review

Martin Backpacker - Steel String

Review by Mark Starlin

Martin Backpacker

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.

The Body

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.

The Neck

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.

Tone

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.

Final Thoughts

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. It also fits great in a locker. I keep mine at work, always available for break time jam sessions. Plus, it gives you “bragging rights” of owning a Martin.

Reader Comments

Better Guitar encourages your input. Agree with this review? Think I’m crazy? If you own or have played a Martin Steel String Backpacker, email me your comments and I’ll post them below. The more opinions our readers have available, the better their buying decisions will be.

Stephen Switzer

I purchased the backpacker for one reason only: to practice scales when I am on business trips that involve air travel. It is perfect for that purpose. It easily fits in the overhead bin on a jetliner, and the neck length is suitable for practicing scales or other exercises. I don't play it at home, and I don't try to make music on it, per se. I have other Martins for that. For my purposes, the backpacker couldn't be better suited.

Aaron

I've owned my backpacker for years and laughed when I read the first "What is that" article. I took it to a BBQ over the weekend and had 3 people approach me. "Hey, I heard them say you have some sort of weird instrument over there... what is that?" Haha! I picked it up and played Usher's "OMG" to the delight of the BBQ revelers. Your review is dead on. When they asked me about it, I said, "It does everything a regular acoustic will do, but... the low sounds kinda suck." And to get the most of it I always always bring a pick. Strumming with my hand just won't do! Nice review!

Mike

The backpacker is a clever travel guitar that retains the good qualities of Bob McNally's original design: it is far more compact than a normal guitar, it remains essentially an acoustic device, no batteries needed for enjoyment, it plays in a (mostly) full-scale manner at 24", and it's durable and relatively inexpensive. It does require some fine tuning to achieve better playability. Here are my tips:  

#1)Have a luthier adjust the saddle height to the lowest playable action height. You'll be surprised at the nice difference and adapt to the flat radius without much struggle afterward.

#2)Change the strings to John Pearse slightly-lights or Martin SP custom-lights phosphor bronze. The slightly larger string gauge adds just the right needed tone boost and string feel without incurring any noticeable neck trauma (despite Martin's warning to use only extra-light strings).

#3)Get a knee strap from Hamre Music's Neckup site. The mini strap costs about $40, but immediately resolves the awkward struggle to hold and play this triangular shaped body (without even the need for the supplied neckstrap) fits the lower bout depth of the backpacker almost perfectly, and causes the backpacker to rest comfortably on your knee in a normal seated position without movement and at a nice headstock angle. The supplied suction cup won't stick well to the backpacker's satin finish though, so you will have to  bolt a strap button to the lower bout side at the center point of where the suction cup would be attached (no big deal.) You can use the upper strap button at the neck base with a small machine screw and locknut, and a washer to support the inner side surface.  One small hole can be drilled (gasp! four years and no stress cracks, relax) to accommodate the screw. The washer and locknut can be secured through the soundhole.

#4) Martin makes a sharp little headstock strap with a button to attach the supplied neckstrap. Use it when standing with the backpacker for a more balanced position, rather than the neck-heavy top button mentioned above.

That's it. I've also purchased a break-down shotgun case that just fits the dimensions of the backpacker but have not used it yet.  Not sure I want to taunt the good folks at the TSA checkpoint these days with something that looks like a firearm. Good luck to all the backpackers out there, and  musicians in general.

Richard Moog

As I have received the Martin backpacker guitar used, I think my opinions may be slightly biased. I bought the guitar used for $100 from a local music store in Mendocino county, in great condition. From what I'm hearing, I'm assuming the action must have been lowered on mine as I have no problem playing it (whereas I would have trouble if it were high). Anyway, I think this guitar is amazing for what it is. It has a great tone and has plenty of volume for any kind of hang out situation. The guitar actually sits in your lap well if you hold it right. For such a low price, this guitar is astounding! At least 8-9 out of 10.

Chuck Harvuot

I had debated for several months about getting a Backpacker and finally bought one on eBay after reading the review and all the posted comments. I have been delighted with it. I cleaned the fingerboard, sanded about 1mm off the bottom of the saddle and put new strings on it. (I spoke to a Martin rep about strings and decided on the M1400s.) Yes, the tone is not the same as either my 6 or 12 string, but they are all different instruments so they shouldn't be expected to be the same. I can take the Backpacker with me whenever I want and it fits in my Miata a whole lot better than either of my other guitars. Thanks.

