Long-term Backpacking with a Guitar (advice needed)

Discussion about guitar playing from a diverse group of people with different tastes and levels of experience.
minty
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Long-term Backpacking with a Guitar (advice needed)

Post by minty » October 26th, 2006, 6:03 am

Firstly, hello everyone!!! This is my first post but I have been a long time lurker.

I am after some advice regarding travelling with a guitar. I am soon to be undertaking my lifelong ambition of a year-plus backpacking around SE Asia and South America and I would very much like to take a small guitar with me.

I am still fairly novice on the guitar, having only been playing a few years but I am at that obsessive stage at the moment when I can hardly put the thing down so I figure what better way to practise, write and perform than taking one with me.

So, I have a number of concerns I am hoping you kind people can help me, for example:

--- Am I mad? :)

--- Can I get away with securely strapping one onto my backpack in a soft-bag?

--- How will fluctuating humidity and temperatures in the places I am visiting going to affect my guitar?

--- Should I be concerned about security, am I likely to be more of a potential mugging of a target for being a musician?

--- Am I just going to piss people off by bashing out poorly covered songs or will it be a good way to socialise?

--- What small sized guitars sound the best and are the easiest to drag around?

(I have so fair had a play on a Dean Gypsy, a Martin Backpacker and an Ozark Travel Guitar and have not been overly pleased with any of them)

Sorry for all the questions but any advice would be invaluable!

Thanks!
James

jason brann

Post by jason brann » October 26th, 2006, 6:13 am

i walked around nepal with a guitar. i don't know about strapping it onto a backpack. i carried mine seperately. it'll help you make friends. everyone likes a song or two. there were plenty of nights when the locals would ask to borrow it and strum out some of their favorites. hotel california and anything by mark knopfler were two common choices.
as for being mugged, it's not your guitar that's going to make you a target, it's being what i assume is a white american that'll make you a target. be careful and if you're unsure, hang out with a guide or with other tourists.
you might consider a hardcase. travel is tough on a guitar. if you're keeping it in a softcase, do not check it. i had one broken that way.
travel guitars always sound bad. maybe you can find a good small-bodied acoustic, or ovation or something.

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Post by TwistedLefty » October 26th, 2006, 6:19 am

i used to be an avid backpacker myself and lugged a yamaha dred around the missouri/arkansas ozark mts. the main concern is portability. how rugged is the terrain and how far do you have to carry it along with all the other stuff you will need.
if you are doing survival camping then you have to carry everything you need, if you are just day packing then you don't have to worry so much. for a camping guitar you really aren't worried too much about quality and there are a lot of really nice guitars out there under $200.
as far as a case goes i would opt for a cardboard case as opposed to a gig bag or a heavy hard case. it will protect the guitar from bumps and small drops better than a gig bag and will still be light enough to manage over the terrain.
#4491....

minty
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Post by minty » October 26th, 2006, 6:20 am

jason brann wrote: it's being what i assume is a white american that'll make you a target. .
A white Brit but close enough :)

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SoundsGood
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Post by SoundsGood » October 26th, 2006, 6:54 am

i have a small yamaha classical that sounds great and is cheap,i think it would be perfrct for travelling,i've banged that guitar around for years with no major damage 8)
gibsonSG standard/gallagher"doc watson" acoustic

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Morpheus
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Post by Morpheus » October 26th, 2006, 8:46 am

I traveled pretty extensively with a Washburn Rover for almost two years. This included several back packing trips. It was like most travel guitars, not completely satisfying. But it was nice to be able to play no matter where I was. It held up pretty good. It came with a soft bag that had foam inserts. The bag was small enough I strapped it to the exterior of my pack. It held up to a wide variety of weather conditions.

The best part of carrying a guitar with you is the number of people that will approach you to talk about it. I have been places where just because I'm American, people were not too friendly. But when I would meet another musician, they did not want to talk about your countries politics. They wanted to know what you were carrying in the bag.

Best of luck on your trip. Make sure you let us know what you end up choosing and how it worked for you.

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Re: Long-term Backpacking with a Guitar (advice needed)

Post by kingpatzer » October 26th, 2006, 9:11 am

minty wrote: --- Am I mad? :)
Yes. A decent small guitar is just too heavy to pack for any serious camping time. And guitars are not structurally strong enough to withstand the abuse that backpacking can induce.

A martin backpacker guitar weights in at 39 oz.

To put that in perspective, my TENT weighs in at only 46 oz.
--- Can I get away with securely strapping one onto my backpack in a soft-bag?
You're adding weight. And no, that won't be adequate protection for a year long back packing trip. For a weekend, it wouldn't be bad, but you'll break the guitar inside of 6 months doing it this way.
--- How will fluctuating humidity and temperatures in the places I am visiting going to affect my guitar?
Not nearly as badly as the agony of having to carry around a broken guitar on your back for a year is going to effect you :)
--- Should I be concerned about security, am I likely to be more of a potential mugging of a target for being a musician?
No. Music hath charms that doth soothe the savage beast . . .

however, security IS going to be a problem for you and you do need to make plans to address it. South America has a huge number of kidnapping for profit crimes annually, and being that you are writting in fluent english, I would guess that you'll probably be a high profile target.
--- Am I just going to piss people off by bashing out poorly covered songs or will it be a good way to socialise?
Since the guitar will be broken, bashing it against something will be the only way you'll be making music with it . . . but I would guess most people will find that entertaining :)
--- What small sized guitars sound the best and are the easiest to drag around?
The Martin travel guitar is reasonably suited to the task. However, strapping it to the back of your pack in a soft bag will allow it to be broken rather quickly . . .


