The Voyage-Air Guitar
by Dan Miller -
Over the last couple of decades many guitar companies have come up with a variety of different “travel guitars.” The problem with most of them is that in order to make them more compact for travel, these guitars have been smaller in size than standard size guitars. The smaller size made them easier to throw in the overhead bin of the airplane, or the trunk of the car, and made them easier to carry long distances. However, the smaller size did not make them easier to play. In fact, some of them were quite difficult to play. Because of the different size, you had to make adjustment to the way that you held the guitar, played the guitar, and attacked the strings. I’ve always seen this as the main drawback to travel guitars.
The other problem with the various travel guitars that I’ve seen is that the quality of the sound was far inferior to standard guitars. They may have sounded OK sitting around the hotel room practicing by yourself, however, in a jam session the sound was seriously lacking, and forget about trying to play them in a show. If you had to play in a jam or a show, you were going to have to lug your full size guitar with you. So, although the small travel guitars may serve to keep your fingers nimble when you were traveling somewhere that was near impossible to lug your full size guitar, their utility beyond that is questionable. They are all shallow replacements and their only saving grace was that they were easier to carry around.
With the invention of their full-size folding guitar, I believe that the Voyage-Air guitar company has solved all of these travel guitar problems. I have had my Voyage-Air guitar for exactly a year now and I have taken it with me to 43 states and 6 foreign countries. I’ve had it on planes, trains, boats, cabs, ferries, cars, bicycles, recreational vehicles, and buses. I have practiced with it in hotel rooms, I have taught workshops with it, I have used it in jam sessions, and I have performed with it on stage. It has been extremely easy to carry everywhere I have taken it and when I’ve played it in a jam, in a workshop, or on stage, I don’t feel like I was playing a sub-standard guitar. It held its own in all situations. To me, it is not a travel guitar that sounds great. It is a great sounding guitar that makes traveling easy.
I waited a full year to write the review of the Voyage-Air guitar because I wanted to have the chance to travel with it extensively, use it often, and put the hinge mechanism through the test of time. After dozens and dozens of repetitions of opening and closing the hinge and folding and unfolding the neck in a wide variety of climates, the highly precise and expertly designed hinge mechanism that allows the neck to fold in half and then rejoin the body with an extremely accurate fit, has never wavered in tolerance. The neck rejoins the body’s neck block so accurately that it is very difficult for a casual observer to even tell that there is a seem. One would have to look very closely to see that this is not a standard guitar.
I have been impressed with every aspect of the Voyage-Air guitar design and the travel backpack that comes with it. Not only is the hinge mechanism precise, but also when the neck folds, the strings don’t fly all over the place because they are threaded through holes in the specially designed nut. The Voyage-Air also includes a zero fret and a compensated bridge. When you unfold the neck you only need make minor adjustments to the tuning to get all of the strings back in tune. The folding and unfolding process is accomplished in less than a minute. From the time you take the guitar out off of your back to the time you are in tune and ready to play is only a matter of a couple of minutes, maximum.
The guitar fits very snuggly into the back pack and is well protected when inside. The backpack comes in two parts, however the two-part case only comes with the Premier Series guitars, and the Transit and Songwriter Series have the laptop storage accessory integrated into a one-piece unit. My Premier case can be separated and rejoined with a zipper. Each of the two parts has backpack straps. The first compartment holds the guitar and also has a zip pocket that can hold picks, extra strings, tuner, etc. The second backpack compartment can hold books, laptop, sheet music, and such larger items. When the two backpack pieces are together, the backpack can fit in the overhead bin of most aircraft. When I’ve traveled on smaller planes, with smaller overhead bins, I have simply unzipped the two pieces of the backpack and stored them next to each other in the overhead bin. I love the backpack design as much as I love the guitar.
Voyage-Air makes a number of different acoustic guitar models, which can each be categorized at three different price points. At the least expensive price point is the transit series. This series retails for around $500 and are all made of laminate woods. Both back and sides are laminated. The mid-range price point models, the songwriter series, feature laminated back and sides, but a solid wood top. These models retail for around under a $1000. The top of the line Voyage-Air guitars, the premier series, are all solid wood and retail for around $1500-$2000. My Voyage-Air is one of the premier models and features mahogany back and sides. I think that the guitar plays as well and sounds as good as any of the new mahogany guitars on the market today that can be found in the $2000 to $3000 price range.