Dave

I bought my Backpacker from Modern Music in Truro, Cornwall, UK in 2008 on a holiday there (I'm from Australia). Before I took delivery the shop owner Andy arranged to have it converted to left handed. When I finally got it I found it was very well set up, with excellent action, and the intonation was very good — obviously a very professional conversion. It took me a long time to come to grips with its size and shape, and for several weeks, I thought it was practically unplayable — very disheartening. However, it eventually "clicked" and either slung by the strap or rested on my leg (crossed over the other leg) it's absolutely fine to play.

I've recently returned from another long holiday where I motorcycled my way around Europe and the UK for 2 months. The Backpacker was strapped, in it's gig bag, to the back of my bike through all weathers, lugged in and out of accommodation and slung into room corners with no problem at all. I took no special precautions against weather except for putting plastic bags top and bottom around it when it was raining. From very cold Alpine temperatures to hot sunny days, the thing just needed a tune and it was ready to go every day. It even got wacked by a bus when I squeezed a little close between lanes in London traffic with no damage to its playability.

The neck never shifted after going through quite adverse conditions so there's good reason for it's thicker than normal profile. The tone is a little thin but still fine — and I'm actually a bass player really, so if it didn't bother me to have a slightly trebly sound, why does it bother anyone else? It's made traveling even nicer for me knowing I can still play. There's no way I'd take my Yamaha APX electro-acoustic on a long plane trip or strap it to a bike, and of course a bass would be stupid, so the Backpacker is an excellent solution and I'm glad I bought it. I think I'll put a pick-up on it. Apart from that, it's just fine.

Jonathan

First of all, Martin has done an "excilente" job on tackling the Travel Guitar industry. Finally! A travel guitar with excellent tone, hardly any weight, a mass projection for it's small size. As I compare it to other traveler guitars, there's just NO comparison! Martin completely dominated this side of guitars. Now ladies and gents listen, this is a TRAVEL GUITAR not a full size guitar. So don't compare it to your Gibson, Fender or your Martin D-28,32 etc. This is in a category all to its own. It has it's own sound, it's own projection, and it's own category. Yes I know I said it twice. So what if you have a few "untrimmed" frets. So what if it doesn't have a thin neck. If you have a problem with it, send it to a Luthier to fix it to YOUR TASTE. Tell him/her to sand the neck or lower the action. Don't complain about this work of craftsmanship. If I had to rate this between a 1 and 10 I'll give it an 11, in the travel guitar department. This is the best travel guitar I've ever owned. It's sound is like a blend between a banjo, a resonator, and a guitar all in one! It literally fills the room and/or camp with music. An A+ for Martin yet again. Under 200 bucks this is a great guitar for beginners as well.

Juan Carlos Lopez

I got the Backpacker because of my travel, especially in Europe where you have to take trains and carry your own luggage. Difficult at times. I own several guitars (Taylor, Ovations), and I believe that we cannot expect the performance of those with the Backpacker. But I must say that I am EXTREMELY HAPPY with the Backpacker. It plays nicely, delivers more sound than expected for the size, and once you get used to it, you will know what to do to get the best of it. You will get the balance right eventually. For the price, I believe that it is one of the best around, and I have carried it on planes, trains and roads of Germany, and it is sooooo light! One of the best purchases I have ever made.

Ian Smith

I bought a backpacker some time ago, and just to settle this, no, no it doesn't sound as good as a full size guitar, and it can't, as it's tiny, but it is well set up and works. It sounds well balanced and the intonation is good so it doesn't sound horribly out of tune at points up the neck. It is incredibly light and portable, and the fact is is top heavy is unavoidable as it has a good neck and zero body weight. It stays in tune pretty well, loses a tiny bit more than my favorite acoustics, but anything on the road will fall out a lot anyway. The action is pretty good, you will play much worse actions on other peoples travel guitars.

When it comes down to it, when going through jungles in Costa Rica or roading across Spain, Italy, America, anywhere, or just on a weekend in Lahinch, anything where space and size is an issue, this guitar is perfect and a lot hardier and in need of care than your favorite acoustic. Buy one for traveling and you will love it.

Oh, one more thing, if you have to put it in the hold of a plane and not carry it as hand luggage, tune it down to about a C sharp, as the cold down there will tighten strings and damage the un-trussed neck otherwise. Keep on rockin'!

