I recently had a chance to road-test the Cordoba Mini SM-CE travel guitar. I was traveling to Sweden and Denmark for a series of meetings, and took the guitar along for the entire ride.
When I travel for work, it’s always a question: How do I keep up on guitar practice?
Taking a full-size guitar usually isn’t practical. So I typically default to doing things like listening to new music or checking out online lessons to keep my brain engaged in guitar. Or, worst case scenario (and this happens more frequently than I want to admit), I simply do nothing.
But a friend recently told me,
Try taking this guitar. I just take it with me on the plane. It’s small enough I can put it right in my backpack with the headstock sticking up. TSA doesn’t hassle me and it fits in the overhead bin on the plane. And the neck is standard size, so it feels like I can actually practice real stuff when I’m traveling.
My curiosity was piqued.
I had a 10-day trip coming up to Sweden and Denmark, so I borrowed the Cordoba Mini SM-CE (with lots of promises of taking good care of it!) and gave it a road test.
On The Road With the Cordoba Mini: How It Actually Worked
My friend was exactly right – taking the Cordoba Mini SM-CE on the plane was no problem.
It fits great in a backpack, with the headstock sticking out. It DOES come with a soft gig bag, but I didn’t take that because it would count as a second bag. I was traveling international, so a second carry on should be ok, but I didn’t want to take any chances. So I didn’t use the gig bag.
Instead, I wrapped the body of the guitar in one of my kids’ old baby blankets when I put the guitar in my backpack. This was to protect it against scratches from zippers, pens, cables, or anything else bouncing around inside my backpack.
Going through TSA was a breeze. I went through Los Angeles International Airport, Munich, Gothenburg (Sweden), and Frankfurt airports and never received so much as a comment or question from security in any airport. I just laid it on the scanner belt, it went through the scanner, and I picked it up on the other side of security. No need to loosen strings, put in a separate bin, or any of that. (Disclaimer: I have TSA Pre-check, so the LAX experience was probably made a bit easier than normal).
On the plane, the backpack fit in the overhead compartment easily. I would lay the backpack sideways, and put the headstock up as much as possible. If there were other bags, I would just rest the headstock on top of the neighboring bag. Otherwise, I’d put my jacket under it.
Walking through airport and train stations was easy. The guitar sticks up, of course, once you put your backpack on, so you just have to be a bit more careful when maneuvering through tight areas.
Once I was at my location for meetings, the guitar stayed in the hotel while I was out for the day. In the mornings and evenings, though, I had a guitar ready to go. Truly amazing.
I found that I had time to practice some fingerstyle arrangements, experiment with some open-string scales, and even write a song.
About the Guitar: Cordoba Mini SM-CE
So what exactly is the Mini? The Mini SM-CE is a travel-sized, classical-style guitar from the guitar and ukelele manufacturer, Cordoba.
Cordoba’s official description is:
At first glance, the Mini SM-CE clearly stands out from other travel sized guitars, with its solid cedar top and striking spalted maple back and sides accentuated by a padauk rosette and binding. The solid cedar top provides a warm tone that’s nicely complemented by the brightness of the spalted maple, resulting in an instrument that really projects its voice.
For those who want to plug and play, the Cordoba Mini SM-CE features a soft cutaway and Cordoba 2Band pickup. The hallmark of Cordoba’s Mini guitars is the comfortable feel and string spacing of a full size guitar. The Mini SM-CE also includes a thin U-shaped neck outlined with padauk binding, 1 7/8″ (48mm) nut width, and 510mm (20”) scale length.
Just to boil that down, the practical highlights of the guitar are:
- Solid cedar/maple wood construction.
- Body has a cutaway for full access to the neck.
- Nearly same size neck scale (20″) as a full-size guitar (22 7/8″).
- Is tuned in “A” instead of typical “E”.
- Electronics are included optionally.
My subjective appraisal of the Mini SM-CE is that
- The quality of construction was very high.
- It was very durable – I went through a 10-day international trip without any issue of scratches, dings, strings breaking, etc.
- The body size was easy to hold and play without a strap. (Some travel guitars are hard to hold on your lap when you’re seated because of the small body shape).
- Tuning, intonation, playability, sound – everything on the guitar was great.
The Cordoba Mini SM-CE is tuned to “A”. So, instead of the standard guitar tuning of E – A – D – G – B -D (lowest to highest), the Mini is tuned to A – D – G – C – E – A.
You’ll need special strings, but their readily available on Amazon and other online music stores.
Bottomline: Sound? Feel? Is it worth buying?
The sound of the guitar is really amazing. It uses nylon strings, so individual notes have the strong warmth, projection, and timbre that one would expect from a classical guitar. The sound was very responsive when strumming or fingerpicking. I spent some time practicing a Tommy Emmanuel-style thumb pick arrangement, and that felt great as well.
I played at airport gates, in hotel rooms, and outdoors. In all circumstances, I was very impressed with the sound.
I did not have a chance to try the electronics.
See the video below for a demo of the instrument.
But did it feel like playing a real guitar? Or was it just like a toy?
It felt like playing a real guitar. In fact, sort of better. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I enjoyed playing it more than my dreadnought body-style Larrivée at home.
I think it’s so fun to play for a few reasons:
- the neck is a bit easier to play yet still feels normal
- the body is easy to sit with (my dreadnought can just feel BIG sometimes),
- and the sound of the guitar is warm and full.
It almost feels like a cupcake. Everything you want in a fun, no-guilt size.
There was a sense of being able to experiment and play, without the expectation of playing serious, ‘this-is-my-masterpiece’ music.
Is It Worth It?
Yes. And the proof is in the pudding – I’m already prepping to buy one.
I tried it out thinking it was a solution for my work travel. And while that turned out to be true, it’s also a fun guitar to have around the house to just pick up and play, take to the beach, bring to a bar-b-que, and everywhere else. I did many of those things, as well, while I had the loaner guitar, and the Mini worked great in every scenario.
So, the bottom line is that the road test was very successful. The only question left is, “how long till it arrives?”.
Cordoba has a new batch of Mini’s, called the “Mini II”. You can check them out here.
[…] type this, it’s May 2020 and the coronavirus quarantine is still in effect where I live. So full travel testing will have to wait till […]
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