When I have played the guitar at workshops, at jam sessions, or in shows, people have commented that they cannot believe how good it sounds. My musical partner Tim May likes the guitar so much that he borrowed it from me in order to take it on a two week bluegrass tour of Russia. Tim, an instrument repairman and builder, is pretty picky about what he plays on stage. The fact that he felt this guitar sounded good enough and was set up well enough for him to use on tour with an all-star bluegrass band (which includes Bill Evans on banjo, Barbara Lamb on fiddle, and Todd Phillips on bass) touring in Russia says a lot about the guitar’s quality.
The man behind the design of the Patented Voyage-Air hinge mechanism is Harvey Leach. He eventually teamed up with entrepreneur /investor Jeff Cohen, Michael Ferrucci (sales and marketing), and Adrian Bagale (manufacturing and operations). The guitar was first introduced in 2008. Michael Ferrucci, who owned a high-end guitar store for years, said that their first goal was to take the guitars to boutique guitar stores and see if they could pass the “credibility test.” This was a tall order since the owners of boutique stores tend to be very particular.
Michael said, “We knew that traditionalists would be skeptical and that a folding guitar may not have been viewed as legitimate. We wanted it to be a premier instrument that could be taken anywhere.” The team worked very hard to produce an instrument that wasn’t going to be simply viewed as a novelty travel guitar. Their goal was to be viewed, and used, as a real guitar that could be played on stage alongside any other guitar. There is currently a very impressive list of players who have used the Voyage-Air guitar one stage, so I’d say they have met their goal.
Over the past couple of years Voyage-Air has received photos from owners who have played the guitar in helicopters, at the North Pole, in the jungles of Brazil, and in the Gobi Desert. In the summer of 2012 I took a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and, as a test of the Voyage-Air’s portability, I decided to take my guitar along with me. In order to get there I flew from California to Florida, took a taxi from the airport in Ft. Lauderdale to a cruise ship port, and then took the cruise ship to Cozumel, Mexico. From the dock in Cozumel I took a taxi to the ferry landing, took a ferry to the mainland, took another taxi to the town of Tulum, and then walked about a mile to reach the ruins. Once there, I took off my backpack, unfolded my guitar and played a tune. With the Voyage-Air, there was no hardship in getting a guitar to that remote destination. It was like traveling with any other lightweight backpack.
In the beginning Harvey was manufacturing the guitars one at a time by hand. Eventually, with the help of Adrian Bagale, who had experience working with acoustic instrument manufacturing facilities in China, the company hooked up with the top factory in China. The guitars and tooling are designed in California. The guitars are manufactured in China and then quality control occurs in both China and the United States. Final set up is performed at the companies’ facility in Livermore, California. However, if you so desire a USA manufactured instrument, Voyage-Air maintains a “Custom Shop” in Grass Valley California where Harvey Leach will build the Voyage-Air of your dreams, where basic models start at a mere $8K and then go up from there depending on wood selection and inlay choices.
One of the events that helped get the guitar notice was an appearance on ABC’s reality show Shark Tank (in the fall of 2009). On this show inventors and entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a panel of investors and then the investors decide if the idea is good enough to be worthy of financial backing. When Jeff Cohen pitched the idea on the show, the panel was impressed enough to offer a million dollar investment. Jeff turned it down because the panel wanted to Voyage-Air to license the design to established guitar companies instead of trying to manufacture the guitars themselves.
When I received my Voyage-Air, the guitar had light gauge strings on it. I asked if I would have to stay with light gauge and the answer was, “You can treat this guitar like you would any other guitar that you own. Put any gauge strings on it that you would like.” For the past year, I have treated this guitar like any other guitar that I own and I’ve even brought it to locations and played it in situations that I would be hesitate to bring my other guitars. With the Voyage-Air I am now able to take an affordable full-size guitar everywhere I go without having to sacrifice playability or sound. I highly recommend that you check them out! To find out more, visit their web site at: www.VoyageAirGuitar.com.
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