tab keeps the strings from rubbing against the face of the guitar.
Smartly designed and lovingly protected, the OF-420 and its bag should instill the utmost confidence in traveling with an instrument in tow.
At a Glance
Small noncutaway body with Manzer Wedge
Solid Sitka spruce top
with scalloped, forward-shifted X-bracing
Collapsible mahogany neck
24.5-inch scale length
1.75-inch nut width
Grover 18:1 mini tuners
Proprietary undersaddle pickup
Light strings (12–54)
Deluxe nylon travel bag
$835 list/$619 street
Made in China. journeyinstruments.com
Contributing editor Adam Perlmutter