When the new guitars arrived at my door I had trouble believing that an acoustic instrument could actually fit in such a small box. Journey Instruments had agreed to send me two guitars to test – one solid-top wood guitar and one carbon fiber guitar – and I honestly had no idea what to expect.
Travel guitars come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve bought one and avoided many others, mostly because I can’t bear to sacrifice tone for the sake of a little convenience. I’ve seen collapsible guitars before and I’ve never been impressed. They seem so flimsy and the gig bags are awkward. I don’t usually think of a collapsible travel guitar as one that I would be proud to show off and certainly not one that I would be willing to play on stage.
After a couple weeks with the carbon fiber Overhead guitar, however, and I’ve changed my tune.
Listen to how the guitar sounds in the video below and then read the detailed review.
The Journey Instruments Overhead
Before I dive into my review of the guitars, let me begin by giving you a quick introduction since if you’re like me, this is the first time you’ve heard of the guitar.
The Overhead guitars, which come in a variety of wood models and a carbon fiber model, are specifically designed with the air-traveler in mind. The guitar bags easily fit into the overhead bins of an airplane (hence the name “Overhead”) and strap over your shoulder like a backpack. It’s light, it’s convenient and it’s surprisingly small.
These are not cheap guitars – both in price and in quality. From Grover tuners on the headstock to the bridge transducer pickup, it’s safe to say that Journey Instruments isn’t trying to cut corners. They use quality components to built a quality guitar.
The first guitar I looked at, the Carbon Fiber OF660, is manufactured completely out of carbon fiber, from the neck to the fretboard to the body. The offset sound hole and quasi-cutaway look odd at first but both features grew on me over time. It’s not a full-sized guitar yet somehow it doesn’t feel small when holding it.
The second guitar I reviewed, the Sitka Sapele OF410, is a solid-top sitka spruce with layered sapele back and sides. Unlike the carbon fiber model, the Sitka Sapele had a traditional sound hole and no cutaway.
Both guitars feature a wedge design which means it has a wide base that tapers toward the top. According to Journey Instruments, this feature helps increase guitar volume.
The Art of Collapsing a Guitar
I’ve never manufactured a guitar before, so I can only imagine how difficult it must be to engineer a guitar that can collapse into two pieces for storage. The most popular collapsible guitar I know of is hinged so that the neck and the body are always connected, even if it folded down.
Journey Instrument’s guitar, on the other hand, is two completely separate pieces: the neck and the body.
The custom carrying bag, which I’ll talk about in a minute, has a special compartment to hold the neck apart from the body which has its own padded area. The strings are the only connection between the two, held in place on the neck by a cover near the nut.
Instructions for assembly came with the guitar and within a couple minutes I had the neck attached and locked into place. The first time I set up the Journey Instruments guitar I felt like I was going to bust the strings but as I got used to the process I found it quite simple.
As with any collapsible guitar, a little tuning is always required after assembly, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well the carbon fiber model retained its tuning. Just a few quick adjustments and it was ready to play.
Collapsing a guitar is just half the battle, though. Storing it is the other half, and Journey Instruments scored huge with its gig bag. Aside from the guitar, there are pockets for music, cables, tuners and even your computer/iPad. I know this sounds crazy, but I was kind of geeking out over the bag. I loved it!
Retaining the Tone
A nice guitar bag and fancy collapsible neck system don’t mean squat if the guitar sounds bad, though. This is where the Journey Instruments guitar surprised me.
Wood on a guitar is something I love. I think it looks beautiful and sounds amazing and it’s hard for me to imagine that something like carbon fiber could even come close to matching the tone I’ve come to expect from wood. I was shocked.
Now granted, the tone of my full-size Taylor 310ce will always beat out any travel-sized guitar, but the carbon fiber Overhead guitar is the only travel guitar that has even come close. The bass response and resonance were incredible. I drop-tuned the guitar for a day and the rich bass notes were both loud and crystal-clear.
While the carbon fiber won me over immediately with its tone, the Sitka Sapele wasn’t too far behind. The volume wasn’t quite as loud but it was still a winner when compared to my current solid-top travel guitar.
A Few Minor Criticisms
There are only a couple small things that gave me pause with these guitars. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a strap button on the Sitka Sapele guitar, although Journey Instruments told me that normally a button should be there.
I also had a difficult time finding out what to do with the guitars when I wasn’t playing them. This isn’t a specific problem with the Overhead guitar, of course. Merely an observation that would apply to any collapsible guitar. I was stuck between taking the guitar apart for storage and constantly keeping it on the guitar stand. It was weird.
Finally, while the carbon fiber guitar was easy to tune and keep tuned, the Sitka Sapele took a more work. This probably has something to do with the properties of wood vs carbon fiber. It was a challenge to keep the Sitka Sapele in tune immediately after putting it together. It took about 5 minutes of playing to finally rest in tune.
Other than these minor criticisms, my experience with the Journey Instruments Overhead guitar was overwhelmingly positive. I didn’t have a chance to plug the guitars into a live sound system. However, I did do a sound test (check out my review video) and the transducer pickups sounded great.
I would take the carbon fiber guitar with me to plug in for a gig, no doubt. I took it all over town without a sound system, showing it off to all my friends who are guitarists.
Do you need a guitar that travels well but still sounds like a full-sized guitar? I highly recommend you give the Overhead a look. It’s not a beginner guitar and it is a bit of an investment. But, if it fits what you need it will be worth every penny.
Visit the Journey Instruments website for more info, including a look at their RoadTrip guitars and ukeleles. Or check out pricing and other reviews of the Overhead guitar.