Heads up, tiny-house nation—’tis the time of the tiny guitar. Scaled-down is the new “bigger is better,” a design aesthetic for guitars that are easy to transport, gig-ready, and quite attractive. These days, modern guitar players value portability in addition to tone, playability, and visual aesthetics, and the industry is responding with compact acoustic axes that travel easily, accommodate players with small hands or ergonomic challenges, fit into cramped living spaces, and suit modest budgets. And most mini and junior models come equipped with either a pickup system or you can easily have one installed. Of course, travel guitars are not a new concept; they’ve been around for decades, but the idea of major manufacturers scaling-down their prized products is fairly new. These days, three of the biggest American guitar manufacturers—Martin, Taylor, and Guild—are producing high-quality, scaled-down versions of some of their most popular models. Here’s a look at what they have to offer.
Martin D Jr. E
C.F. Martin & Co., which invented the dreadnought 101 years ago, has trimmed down the girth of that behemoth to create the Dreadnought Junior, introduced in 2015. Though smaller than a standard dread (it’s built to a 15/16 scale), it still plays like a Martin. This is due, in part, to the roomy 1 ¾-inch nut width, which is what you might expect from a full-sized guitar. Navigating the Richlite fretboard feels natural even though the 24-inch scale is a good inch-and-a-half smaller than a traditional dreadnought. String setup is on the low side, but there are no audible buzzes or dead spots. I play some bluesy runs up and down the neck, which feels silky smooth. The neck gives you ample space to fret chords and not feel cramped. Strumming in first position is comfortable and playing barre chords up the neck also feels natural.
The Mexican-made D Jr. E has that characteristic Martin thump and the brand’s rich tone, thanks to the solid Sitka spruce top, and sapele back and sides. (Also available in all sapele). The result is a slightly diminished tonal spectrum than you would get from, say, a Martin D-28, but you wouldn’t expect a big boom from a scaled-down dread, would you? Yet, the D Jr. E has a sweet voice.
The Fishman Sonitone onboard piezo pickup system does an excellent job of reproducing the guitar’s acoustic sound. Separate tone and volume wheels mounted in the soundhole make for easy on-the-fly adjustments. This may not be the best guitar for a traditional bluegrass band, but it certainly has a lot of the appeal of a Martin dreadnought for space-challenged pickers or those with smaller hands.
FEATURES Solid Sitka spruce top, solid sapele back and sides. X-pattern Sitka bracing.
1 ¾-inch Corian nut. Chrome closed-gear tuners. SP Lifespan 92/8 Phosphor Bronze strings. Nylon gig bag.
OPTIONS Fishman Sonitone onboard piezo pickup system. Left-hand models available.
PRICE $799 list, $599 street (also available without electronics for $699 list, $499 street).
GUILD JUMBO JUNIOR
Do you like the jumbo shape, but not the size? The Guild Jumbo Junior, part of the venerable brand’s Westerly collection, is the most recent entry into this market. It is a short-scale, pared-down version of the Jumbo classic and it plays remarkably well, from the real bone 1 11/16-inch nut to the 14th fret, where the mahogany neck meets the solid Sitka spruce top and arched mahogany back and sides (also available with maple back and sides). The Chinese-manufactured guitar boasts impressive workmanship. The standard model arrives with Guild’s AP-1 piezo pickup system, with easily accessible soundhole-mounted controls for volume and tone (bass and treble).
So how does it sound? You get more “twang” than “boom” as the scaled-down (23.75-inch scale length) Jumbo Junior accentuates mid-range sparkle rather than big, pillowy bass tones. But within the smaller tonal palette, the Jumbo Junior delivers a good balance between bass and treble strings. I plop myself down on the couch to see how comfortable the Jumbo Junior feels as I play a bit of fingerstyle blues and strum my way through a few Beatles tunes. The verdict? The diminutive size of the Jumbo Junior, in combination with the slim-C neck profile and arched back, make this a comfortable guitar to noodle on whether you’re watching TV, playing by the fireside, or wailing away onstage.
FEATURES Solid Sitka spruce top, scalloped X-bracing.
1 11/16-inch bone nut, rosewood fretboard. Guild vintage-style open-gear tuners. AP-1 piezo pickup system. D’Addario Coated Phosphor Bronze Medium strings (.013–.056). Padded gig bag with neck support.
OPTIONS Available with either mahogany or maple back and sides.
PRICE $555 list, $399 street
TAYLOR GS MINI E
The Taylor GS Mini, which made its debut in 2010, is a smaller version of the company’s popular Grand Symphony model (but with a 23.5-inch scale length). It is available with either a solid mahogany or a spruce top, layered sapele back and sides, and an ebony fretboard and bridge that produces a bright, roots-oriented sound. There is the usual Taylor attention to detail and flawless craftsmanship: Frets are dressed nicely and I can spot no imperfections. The molded back makes for a comfortable contour against my body whether sitting or standing.
I flatpick runs up and down the neck and play some fingerpicked prewar blues tunes. The GS Mini responds with aplomb. The punchy bass and crisp treble are present whether I pick hard or with a softer touch. The 1 11/16-inch nut translates into a slim neck design that will be a welcome feature for those with smaller hands and for some fast, fret-busting runs. Our mahogany-topped test guitar sports Taylor’s ES2 acoustic pickup system; if you purchase the GS Mini without a pickup system it will arrive with a clip-mount inside the guitar that makes installation of an ES-Go pickup quite easy.
The Taylor hard gig bag features padded straps, a leather handle for vertical carrying, a roomy, zippered pouch for sheet music and other items, stiff foam sides and a dense foam neck support is a welcome addition that should keep up with the rigors of the road, and fit easily into most airlines’ overhead compartments—it’s the most rugged of the three models reviewed here and sets a high bar for the humble gig bag.
FEATURES Solid mahogany or spruce top. Layered sapele back and sides. X-bracing with relief rout. Ebony fingerboard. Die-cast chrome tuners. 1 11/16-inch Tusq nut. Micarta saddle. Elixir NANOWEB Phosphor Bronze Medium strings (.013–.056). Taylor’s hard gig bag.
OPTIONS A solid koa top and layered koa back and sides, as well as spruce top and walnut back and sides. Left-hand models available.
PRICE $658 list, $499 street
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.