Joe

At first it was hard for me to tune the Backpacker, until someone told me that it's because it's new. Also I got upset because it was made in Mexico and not in the U.S. I have another Martin, a D-35. I like it very much.

Tommy

If Martin is going to make such a poorly designed, thin sounding, almost unplayable guitar — even if it is meant to be a traveling guitar — they should sell it without the martin decal. It's hard to hold standing, it doesn't sit on your lap, the neck scale is very weird, the frets are not filed/trimmed well, the neck is too thick and poorly shaped, the finish is dull and feels rough like they don't even bother to sand and seal these thing before they are sprayed. The body is very small and therefore there is no tone. Very disappointing from Martin. My advice is to spend your $199 on a cheapo full size guitar with a solid top and laminated sides and at least you'll have something that sounds decent enough that you will actually want to play it. And since you only spent $199 who cares if you scratch it up walking to your campsite. Stay away from the Backpacker. Just because it says Martin on the headstock doesn't make it good.

Yves Geleff (singer-songwriter)

Got mine a couple of weeks ago. I was looking for a (very?) small guitar because picking on my D28 (or any dreadnaught) more than thirty minutes causes backaches since the day I broke a vertebra in an accident. Of course, one should never listen to a Backpacker immediately after a full sized guitar, but still, I must say I was quite impressed by the loudness of the sound, given the size of the body, of course. No bass, it's easy to understand that such a small thing could never do it, but the midrange and treble are fine, and this instrument delivers a good quality tone. I plan to mount an under-saddle pickup (Thinline 332 by Fishman) with an external preamp (no room enough inside the Backpacker to mount an internal one!) and as soon as it's done, I'll take it on stage with my D28. In short, I don't regret it at all, I love it!

Dave

My problem with the Packer is that it is delivered without any care in getting the action tuned in, at all. So, unless you do it yourself, it will cost a minimum of $45 to make it playable. Just got it into the shop so I’ll discuss after I play it. Good idea but not happy so far.

Andy C.

While on a trip to Florida to visit my daughter, we made a stop to a local music store. My wife saw the Backpacker and mentioned that it would be the ideal travel guitar, and the kicker was it was a Martin! Already a proud owner of 2 other Martins, and carrying the Martin 12 string on this trip, the backpacker posed a real possibility. We would end up getting one back in New York once we got home. It became my main guitar when both my other Martins were in the shop getting set-up and the back-log was over 2 weeks.

Needless to say, what a pleasure it was to play, practice and perform with this instrument! Sound is thin, but what it lacks in sound, it excels in playability! I absolutely love the Backpacker, and when I travel, the backpacker will go right along! No more lugging the full size guitars that you worry about being abused in travel! If you want a playable, fun, and well made travel guitar, the Martin Backpacker will suit your needs.

Dave Haynie

Do keep in mind that “Travel Guitar” covers a pretty wide range of instruments. Some of these are only slightly downsized guitars, and have a sound accordingly.

The Backpacker is one of the few actually suitable to real backpacking. I’m setting off on a two week backpacking trip this summer, and while I won’t mistake my Backpacker for my D15, when contemplating 5-10 miles a day with a 50lbs. pack, it’s really hard to beat the Backpacker. Incidently, the Backpacker wasn’t inspired by the Strumstick; they’re siblinbs. Bob McNally designed the Backpacker for Martin, and used a similar design on the 3-string diatonic StrumSticks (which look like tiny guitars, but play more like a Mountain Dulcimer). Bob has an electric Strumstick in the works too.

Ben

I recently purchased this guitar last week and was personally very satisfied. The extent of my satisfaction was probably due to my ownership of a no-name knock-off backpacker. The knockoff had painfully high action, which was made worse by the use of full-size strings that eventually caused the entire guitar to bow to the point where I had to replace the moving bridge with a notched chopstick. It wasn’t long, however, before I began stripping strings from it to replace broken ones on guitars of my friends and mine. After using it in the stage performance of a poem at school, the look of the backpacker had become a staple of mine (“how did you learn how to play that thing? I thought you played guitar.”), so I decided to put down the money.

I guess I was just surprised by how easy and rich the Martin Backpacker played compared to my previous one. The action on mine seemed very manageable, at least to me. Problems with top-heaviness were solved by either resting an elbow on the end of it, or by tying the strap to the head — the latter of which works fairly well. I have to say that I was disappointed with the neck having only 15 frets, which meant no Battle of Evermore on this baby in standard tuning at least. I did also find the neck a little fat for my tastes. But for something that fits in my locker so I don’t have to carry it around all day, this guitar is nearly perfect.

