The Jetson travel guitar concept with folding neck
By Paul Ridden
November 30, 2010
Anyone who owns an electric travel guitar will know that it can still be a bulky item to carry around. Chopping away huge chunks of the body helps keep its footprint down, but there's not much you can do about the neck. Daniel Mapp's solution is to cut the neck in half and fold it down into the body – allowing it to fit nicely into a backpack. He's also abandoned the trusty wooden fingerboard in favor of futuristic-looking fretless aluminum, which is said to give it long-lasting sustain and a unique tone.
Put the purists to bed, we're about to meet the Jetson guitar. Not only does the guitar feature a neck that splits in half to fold down into the body but due to the fact that a truss rod would interfere with any attempt to fold down the neck, the fingerboard is cut from aluminum instead of wood. The 10mm (0.39-inch) thick single piece of chrome-polished aluminum is also fretless, and is welded to a 15mm (0.59-inch) thick headstock that neatly snuggles up to the curve of the body when the guitar is folded into travel position.
The Jetson's folding action was originally meant to have the neck fold back on itself into a compartment within the body, and Mapp even designed a custom bridge mounted on a sliding mechanism to try and give the instrument's strings enough slack to fold over. However, his Masters degree project was also intended to take a simple and minimalist approach, so such complicated ideas were abandoned in favor of pivoting the neck on a hinge to fold down into the curve of the body. The curve also provides a comfortable fit when playing the guitar in a seated position.
So what does an aluminum fingerboard do to the sound produced by the Jetson? "The guitar's tone is difficult to describe but it has a very southern twang," Mapp told Gizmag. "It's got a very bluesy sound and thanks to the lack of frets has an amazing slide effect between the notes when playing."
Being fretless also means that playing familiar work will depend on note and chord positioning from memory, so it's not a guitar for the beginner, but the Jetson does seem to beg for tonal experimentation.
The two neck pieces are joined at the pivot by a brass bearing and secured to each other with a latch at the back. The pivot does protrude slightly from the line of the neck, but Mapp says that this doesn't affect playability. He also told us that to fold the neck down "you have to loosen the machine heads approx 3 turns depending on the gauge of the strings used." So packing and unpacking does involve a bit of tuning work, but standard travel guitars that I've used don't hold tuning during transport anyway, so I don't see this as presenting too much of a problem.
The curved wooden pieces on the back of the aluminum fingerboard are for playing comfort and/or decoration. Had he not been on a strict budget, Mapp would have probably chosen to shape the body from maple or cedar instead of the cheaper wood used. The majority of the bought-in components were purchased from Axetec - including the button head tuners, hardtail bridge, and the Iron Gear chrome-covered Rolling Mill pickup.
Due to an accidental fall shortly before going on display, the strings in the finished Jetson prototype don't secure over the lip of the pivot joints as intended, but this would be corrected in any production model. Perhaps future incarnations might house the pivot joints within the fingerboard when locked in playing position to avoid any possible interference with playing action.
We'll have to wait and see what Daniel Mapp has planned for his Jetson travel guitar. He is currently spending a few months in China, but says that he will revisit his design when he gets back to the UK.
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