Martin Backpacker (Steel String) Review
As its name implies, the Martin Backpacker guitar was designed as a travel guitar small enough to take with you on a backpacking trip or to fit in an airline overhead compartment. It succeeds at both these tasks, being both small and lightweight. It even comes with a very nice padded gig bag and a strap.
What Is That?
A common reaction upon seeing a backpacker is “Is that a guitar?” or “What is that?” The backpacker achieves its compactness by virtue of its unusual body shape. In fact, the body looks more like an extension of the neck than a traditional guitar. A closer look at the neck reveals that the neck and body are, in fact, one piece of solid mahogany with the sound chamber milled out. A solid sound wood top and mahogany bottom complete the body assembly. A very light layer of finish leave the Backpacker with a bare wood feel.
While its unusual body shape makes the guitar compact (35" total), it also makes it difficult to hold. It will not sit on your leg like a standard guitar — you have to wear a strap when playing the Backpacker. In addition, the headstock and tuners make this guitar top-heavy. You will want to rest your right arm against the body while playing to steady the guitar. Otherwise, the neck has a tendency to pull towards the ground.
Even with its small size, the Backpacker has a very playable 24" scale neck. It’s smaller than a standard acoustic, but not by much. Electric players will have no problem it. The action is set a little high for my tastes, probably most others too. Since there is no truss rod for neck adjustments, Martin recommends changing the action by replacing the bridge saddle with a shorter saddle. The saddle is not glued in place and Martin makes blank saddles that you can purchase for this reason. The frets all fit well, but most had rough edges.
As you might expect, a guitar with such a small body doesn’t produce a very rich tone. Its small size also requires the use of light gauge strings which contribute to its overall sound. To my ears, the tone is thin with qualities that resemble those of a resonator guitar and even a banjo. This is a unique tone that no one will mistake for a full sized guitar. But for practice or camping trips, the tone is adequate and surprisingly loud. In fact, the Backpacker’s unique tone could be an advantage to players looking for a different recording sound.
The Backpacker won’t replace your regular guitar. It’s top heavy, hard to hold, and has a thin tone. However, guitarists looking for an inexpensive, compact travel companion with a playable neck and passable tone will find one in the Backpacker.