Joe Plant

What a steal for the price I paid $180.00 Canadian. (Brand new with gig bag and strap.) I find this to be a very innovative and interesting product. As most of the reviews that I’ve read note, the set up is really the only set back of this guitar. Fixing this is not difficult, even for a beginner. I simply put a pencil mark along the length of the saddle as it is set in the bridge and then loosened the strings without removing them until the saddle could be removed. Using the pencil mark as a reference point, I sanded the saddle with sand paper. Be careful not to sand off too much the first time unless you have some blank saddles. (1-2 mm at a time) It took me three attempts to get the action where I feel comfortable playing.

The sound is what it is. Intonation is very good due to quality construction. This was not as uncomfortable to play as I had read. No more so than playing any other guitar standing up. As a matter of fact this is a very comfortable guitar to play if you are walking. This guitar does attract a lot of attention. I recently took it with me on a trip to the Dominican Republic and the local people just loved it. I must have played LaBamba 1000 times. This guitar stays in my truck. The size of the Backpacker makes it very convenient to take everywhere. Anyway, enough said; as the name implies, the Backpacker is just that. You won’t worry about beating the crap out of this thing unless you’re defending yourself with it.

Greg C.

People, please, enough with the gripes with the sound. It’s NOT a full-sized guitar, is NOT passed off as one, nor priced like one. It’s not even shaped like one. Stop comparing it to full-sized guitars. Who compares a Cooper Mini to Porsche 911 or a full-sized Lexus SUV? No one. Do all do their jobs as cars? Yes. If anyone buys a Mini, expecting it to be like a Porsche or Lexus, a serious reality check is in order. Same with the Backpacker.

As for my backpacker, which I’ve owned for a year and a half, I am more pleased with it now than I was when I bought it because it simply has grown on me. It has its own sound and feel, and for $200 with strap and travel bag, it’s a near steal. The craftsmanship is wonderful. The tone is trebly — think of a banjo, mandolin, and balalaika all in one. But given its size, it sounds great. Did I mention it’s portable? It’s been all over the Western U.S. and to Taiwan and has made my travels so much more fulfilling, something I could never do with my Takamine G330, as much as I love it. Other than the obvious sound limitations, I did have the same beef others had upon purchasing it: the setup needed work. But all it took was $40 at the local folk music shop, and the action was sweet, especially after stringing on a set of Martin Silk & Steel .0115-.047 Folk Guitar strings.

If you like meeting people, this baby’s for you. It seems that half the people who see me playing it in public ask me about it. As I’m pretty introverted, this can be a bit bothersome. If you’re still a beginner, as I still consider myself to be, this is a wonderful guitar to have because the only way to progress in your playing is to play ceaselessly, as often as possible. The Backpacker invites you to do this. It goes anywhere. I’m always keeping mine. It’s sturdy, portable, well-crafted and charming — a great compliment to any guitar collection.

Craig Stabnau

I have had my backpacker for roughly 8 years. It was kept in my work locker and I played it every chance I had. Now it is as worn as Willie Nelson’s guitar. I love it. To me it plays like a Strat. It was hard to hold at first, but now I play it without a strap, and am used to holding it. I have learned many licks on it and next I am going to get a nylon stringed version. Seriously, I like it better than my full sized Martin.

Joe

My Backpacker arrived on Christmas morning and I’ve been grinning ever since. It is just what it’s supposed to be, and I don’t expect the sound of my old Guild D50. I can’t wait to try it out in the next long lineup for the ferry heading to the islands. It’s certainly suitable for practice and such; however, I discovered its TONE this evening as I tuned it to an open G. This little baby rings in an open tuning! Try it. It fits everywhere and now I don’t have to lug my D50 into my office to multi-task. Life is good.

Paul

I bought the guitar with the intention of using a treble or Nashville (high) stringing, with the high octave string equivalents from a 12 string guitar (on strings 3-6). I had heard that some professional musicians had done this. It’s still a good idea for those who like the more bulky, square neck shape of the Backpacker in your fretting hand, and who are interested in a treble guitar. The Backpacker isn’t very alive in the bass, so it seems suited to this.

