Voyage Air – “the future of guitar travel”

The guitar’s popularity has soared over the 1900’s and into the 21st century and it’s one of the most played and recognised instrument in the world – but a foldable guitar?

This innovation was originally constructed by Harvey Leach and Jeff Cohen in California, US. Over the past six years Leach and his team have developed and grown both acoustic and electric guitars and now have over 200 distributors across the planet in Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States.

Leach’s idea was purely born out of his customers’ growing infuriation with how much of hassle air travel had become after the Twin Towers disaster in 2001.
As you would imagine, around Leach’s workshop there were always unfinished guitars waiting to be put together, and it was here that the idea began to take shape. If only the instrument could be folded down the size of the standard OM body shape, this would make travel that much easier. It seems unfair that the travelling musician should have to settle for a smaller or technically poorer quality of instrument, purely because of portability restrictions.

There has long since been discussion between players whether the bolt-on neck, or set-neck is a favourable or more superior guitar design. Leach wanted to find out where exactly this mythology came from and if there really was a difference in the sound quality.

To explore this, in the early 2000’s Leach designed and built two completely identical bolt-on neck guitars. He covered the bolts on one of the twins with a block of wood, and told customers it was a set-neck design, and for them to explain which sounded and played better. Every single player favoured the set neck, and were astounded when told that they had been playing a bolt-on. This gave Leach the grounds to develop his foldable guitar idea further.

The original plan was to have the entire neck detachable, and the player would then replace it with a series pins. This however proved overly time consuming, having to reattach the strings and then retune them every time the instrument was reset.

Leach originally started using hardware store hinges that could be adapted to his design. However as interest grew and the idea started to gain momentum, Leach teamed up with now CEO of Voyage Air, Jeff Cohen.

At the time Cohen owned another company that produced high end surgical machinery and hardware, this helped eventually finalise the hinge mechanism that was the initial hurdle in the foldable neck technology.

A Voyage Air guitar, now widely available (in both electric and acoustic), is priced slightly higher than your normal six string, but justifiably. More space is required in the heel of neck to house our hinge mechanism” explains Jim Wolcott, of Voyage Air. “Every guitar has a custom neck, as more space is required between the 14th fret for the saw cut, where the hinge joint appears.”

A prevalent factor that I was initially discouraged by was the assumed arduous amount of tuning and retuning the player would have to undergo, every time he were to reset his Voyage Air guitar to the playing position. This however, I’ve been assured, isn’t an issue.

Voyage Air guitars work on a ‘zero fret design’, a design in which the strings don’t rest upon the nut, but travel through it – Wolcott explains: “There’s great discussions amongst guitarists about which nut material is of better quality – be it made of ivory, plastic or brass etc – what produces the best tone? In reality all of these discussions should be moot, because the nut only applies when the strings are played open. With our guitars, instead of the nut representing the zero position, it’s actually another fret, exactly as the others are. This of course also helps with the string positioning, when the guitar is in the foldable position.”

As a product that could quite literally reshape the instrument we’ve grown to know so well over the past century, I’m eager to follow its growth and evolution.
As yet I can only speculate on its success; however I think it’s a revolutionary move forward in guitar technology, a move that will highly benefit a vast number of globetrotting instrumentalists.

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