In all seriousness, take up harmonica. It is an ideal instrument for backpackers, and at the end of a year you'll be pretty darn good.

That's how Huey Lewis got is start after all :)
"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST

jason brann

Post by jason brann » October 26th, 2006, 11:29 am

see, i think a guitar could make it a year if you're naturally careful and not a clumsy sort of guy and had a very sturdy bag or a hardshell case to carry it. it will be a pain to carry, though.

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Post by kingpatzer » October 26th, 2006, 11:48 am

jason brann wrote:see, i think a guitar could make it a year if you're naturally careful and not a clumsy sort of guy and had a very sturdy bag or a hardshell case to carry it. it will be a pain to carry, though.
If he's really backpacking, he will end up on the ground once or twice. It's not a matter of being carefull, it's a matter of having your center of balance being messed with because of the pack on your back. Backpackers are human SUV's, and like all SUV's we roll over on occassion :)

Hardshell cases and sturdy bag are heavy. Succesfully backpacking is all about managing weight. There's a reason we cut the handles off our toothbrushes, and it's not because we're genetically msi-aligned. Ounces add up quickly, and those ounces transmit to your feet with every step.

If you're carrying 40 things in your pack, and you go out and replace those all with something that weighs just 2 ounces less on average each, you've shaved 5 pounds off your back. And believe me, 5 lbs is something you notice very quickly.

But here's the thing, if he's an experienced packer, and he's got even moderately decent gear, shaving a few ounces per item is HARD! A Martin guitar and a hardshell case will easily go over 5 lbs.

That's 5 lbs of food and water you can't carry! Or maybe he'll have to not take fewere spare tent poles, stakes, etc. . . .

But even worse than that, guitars are bulky for their size. They take up a lot of emty space. Backpacks involve lots of squishing stuff down to the smallest possible size. Not only are we humans limited on how much weight we can carry, there are practical limitations of how much bulk we can carry as well. Even really big 8,000 ci packs fill up very very quickly.

If he's just packing from hostel to hostel and won't actually be sleeping under the stars and cooking his own food, then he has more room to manouver, but even in those cases, weight is an issue.

Guitars are heavy, bulky and fragile -- that's three strikes against them from a backpacking standpoint ...
"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST

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Post by art&lutherie » October 26th, 2006, 1:42 pm

I'd stay away from the Martin they don't sound very good and they are next to impossible to play. Stick to a conventional shaped one. If your set on a Martin try the LX series.
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Laoch
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Post by Laoch » October 26th, 2006, 3:23 pm

I have a Crafter Travel guitar ("Traveler" model name??). I think it's a better guitar than the Martin backpacker and other travel guitars I've seen. It seems sturdy, comes with a padded case, is lightweight, and has decent sound (realizing that you compromise tone for a smaller guitar).
I'm interested to hear of your adventures in traveling (with or without a guitar) - and a bit jealous! Best of luck! :D
"The details of my life are quite inconsequential." - Dr. Evil

Oric
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Post by Oric » October 26th, 2006, 4:50 pm

Well, there goes my dreams of playing tuba on Mount Everest.

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Post by TaylorR » October 26th, 2006, 5:01 pm

Oric wrote:Well, there goes my dreams of playing tuba on Mount Everest.
bwahahaha!

I say just like get a crap guitar. Like the nicest you can find for 20 bucks (suprisingly nice in my opinion). Just like go to a thrift store or something. Theres this record store in the U district of Seattle that has terrible used guitars but they are cheap. I'd buy one if i needed one that i could break without crying about it.

Id much rather walk around with 3 lbs of broken guitar and still have been able to play than to willfully go for a full year without a guitar. Yikes. And if you actually do break it you can just throw it out. I know it sounds like blasphemy but would you rather go a year without a guitar?
aka Izabella

jason brann

Post by jason brann » October 26th, 2006, 5:32 pm

Oric wrote:Well, there goes my dreams of playing tuba on Mount Everest.
i know it's a joke, but you could get it to everest base camp. don't know if you'd have the lungs to play it there, though.

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Post by kingpatzer » October 27th, 2006, 5:46 am

If you have planned stops where you're going to be staying at hostels / friends in between outings is to ship from place to place.

I still say a better option is to pack something that travels well, though.

I can't emphasis enough how rough a year of backpacking is on gear. For folks who have only done a week or two at a time, it's another world.

Minty, you realy do need to use every ounce wisely. You will need more duct tape and thread than you plan for. You will need more spare poles than you take. You will break more of those titanium tent pegs than you can imagine. You will rip out a seam on your pack. You will shred a ground pad on rocks . . .

I wouldn't waste 5 lbs or that much bulk on a two week trip, let alone a year long one. DIsplacing essential gear for a luxury item when backpacking is not just a silly mistake. In the right set of circumstances it can be an error that costs you your life.

There are hundreds of people every year who get themselves into real trouble backpacking in areas they know, only a few miles from modern medical facilities.

Harmonicas . . . seriously.
"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST

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