But one caution: Saddles are generally angled so that the bass end is slightly longer than the treble because bass strings are thicker, so this angle compensates. Yet if you do the treble or Nashville high tuning with those octave strings, you almost need to have an extra saddle on the nut-side of the regular one (the side of the saddle toward the head of the guitar) to compensate for those octave strings, the highest of which (G) is thinner than the first string (E). Otherwise, the guitar sounds out of tune: Fretting the 12th fret and playing the harmonic there should sound the same pitch, but with the Nashville tuning, and without a compensated saddle, this is thrown off. Without a special saddle job, it always sounds out of tune, especially as you play above the 3rd fret.

If you’re not a luthier yourself, this means an expensive trip to a good guitar repair shop for a special compensated saddle, possibly double-wide at the top — perhaps a “T” or upside-down “L” shape with the narrow end in the normal saddle groove, and the wide top used to tune each string according to its thickness and needs. The narrow end in the groove should be only as deep as the groove, so that the top of the T or inverted L has contact with the top of the bridge. Or one might try an extra “sister” saddle for those octave strings, glued to the side of a regular saddle. This second option might not need an extra groove in the bridge, but it would have to have full contact with the bridge.

I agree with many comments already posted on the problems with the poor setup and high saddle on the steel string, and as I’m used to a Gibson, the neck shape is awkward, more bulky and square than the Gibson neck, and seems to get in the way.

Drew

I received this little “bragging rights” item a month or so ago as a gift, and I agree with some of your review, but I also know that , "out-of-the-box", the thing sucked. The saddle — and therefore the action — was so high, you can drive a cheap Hyundai under it. Only after I finally decided to take the plunge and break out the sander to bring the saddle height down {about a millimeter on the bass and a 1/2 millimeter on the treble} did it resemble any sort of playability and intonation. Prior to that, it was painful to play and listen to it. Now it is at least acceptable as a mini-alternative to a real guitar if you are just bummin’ around on a weekend trip where a real guitar is not necessary (i.e: performing-wise, that is). I will say that, when I plugged the guitar through an EQ pedal and into a PA, the backpacker was marginally able to imitate the sound of a full-sized, albeit cheap full-sized guitar. But, it took some doing, even then. It astounds me that a company as anally retentive as Martin would let anything with their name on it make it out into the world in such an inferior set up. My basic feeling is, that if I was to buy it myself, I would have gone with another brand of portable guitars.

Brittany

I recently used this backpacking guitar during a trip to a lake. This is a nice guitar to travel with and if I had my own I would probably bring it vacationing with me everywhere. I don’t know how to rate it on sound or anything because I am only a year 2 guitarist, but personally I like it very much. At first I did wonder what it was but after using it I enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll get one for my birthday or Christmas... hopefully...

Rich Yampell

You did yourself a disservice in this review. You only reviewed the steel string. When I decided to buy a Backpacker for a summer-long cross-country motorcycle trip, I spent over an hour in the store trying to decide between the steel and the nylon. Your review of the steel string was right on the money, and I just couldn’t convince myself that I liked it, because of the thin, banjo-y sound. So instead I bought the nylon. I’d normally be a steel string player, but the nylon had a much warmer, more guitar-y sound. Sure, not the full sound you’d get out of a full-body guitar, but a *much* better compromise than the steel. The one problem with the nylon string (which is why it took me an hour to decide) is that, because they’re thinking "classical" guitar, it has a really wide neck, which is difficult for me with my small hand. But I’ll tell you, after 3 months of playing only that guitar, I got used to it and learned to manage it, and now I probably play the Backpacker more than any of my other guitars (just because it’s SOOOOOOO convenient). I really think the nylon string is the winner in this pair.

Judy Cullen

My classical backpacker sounds somewhat like a baritone ukelele. It is great for practice when away from home.

Dave

I was hesitant at first to buy that funny looking guitar, the Martin Backpacker, but the more I played the more I enjoyed its playability. The sound is unique somewhere between a guitar and a funky banjo. I use different tunings to get a fuller sound, it may just be a trick to the ear. The most comfortable playing position for me is with a guitar strap, standing up. This way I can wander around the garden, to the dismay of the wife and the cat. It’s likewise great to travel with to the beach or for a walk in the woods. One of the better $$ values I’ve spent on music gear. I have it in mind to plug it in and play it through my acoustic amp, maybe with a multi-effects processor. A fun little guitar.

