Monday, March 14, 2011

Martin Steel String Backpacker Acoustic: the Moped of Guitars


Today we are looking at a guitar that I thought was exactly what I was looking for, but it just did not work out. It is a Martin Steel String Backpacker.

As I travel a lot, I was hoping to get an acoustic that was small, but would still give me the feel of a larger guitar. The Backpacker guitars have a 24-inch scale and a 1 11/16-inch nut, so the feel is about the same as a full-sized guitar. But, they pack very small, and weigh almost nothing. So far they look pretty good on paper.

Backpacker guitars are made in Mexico, which is not surprising given their very low price. But, the workmanship on the one I had was very nice. Everything was glued very neatly and lined up well. The fretwork was good and the finish was even. It was certainly good enough in the craftsmanship department.

These guitars get a spruce top with “solid tonewoods” for the neck, sides and back. Whatever that means. It looks like mahogany to me, so why not just say “mahogany”.

The neck on my Backpacker was good, with a nice feel and a good action from the factory. It stayed in tune well and was good for keeping my left hand in shape.

But, I could not stand this guitar, and here are my top 3 reason why:

1. Ergonomically, it is a miserable guitar. I HAD to have it strapped on while playing, even while sitting down. Also, there was no support for my right hand, resulting in a bit of pain to my wrist. No thanks. This really was the deal killer for me. I could have put up with my next two complaints had I been comfortable playing it.

2. It has a very tinny and thin tone. Well, I am a big crybaby, aren’t I? With a body that small, what can you really expect?

3. It just looks goofy. With that funky body shape, it is not nearly as cool-looking as a ukulele. It is the moped of guitars.

These have an optional electronics package so you can plug it in, although I have some trouble figuring out exactly when you would want to amplify the sound that comes out of one of these guitars. I certainly would not want to pay an extra $150 for the privilege.

Backpacker guitars come with a Martin padded bag, and a Martin strap. Martin provides a 1-year limited warranty for all of the Backpacker series guitars.

Should you decide to try one of these out, you will not be risking too much bread. The list price on the Martin Steel String Backpacker is $309.00, and they sell online (new) for about $169.00. If you want to try the used market I have seen them around the $100 range. Don’t say I did not warn you, though.


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