My go-to tiny travel guitar for many years has been a steel-string Martin Backpacker, but I am always on the lookout for something better, as it not ergonomic and it sounds terrible. So, I was interested to try out the Washburn Rover travel guitar, which is of the same ilk. On the surface of things, there are a few advantages for the Rover over the Backpacker, so let’s see how things add up!
For starters, even though the Rover looks a little bit more like a real guitar, it still looks pretty darned goofy. It is probably the smallest travel guitar I have seen, coming in at a few inches shorter than the Backpacker, through it still maintains a fairly normal 23.75-inch scale length. It is made of real wood, with a solid spruce top, mahogany body and neck, and a bound rosewood fingerboard. Overall it is a prettier instrument, with inlays and binding that are absent on the Martin. It has open gear tuners, and no electronics are available.
The one that I tried out had a satin natural finish, though it is available in fairly awful looking black, transparent red, and transparent blue. It had a few minor finish flaws, and the binding was not perfect. The frets were passable, and though the edges of them were rough, they were not sharp to the touch. It came with a pretty good set-up out of the boxwith its extra-light strings, though I did tweak the truss rod a bit to get rid of some buzz. Intonation was good, though with the tone this thing makes, it is almost a moot point. It was made in China, in case that makes a difference to you (the Martin is built in Mexico).
When it came time to play the Rover, there was no more satisfaction than playing a Backpacker, The ergonomics are terrible, and it has to be played with a strap, even when sitting down. The tone is nasally and not terrible pleasant at all. The worst part about using this instrument is that the Waverly look-alike tuners do not hold well, so it would go out of tune within a few minutes.
The best part about this Washburn is that it comes with a really nice semi-hard case that fits well in airline overhead bins. This is a step-up from the Martin’s soft case, which always makes me worry that someone is going to crush it with his or her carry-on bag. Also included in the package is a strap and an instructional DVD, though any beginner that chooses this as their first guitar will probably quit within the first week.
So, the Washburn and the Martin are both uncomfortable to play and sound terrible. The Washburn comes with a better case but will not stay in tune. With an Amazon price of $150 for the Rover and $200 for the Martin, I am going to have to go with the Martin on this one, because putting new tuners on the Washburn will eat up any financial advantage. Plus it is not a Martin…