Pete Celano

I just picked up a Backpacker, after agonizing over whether to spend another hundred bucks on a Taylor Baby. My travel/beater instrument is a Steinberger solidbody - virtually indestructible but also inaudible. The Backpacker is the next logical step from the ’berger, I guess. It is a decent guitar, although poorly set up out of the box. The neck has perfect relief, which is a good thing considering there is no adjustable truss rod. I’ll be putting a set of ultralight Elixers on it and redoing the saddle and nut, and then it will be a very nice player. As it is, it stands up well to being played hard. While it isn’t what you would call “rich” sounding in the low end, it does give a funky sort of bass that works great with finger-style guitar. Overall, I’m pleased with it and would rate it GOOD for value and for what it was designed to be. (It would be EXCELLENT if it was set up nicely and had a good set of strings right out of the box.) I expect to beat it to death in a few years, and then I’ll just replace it. I wouldn’t be capable of feeling that ambivalent about ANY Taylor, so the Backpacker was the right choice for me.

GusMGlen

These instruments clearly divide players into two camps love ’em or hate ’em. Personally I love mine, I bought it second hand for £175.00 in 1999. It’s the model with the built in pick-up and it is without doubt the most played and gigged instrument I’ve ever owned. Okay the pick-up does need some severe EQ’ing in order to get a decent sound when amplified, but the combination of an EQ pedal with a Zoom multi effects unit means that I can even get a fair approximation of a double bass (handy for for filling out the bottom end on those two-guitar gigs.) A bit of application, imagination and patience are all it takes to get the most out of these deceptively versatile instruments. Devotees should check out John Jennings’ backpacker playing on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s most recent albums and concert video.

Robert Hickson

I thought your review of the Martin Backpacker was right on. I bought two at Christmas (I was having trouble rationalizing buying one for myself... but hey — if I could get my brother out hiking with me, that’s a different story!) I haven’t played it in the field yet... or in the woods or mountains for that matter, but I am looking forward to spring. Finally, your $180 street price is accurate — I paid $179 each.

Johnny Brooks

I just received my new Backpacker and I love it already. I have it strapped on right now. The build quality is excellent and it sounds fine. It’s like having a Banjo and a Guitar all at once. I can play “Dueling Banjos” just by picking at different distances from the bridge. I highly recommend this unique “instrument.”

Al Knight

I tried several Martins hoping I might find one that played well. No luck. I found them awkward, goofy sounding, and really, really ugly. I was about to throw in the towel and buy one anyway, as I wanted a travel guitar. My wife found an Ibanez “Daytripper” and bought me one of those instead. I wound it up with “Elixer” extra light acoustic strings, and the durned thing has great tone and playability. The body and neck is beautifully bound (body binding front and back) and I don’t feel silly holding something that looks like a Lithuanian folk instrument with an unpronounceable name.

Jennifer Case

I tune my backpacker similar to a 6 string dulcimer. It gives me a guitar oriented “dulcimer” having a similar size as a lap dulcimer. With a little creative picking and fingering I can also get a banjo effect. The Martin Backpacker works great in the acoustic group I play in!

Mark Ellison

I started to learn to play Guitar a little over 4 weeks ago. After mastering a few chords I found that I simply had to take my Guitar everywhere with me. This in itself was a little awkward given that my shiny new Yamaha was being subjected to some small knocks when loading and unloading it from the car. The Backpacker is perfect for my needs, allowing me to practice anywhere and at anytime — is this not the key to becoming a good Guitarist? It has also put a stop to my girlfriends continual moaning about my playing the Guitar when she needs some peace and quiet! A winner for me, despite it’s inflated UK price tag of £179. Plus, I can also tell people that I’m the proud owner of a Martin guitar!

Cathy Marino

I purchased my Backpacker guitar after an airline dinged up the case on my Seagull guitar. The Backpacker is a challenge in that it tends to roll if you do not brace it with your right arm while playing- although it is not so bad while playing leads, I would not try to use it for back-up as the roll is more pronounced the more you strum. The tone is interesting, it sounds very banjo or mandolin-like as you play farther from the neck, south of the sound-hole. The treble notes have a surprising amount of volume, but I am disappointed in the lack of volume in the bass notes. Overall I find the Backpacker to be an excellent value, suited well for playing some bluegrass leads with a distinctive sound, and great for carrying to work or for travel.

