By J.P. Kallio
It was November 2003. I was in transit in the Heathrow Airport. I had left Dublin few hours ago and I had two weeks of concerts ahead of me. We were asked to do a security check at the airport. All our checked in luggage was brought into the security check and we needed to identify our bags and open them (this was only few years after 9/11 and the security was at its highest) I opened my guitar case and lifted it out. To my horror the headstock of the guitar stayed in the case. It had snapped off clean, past the point of repair.
This moment has haunted me since then on every flight I took with my guitar. Especially flying out of Ireland your main two airlines are Airlingus and Ryanair. Both have very strict cabin baggage rules. To bring a guitar on-board
you need to pay for an extra seat, which you by the way don’t get, you just get to store it in an overhead locker. This was never going to be a financially viable solution for an independent artist.
Last year I took stock of my traveling and realized I had done 22 flights. I also had started to write songs much more than before, so even on a short holiday it pained me to leave my guitar behind. So I started to look into travel guitars. What I wanted was a guitar I could bring in as hand luggage on any flight, no questions asked. I had played with the thought before, but the options were either still too large to get on every flight or the sound and playability was too much of a compromise. What I wanted was a guitar I was able to play live.
This time something new came to my attention, the Journey Instruments guitars. They were still new company and the distribution in Europe was limited, by the Playawayguitars.com in England had a few in stock. For about a week I did pretty intense research on the guitar and eventually decided to take the risk of ordering one online.
Two days later the guitar arrived in a cardboard box. It was hard to believe there was a guitar inside. The Journey Instruments OF420 come with a backpack case that fits within the airlines carry on luggage restrictions. It is a well-built backpack that also fits Laptop (or even two) and loads of other equipment.
The guitar itself is beautifully built with solid Sitka Spruce top and rosewood back and sides, Bone nut and saddle, built in passive pickup, Grover mini tuners, mahogany neck that comes off… Yeah you heard it right. If you don’t believe me now would be time to check out the video I made with the guitar (at the top of this post). You also hear the sound quality of the instrument.
So yeah, it comes apart, fits in a nice backpack, but how does it play? After attaching the neck few times I’d like to point out one thing. Once you have secured the neck, firmly press the neck towards the body and give the locking mechanism one more twist. This will secure the neck tightly, and once this is done the guitar stays in tune very nicely and the intonation is spot on.
The body is small, but has a wedge design, where the lower part of the body is thicker than the top. It adds a lot of volume to this guitar and the bass response is actually very acceptable. I would compare the sound more to a small body acoustic than a travel guitar. In fact I had in my long term shopping list a small body acoustic guitar, but the journey instruments have actually removed it from my list for now. I tested the guitar in an acoustic session with Irish wooden flute and a banjo, both being loud instruments and it stood up to the task with no problems what so ever.
The pickup is their own design but reminds me very much the K&K Pure Mini. These contact pickups give very natural response and most fingerpickers love them. But for me they are too prone to feedback. So I am planning to change the pickup, but don’t take this as a negative thing, I do that all the time and the only acoustic guitar I ever bought because of its built in pickup system is my trusty workhorse K. Yairi. It’s just happens that it is also a beautifully built guitar and sounds amazing acoustically.
The action is very nice on this guitar the 24.5 inch scale gives the guitar little bit stiff feel, but if it is too much for you, just try lighter strings. I put 13s on mine as I do on all of my guitars. As I mentioned before, it fingerpicks really nicely, it is easy to play and to me the neck actually feels quite fast.
But most of all, this guitar for me is a bit of a life changer. When I travel without my guitar, I miss it every day. Now I don’t need to travel ever again without one! And once I have set up the guitar with pickup system suitable for my needs, I can see myself occasionally playing shows with it, whether it’s with Sliotar or on my own.