Harvey Leach, California Luthier kindly allowed me to borrow a VAOM-04 Voyage-Air guitar for the long weekend.
Harv (or as I like to call him Inlay Dancing God) invented the Voyage-Air folding neck guitar 10 years or so ago, and I remember reading about it on R.M.M.G.A back in the day when people hung out on Usenet instead of on internet Forums.
The Voyage-Air is a very cool concept. It involves a stout internal hinge that allows you to fold the neck of the guitar, thus allowing you to fit a full-size guitar into a backpack sized instrument.
Lots more info here:
The -04 series instruments have a solid spruce top and laminate back and sides, which IMHO is a pretty good combination for a travel instrument, as it adds a level of durability over an all solid box.
Initial thoughts upon inspection.
Folding guitars are cool. The hinge mechanism is ingenious. Neck angle, playability, and action are very good. When you realize that the neck join is the most important part of all of these things it's simply outstanding.
I like the neck feel. Feels like a slightly chunkier Tacoma neck, or maybe a satin finished Larrivee. The neck has a very thin, matte finish on it which is a good thing for moving up and down the neck.
Intonation is frankly outstanding, and was spot on to the 14th fret for most strings, and a couple of cents off for the A string. (odd since normally the B and high E go sharp if any)
Part of the way the guitar achieves this is via the use of a zero fret and captive nut. A zero fret allows for a nice low action without having to tweak the nut. It's also a good thing for playing lead guitar as your open strings technically are no longer "open" as they are actually fretted.
Since I was going to CopperCon I took the Voyage-Air with me. After all who better than a bunch of Sci-Fi fans to appreciate a folding guitar.
I showed the instrument to a lot of folks, introducing it either as Foldey (my wife's nickname), or The Origami Guitar (mine), and everyone thought it was the neatest thing since sliced bread and nuclear weapons. I handed out several cards for Harvey Leach which is sort of the point of this exercise.
The real question though is: how does it sound?
It sounds good, but not great. It sounds much better than my cheap plywood sacrificial instrument I bought to tempt the United Airline Gods, but can't hold a candle to my Larrivee OM-03R. Now in fairness, it really shouldn't be expected to, after all it's a solid top, not all solid.
Lightweight. Even in the case people were shocked at how little it weighed.
Counts as a carry-on for most airliners. You will have to gate check on the little commuter birds.
High playability marks.
Great padding on the backpack-carrier. Extremely comfortable.
My other guitars sound a bit better for the type of music I play.
Constant retuning. You are supposed to slack the strings before folding (I went down about a full step). That means every time you take it out of the case you have to re-tune. At one point I carried the guitar to a different building in my hand (and the case in another) so I wouldn't have to re-tune.
Lots of padding on the backpack carrier straps makes it hard to sling a book bag over your shoulder.
One very cool thing is that the Voyage-Air is available in multiple configurations, from all laminate to all solid, to a fully custom Harvey Leach creation.
Would I buy one?
At this point in my life, no. It's an awesome instrument for a college student or someone who travels a lot by aircraft and wants/needs to take a full sized instrument with them. At this point I'd rather take a traditional guitar and not deal with the tuning hassles. The solid top/lam sides is the sweet point on the pricing scale, once you get up to the all solid guitars you are talking some real money (around a grand and a half). Since you can buy some outstanding all solid guitars these days for under a grand from Larrivee, Breedlove, and even Martin the all solid Voyage-Air would be a hard sell to me.
What would convince me to buy one?
I think a 00 size rather than the 000/OM size would be pretty compelling (especially a deep-body (4 -4.5") 00. Even folded and stowed the 000/Om size is a reasonably large package. I'd also like to see a cedar top to get the most out of a solid top/ laminate sides combo.
Later this week I shall send Foldey off to the next person on the great 2010 Voyage-Air travel/trial list. I expect that person shall enjoy it as well. Though at this point I personally wouldn't buy one, it was nonetheless a neat experience.
I have been told that the instruction to "detune before folding" in the instructions was added at the behest of the lawyers, and is not actually required for the happiness and well being of the guitar. That makes the Voyage-Air quite a bit more attractive. It's also the sort of thing that makes one sympathetic to Dick the Butcher.