MackrelSky

The Martin Backpacker is cute to be sure, with a design inspired by the McNally strumsticks. But I already have a McNally strumstick, which is a different instrument altogether. So when I went shopping for a travel guitar, I found myself taken with the Ibanez mini Daytripper. It sounds great, looks great and was completely affordable, which justified the purchase of YET another guitar! In fact, it’s SO much fun to play, I even play it at home, while my much more expensive small body acoustic gently weeps from neglect. The Backpacker was not for me, but hey — that’s what makes a horse race, right? Thankfully there’s a wonderful array of travel guitars out there, to satisfy ALL the livers of hectic lives!

Jesse Watson

I just got mine in the mail yesterday, and I’ve been experimenting with it almost non-stop since. To be honest, I’m slightly disappointed, but I had sky-high expectations... (it’s a Martin, after all.) The review is definitely right: very thin tone. That’s about the only downside I really think is valid (although it looks just a tiny bit geeky—I feel sort of bad after saying that for some reason, though; everyone else thinks it’s cute). The neck on mine, however, is just excellent. It’s beyond “passable.” I guess that’s one thing you can always count on with Martin: a rock-solid neck, extremely playable, and great for a first guitar (which is what it is for me, although I’m definitely still planning to get a full-sized Martin D-15 as soon as I feel I’ve "earned" one). Speaking of rock-solid, it seems like it’s close to indestructible. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it would be pretty tough for a careful user to damage it in standard travel and use, even in its gig bag (which is also nice and well-designed). Bottomline: This is a great little guitar to travel with. I, personally, would not want to be away from a guitar very long, and now I’m happy to have one I can take with me. This is what it was designed for, and it works fine for that. Just don’t expect a rich sound. Ya ain’t gonna get one... I paid $150 for mine, and I don’t think I would have wanted to pay any more than that.

Trevor R. Hanson

I bought a Backpacker when they first came out — when there were no other travel guitar options. I found, as did most of the other reviewers, that it basically did the job. However, it has a few problems. The two biggest ones for me are the top-heavy headstock and the lack of any place to rest my right arm when playing. I rely on a guitar’s lower bout to position my right hand over the strings. A detachable arm connected to the tailpiece and extending above the guitar, or a clever strap, could fix this problem. I haven’t been successful yet, however. As far as the headstock is concerned, I’d like to see the tuning machines moved to the bottom of the instrument, below the bridge (e.g. attached to the tail block). That would put the weight where it belongs. But for a first effort at a travel guitar, it does the job just fine, and the price is great. I just hope somebody takes the next step.

Alex

Well I tried it and I thought it was cute. BUT, if your gonna buy a little travel guitar, buy a guitar, not a thin awkward thing with strings. After my evaluation I chose the Ibanez DayTripper. It’s small but sounds big. It fits in an overhead airplane compartment and best of all it’s a guitar. Not a thing. The Kid Joey by Washburn was really good too. But it wasn’t on sale like the Ibanez!

Don Chance

Just bought a Backpacker for my boys, who are taking guitar in Jr. High school. They were kinda interested in learning guitar before, but now they love it with the new Backpacker. It’s an excellent, fairly low-priced learner guitar that all the other kids envy. My boys are on fire to learn now, and it’s because of the Backpacker. I’ll have to buy another one pretty soon. Sure, I wouldn’t play the Backpacker on a gig, but it’s sure serving it’s purpose to stunning effect where my boys are concerned.

[none given]

As a new, aspiring singer songwriter, I agonized over the decision of taking my acoustic on vacation overseas with me. Fearing I would lose out on an inspiring moment by leaving it at home, The Backpacker is the perfect answer to my dilemma.

stats

  • • Scale length: 24"
  • • 15 frets
  • • Solid Spruce top
  • • Solid tonewood back
  • • Solid hardwood neck
  • • Micarta bridge
  • • Chrome tuners w/small knobs
  • • Includes padded gig bag and strap
  • Positives
  • Inexpensive, small size, playable 24" scale neck, nice gig bag/strap included.
  • Negatives
  • Thin tone, headstock heavy, hard to hold.
  • Rating
  • Performance: 7
  • Sound Quality: 6
  • Construction: 7
  • Overall: 6.7
  • Ratings Key
  • 0 = Worthless
  • 10 = Excellent
  • Estimated Street Price
  • $199
  • Available At Guitar Center
  • Martin Steel String Backpacker Acoustic Guitar Standard
  • Available At Sam Ash
  • Backpacker Acoustic Travel Guitar with Gig Bag
  • Company
  • Martin

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