When reviewing a gadget as big and tactile as the Voyage-Air folding guitar, there's always a danger the testing process could break or somewhere ruin what is otherwise a beautiful piece of kit. Playing with it is so cool, breaking it becomes a genuine, though juvenile, temptation.
The Voyage-Air Guitar has nothing whatsoever to do with waving your hands like a spaz in tune with Lynyrd Skynyrd, however. It's an actual musical instrument -- the kind it takes years of daily practice to master. In other words, this isn't a toy or a gimmick.
The California-based company specializes in guitars for the troubadour on the go. If you look at an acoustic Voyage-Air from the front while fully assembled, it looks no different than any other well-made guitar. But turning it over reveals two specially designed differences.
First, a hinge is fitted to the fretboard precisely at the point where it connects to the hollow body. Also, a heavy-duty, screw-in bolt on the back of the fretboard fastens into a mounting hole on the body of the guitar.
If you unscrew that fastening bolt, the hinge allows the neck and fretboard of the guitar to fold forward so it all rests on the hollow body. The strings remain attached to both the tuning board and the base of the guitar.
Once folded nearly against itself, the Voyage-Air can then be packed up into the specially designed container, which essentially looks like half a guitar case (minus the neck) and becomes more or less a large carry-on bag. The Voyage-Air case is packed with Velcro wraps to keep the folding instrument secure. The transporter also comes with straps in case the traveling minstrel wants to wear it as a backpack.
We had a chance to play with the Transit model, and we did treat it a little rough. Remember what I was going on about with trying to break the gadget? I wasn't kind to this Voyage-Air.
To see how consistently functional the hinges and screw fastener were, I spent an anal-retentive amount of time screwing and unscrewing (it was as much excitement as I've had in weeks). Still, the hardware showed no signs of wear or alignment failure.
I pulled the hinged neck up and down like a busy Las Vegas slot machine handle, but the hinge is solid. Most importantly, the strings never tangled or let loose from either end of the instrument. Believe me. I tried with devilish intent to tangle and snag those strings.
As the player closes the neck of the guitar in toward the body, the strings bow and fold outward.
Somehow, six strings suddenly look like a spaghetti mess of metal wires. But after you unpack, unfold, and refasten the guitar into playing shape, the strings slide back into perfect position every time. They even make a cool metallic twang as they click back to proper playing tension.
The truly mystifying feat of the Voyage-Air was how it stayed in tune.
I have an electronic tuning gadget that allows even an untrained ear to bring the six strings of a traditional acoustic guitar into melodic alignment. I assumed I'd have to retune after every folding. But the only time I had to break out the pitch finder was after I'd played for a while, which you have to do with any guitar. Folding and unfolding never distorted the strings.
Since I can only play some chords and make a basic, pretty sound on a guitar, I decided to hand the Voyage-Air over to my neighbors. Both are professional musicians who were eager to try out an instrument they'd never seen before.
Pierre Karlsson, a live and studio session guitarist, immediately noted that the weight and feel of the instrument gave him confidence.
"It's made of quality materials," Karlsson said. "It feels like a quality instrument. And the tone is nice. It's rich. It'd be a good guitar to own even if it wasn't easier to get around."
Professional musician and School of Rock instructor Tevis Sauer found the string action a little heavy, but marked that down to the demo model being practically brand new.
"Since this saves a musician having to carry around a full-size guitar case," Sauer said, "this would be a nice instrument for a professional to own."
Since the Voyage-Air does what it's supposed to do, the question comes down to need and affordability for would-be buyers. These guitars aren't cheap, entry-level instruments. Voyage- Air Guitars range from $399 for an entry-level model to $1,700 for the Premier edition. A foldable solid-body electric sells for about $750.
If a would-be buyer is a experienced player or dedicated student with a need to keep a guitar nearby regardless of location, there's no worry the Voyage-Air will let them down when it's time to strum.