Review: Traveler AG-105
The Traveler Acoustic AG-105 isnâ€™t the only mini-guitar to come in a half-size, dreadnought-shaped body, but with gearless tuners hidden behind the bridge, itâ€™s certainly the most unusual. It looks downright Frankensteinianâ€”like a Baby Taylor with the headless neck of one of those Steinberger electrics. Why so weird? With all that efficiency of space, designers were able to use the same scale length as your average Martin D-28. That means when you pick up this tiny, 32ÂĽ-inch instrument, it doesnâ€™t feel like a diminutive, on-the-road substitute for the real thing.
It feels like the real thing.
Lots of guitar companies carry travel or small-size guitars. In addition to the Baby Taylor, thereâ€™s the Little Martin, the Blackbird Rider, and many others. But the Southern Californiaâ€“based Traveler Guitar focuses solely on minis. Until now, the companyâ€™s instruments all were solid-body electrics that required headphones or an amp to be heard. No longer. The AG-105 comes in both a regular acoustic model and an acoustic-electricâ€”or EQâ€”version.
I checked out the acoustic-electric, which is just compact enough to fit into the overhead compartments of most airplanes, or atop the luggage in your carâ€™s trunk.
Strap It On!
Like most small-bodied travel guitars, this one requires some effort to hold comfortably without slouching over. Using a strap helps get the neck into an ergonomic playing position, and this guitar comes with two strap buttons attached.
The comfort of playing on a full-scale neck offers a welcome change from the crammed feeling you get playing most travel guitars. It also increases the string tension, so that the guitar feels more like a regular steel-string under your fingers.
The string spacing at the saddle is, to me, unnecessarily narrow, although interestingly, the neck is wide enough to support having the strings spread out more than they are. Given how the saddle is notched for each string, it would be easy to modify the guitar for wider spacing.
Tune It Up!
Rather than requiring special strings with ball ends on both sides (as Steinberger electrics do), the Traveler uses a clamping mechanism similar to the string locks in the Floyd Roseâ€“style setups of some electric guitars. Operated with a small Allen wrench, there are three clamps just behind the nut, each of which secures a pair of strings.
On the other end of the guitar, the regular ball ends of the strings go into what the company calls its Streamline tuning system, in which a knurled-head screw mechanism tightens or loosens the string. The result is a setup similar to a trapeze tailpiece. Tuning with the Streamline system takes a little getting used to, but overall, it works well, and because of the high gear ratio, itâ€™s easy to achieve precise results.
Plug It In!
Played without amplification, the Travelerâ€™s tonality reflects its small resonant chamberâ€”that is, its trebles and mids overpower the sparse bass response. With a distinctive flattop voice and enough volume to make it satisfying to play, it could keep up with an acoustic jam, provided no oneâ€™s playing too loud.
Plug the Traveler into an ampâ€”like, say, the AER Compact 60 that I usedâ€”and the guitarâ€™s performance belies its small size. Equipped with a custom Shadow pickup and preamp system, the Traveler has a sound that is hard to distinguish from that of a full-size guitar. The onboard tone controls allowed me to fine-tune the sound, and I could easily imagine using it on stage.
Travelerâ€™s AG-105 is a cool guitar for several reasons. For one thing, having a full-scale instrument with a compact overall size is useful; for another, the headless design and Streamline tuning system make for an interesting design. If youâ€™ve been looking for a small guitar to take anywhere youâ€™re going, this one is well worth checking out.
At A Glance
Body Mini-dreadnought body. Solid spruce top. Laminated mahogany back and sides. X-bracing. Satin finish.
Neck Mahogany neck. Ebonized rosewood fingerboard and bridge.
15-fret to body.
Nut 13/4-inch width.
Streamline tuning system.
21/16-inch at saddle.
Strings Light-gauge Dâ€™Addario EXP-16.
Electronics Shadow electronics with built-in tuner, headphone output, and aux-input (for connecting MP3 players, etc.).
Price $714.99 list.
$499.99 street. Made in China. travelerguitar.com.
Teja Gerken is a contributing editor to Acoustic Guitar and a performing musician.