Small Guitars: They Aren’t Just For Kids
Dial your Wayback Machine to just 25 years ago and new small guitars didn’t sound very good. There just weren’t any decent new under-$500 small guitars, because guitar factories made small guitars just like they made their big models, then gave the little version a shorter string scale as well. The result? Little guitars that just went “plunk” and had no tone or bass response at all. That changed in 1996 when Taylor introduced their “Baby” models, which were pictured on the cover of their catalog with real babies, in diapers no less, and were quickly linked to early childhood music education projects.
The Baby Taylor was clearly pitched as a very small steel-string guitar for kids but even the most gung-ho sales guys at Taylor were surprised at the response. Here at Gryphon we quickly learned that for a lot of our customers their kids were a convenient excuse to buy another guitar. Mom borrowed the Baby Taylor to take group guitar lessons, as it was easier to carry and far easier to maneuver in a crowded setting. Dad strapped the Baby Taylor across his back for an early morning hike and serenaded the squirrels before heading to work for a long day at the office. Both Mom and Dad appreciated the fact that this latest addition to their guitar family was an instrument they didn’t have to worry about. Sure, the Baby Taylor was a great way to start kids playing guitar but more than that it was a way for adults to play more guitar, and more often, by having an instrument that was easy to carry and easy to stash out of the way when it wasn’t needed.
Fast forward to 2010 and Taylor had raised the bar for small guitars. The GS Mini is larger than the Baby Taylor, with a slightly longer string scale (23.5” compared to 22.75 for the Baby).
But the GS Mini is still more compact and easier to play than small regular guitar models, and at $599 is still very affordable and versions are available with either a solid spruce or solid mahogany top. An excellent pickup system (Taylor GS Mini-e, note the “e” at the end of the model code) adds very little to the cost and makes the GS Mini ever more versatile.
The GS Mini has some serious competition from C. F. Martin of late, and in Martin’s legendary Dreadnought shape. Our favorite is the Martin Dreadnought Junior with a Sapele (mahogany) top.
For those wanting a nylon-string guitar in a smaller size, and with highly affordable price tag, once again there are better-sounding guitars available now than in the past. Our favorites are the Kremona models from Bulgaria, and they’re available in 3/4, 1/2, and even 1/4 size.
For adults looking for a travel guitar with nylon strings, the Kremona S58C 3/4 is ideal and sounds better than most full-size classical guitars in the $300 price range. Regardless of the size, these Kremona models are accurately scaled, so the neck width and string scale is made smaller, not just the body.
But what if you’re hooked on the convenience and comfort of a much smaller guitar but you want one made with the same woods and workmanship as your full-sized instruments? Collings Guitars in Austin, TX was the first to answer that challenge with their own Baby model, and the Collings Baby costs about the same as the equivalent full-sized Collings. One quick strum, however, and you can hear the payoff as in a blindfold test few listeners would guess that the Collings Baby was that small.
In quite another direction is the latest new model from the legendary Lowden workshop in Ireland. The Wee Lowden shown here is a multi-scale version, and by the way feels a lot more normal when you play it than it looks. A regular Wee Lowden is on the way, without the fanned frets.
As you can see there are more options in small guitars than ever before. The next time you’re struggling to add your guitar in its case into the car for a lesson, especially if you want to make only one trip and carry other stuff as well, imagine how much easier it would be with a small guitar in a gig bag slung over your shoulder!