Blackbird Rider Steel String Guitar Review

When I started Best Travel Guitars It was really about traveling and finding that perfect guitar to fit the journey. It wasn’t so much about the guitar as I have my old trusty Martin and it fits me well. Despite being old it’s in great condition and I don’t like slopping it all over the place. The solution was a small portable beater…..right?

I thought so but after being giving the opportunity to play a lot of different travel size guitars I find myself in a new predicament. I have a new found appreciation for small pint size guitars and they can hardly be called beaters.

When the Blackbird Rider Steel String arrived (thanks to Joe Luttwak at Blackbird Guitars for letting us DEMO it), my appreciation was never greater. As I pulled the guitar out of the box I was actually giddy. “Oh wow, this is nice”, I thought. Yeah, my mind wasn’t in technical guitar review mode yet and I was thinking like a kid on Christmas. After I settled down a bit, passed the guitar around to some friends this was the consensus among us.

Action, Fit & Finish: First pulling this thing out of the box I was struck with shiny envy.  The body just looked awesome, very sleek and shiny like I was looking at a high end performance race car.  The only complaint anyone had here was the shape, some liked it, some didn’t.  It also only comes in one color -carbon fiber, with a  high gloss polyurethane clear coat.

Being the guitar I played was a demo model there were a few minor cosmetic flaws in the urethane clear coat which could have been buffed out.  I should also note there was no pickguard which makes scratches in the clear coat almost inevitable.   I think earlier versions of the blackbird may have had a pickguard but after noticing some sound dampening qualities they decided to forgo it.  Otherwise, the craftsmanship was excellent.

Setup was pretty much spot on, in-tune and delivering clean crisp notes without any issue.  The action was pretty good overall and intonation excellent up the neck.  I really had to point this out as its been a problem or has become a problem with some small guitars I’ve played.

The rider also stood out in one other crucial area, playability.  I have to admit, the first day I walked around with it strung around my neck as this was immediately comfortable.  I don’t just mean comfortable as in adequate either.  I felt like I could chase my cat down outside while still holding a tune.  Sitting down took a little longer and it tended to slip a bit but once I got the feel of where it should sit in my lap and using the neck-up support it became very comfortable to play.

Features: Being a bunch of backpackers we opted to test the Steel String Rider (No Electronics) to reduce weight.  It’s also a bit  smaller than the Nylon version.  This model don’t have a ton of frills but just a solid design plan that makes up a ton of useful features.

First, the ultra light and ultra strong one piece carbon fiber construction makes it the perfect travel guitar.  This thing can take a serious beating both physically and environmentally.  Also unique to the design is the hollow neck that carries sound up and out a second sound hole near the tuners.  The tuners are Gotoh solid quality.  I never encountered any trouble with tuning or pitch.  Sometimes while fitting the guitar into the tight fitting case I became concerned about the tuning but every time I pulled it out it was fine.  Everything about the guitar speaks high quality, this is no toy.

Sound: If you have any experience with travel guitars you know this is the real test.  This is the bread and butter question,.. how does it sound?  Travel guitars are not known for producing great sounds.  This is because most travel guitars are a diminished interpretation of the full scale guitars we have come to know.   The diminished size does not translate well and often results in poor intonation, weak deficient tones (especially bass) and compromised playability.

This is where the blackbird rider really shines with its full 24.5″ scale and unique innovative design.  The first thing my friend said to me after showing it off a little bit was “wow, its pretty loud”.  Indeed, but it’s not just loud, it resonates with amazing sustain and a full range of warm acoustic tones.  Seriously, this thing sounds better then some full size acoustic guitars I’ve played.

Whatever magic is taking place with the smart hollow neck engineering, unique shape, additional sound hole and carbon fiber construction its definitely working.

Durability: Two words, Carbon Fiber…cmon this thing is military grade!

In the end its unfair to compare the Blackbird Rider up against say, the Martin Backpacker.  The one guitar that strikes me as comparable is the Composite Acoustic Cargo and they are not in business anymore.  Lets be honest, these guitars are in a class of their own when it comes to travel guitars.

Still, for anyone that has to consider cost this is probably not going to be your best option.  The Blackbird Rider comes with a price tag of around $1600 which is a serious investment for some folks.  At the same time, we would expect to spend this much for a nice notebook computer or serious camera so why should we skimp out on our music.  If you bought one today I would bet in 10 years you would still have a great functioning innovative guitar.  I can’t say that about a computer.

The Blackbird Rider Steel String is a Good Solid Investment and its not a stretch to say it’s the Best Travel Guitar.  Our votes in, whats yours?

Blackbird Rider Steel String Guitar Features:

  • Compact 2/3 size acoustic
  • Durable and stable Carbon fiber construction
  • Resonance-driving hollow neck and head with sound port
  • Ultra-light at 2.75 lbs and not neck-heavy
  • Full 24.5″ scale length
Published in Acoustic Travel Guitars

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  1. Chuck Davis aka Harvey Clinger

    I bought mine yesterday aug 24th 2010. I have a Martin DCX1E wood laminate. Love the big sound of that martin as well as durable. When I played Blackbird it sounded like a Cannon, huge sound from a small guitar.
    I bought the super OM. I have light gauge strings on it but still sounds huge. I normally use med gauge. Action was high so Dan from Dans Guitar did the setup. Took only 20min of playing to decide I wanted it. Very comfortable playing while sitting and even better standing. I could see myself going all composite guitars in the future. Cost would be most critical. I will be doing a video demo of the super OM soon on my youtube channel. thanks

  2. Wandering Musician Post author

    Thanks Chuck, I’ve had a few emails questioning the comfort while playing and like you said, its super comfortable. Standing up you feel free and sitting down is no problem using the attatched neck up support. 🙂

  3. James Quilligan

    My question is, is this guitar small enough that airlines permit it as a carry-on?

  4. Bill Valenti

    Just traveled with my Rider from Oregon to NY for a gig, and found plenty of space for the guitar in overhead bins, even on small regional flights. Had several comments from audience and other musicians about the pure, clear sound (mine has Fishman gear installed). People just don’t expect to hear big guitar sound from this small instrument. I love to surprise them. I mostly do fingerstyle which sounds great on the Rider. Flatpicking seems a bit squarely unless I capo up. Don’t care so much for the recommended Elixir strings, so will likely switch to something else. Love my Martin 00028VS, but this Blackbird is a super travel companion and a truly great musical instrument.

  5. John

    I own a custom Martin D41e and I love my Blackbird Rider. As mentioned here, it has an unbelievable sustain and bass that you really have to hear to appreciate. This guitar has become my go-to guitar when I need a light-weight easy-to-carry guitar even around town. I take it to most of my band practices because of it’s easy travel bag and size, yet it still sounds like a full-sized guitar, and plugged in, you couldn’t find a better sounding guitar. I had a lady use mine in a ship-board stage show, and they both sounded awesome.

  6. John

    I’ve traveled extensively with a 3/4-sized Art & Lutherie AMI guitar with no problems in overhead bins, and the Blackbird Rider, is smaller and lighter.

  7. lesleyhilton

    I love this guitar. It’s great. Buy one if you can.

    I’ve flown with it many times and it either fit in the overhead bin or behind the last seat, if the flight attendant is reasonable. I would never check it. I’ve never gate-checked it, although I would consider that.

    This has a simply beautiful and reliable and loud (if you want it to be loud) sound. I play it every day and almost never have to tune it.

    I took it to Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Poland, Texas and California. It is so nice and small and light. It doesn’t increase your girth very much when you’re getting on and off of subways and buses.

    Truly a beautiful instrument with a wonderful sound.

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