I’ve been looking for a compact guitar to take with me on road trips, camping, and to play when I’m killing time waiting for my kids at their various lessons in my car. After much research on the Internet, I narrowed it down to either the Washburn Rover or the Hofner Shorty. The Rover looks like a great buy at $125. It gets great reviews, and comes with a very nice soft shell case. For $119, the Shorty, on the other hand, only comes with a cheap gig bag. I was really itching to get the Rover, but after pondering it for a long time, decided that an electric guitar was more appropriate because: 1) it will hold up better in heat/cold/humidity sitting in my car on road trips and 2) it can be played silently in hotel rooms without bothering the rest of the family.
While searching for a good price on the Hofner Shorty, I came across a much cheaper knockoff on eBay – the Ktone Travel Electric Guitar. It looks so identical to the Shorty that many people have hypothesized that they’re made in the same factory. At $69.99 including shipping, it’s $50 cheaper than the Shorty – so much cheaper that my interest was piqued. The Ktone got good reviews at Ultimate-Guitar and some other discussion sites. It turns out that there are several clones of the Shorty in the wild, if you search long enough.
Planet-Z posted a scathing review of the Ktone, complete with photos and a video. The guitar that .. reviewed was a disaster, with loose/unusable tone pot, mismatched wood on the neck, and terrible fretwork.That put me off so much that I was ready to buy a real Hofner Shorty, until I read a comment on the Planet-Z review from someone who bought a real Hofner Shorty, and found it to also be of bad quality. Unfortunately, none of the stores near me have Shortys for me to try out, so I decided to just take the plunge and try the Ktone first, since it has a 30 day money back guarantee (minus shipping charges).
I bought the Ktone Travel Electric Guitar from eBay seller kukufashion. Interestingly, my Paypal receipt showed the recipient as none other than Ktone Corp.!
The guitar comes with a crappy gig bag that looks identical to the Shorty’s and a crappy guitar cable that’s basically a thowaway.
When first opened up the package, I had mixed feelings. The color was metallic blue like the Shorty, unlike the baby blue pictured in the eBay listing. The neck on mine didn’t have an awful looking join @ the headstock like the one that Planet-Z got. Instead, it had some strange colored grain at the other end, and what looks like melted polyurethane. The strange grain is actually growing on me.. kind of like curly maple.
The body’s finish looked decent, and the controls were all installed properly and had smooth action. Thankfully, mine didn’t have the poorly seated frets with sharp ends like Planet-Z’s copy, but although it’s playable, the frets are in dire need of leveling and polishing. The guitar looks like a Hofner Shorty factory reject. Except for the body, the finish work is horrible. The back of the neck has sanding marks, there are various dents and scrapes all over the place, and even the bridge has cosmetic defects. However, I was thinking most of the defects were cosmetic, and what do you expect for $70?
I tuned it up and plugged it in to my amp. The first thing I noticed was that the guitar cable wasn’t clicking in properly to the output jack. It worked fine, but the cable could get tugged out too easily.
The output jack felt like it wasn’t engaging my guitar cable properly, so I took it out to have a look. Amazing… they used such a low grade connector that it didn’t even engage properly with the groove in the 1/4″ TRS plug.
(Notice the extremely thin wiring). OK, not a big deal, and I can always replace the jack easily and cheaply.
The setup of the guitar was terrible, but I’m used to that, even with fancy guitars, so I thought it wasn’t a big deal. The first thing I did was check the neck relief. It wasn’t too bad, so I didn’t adjust the truss rod. Next, I lowered the action. The bridge has so much wiggle in it, and the screws were already screwed in so far that I almost ran out of adjustment lowering the action. Luckily, I was able to get it to a comfortable playing height when I lowered it down to its limit. Not a good sign. I can lower it a bit more by shimming the tailpiece. The slots in the bolts are too big, so the whole bridge/tailpiece tilts up a bit. The frets on the low E and A string need to be leveled a bit past the 14th fret.. there is a lot of buzz there, so I had to raise the action slightly to compensate.
It wasn’t until I started trying to adjust the intonation that I found out what a disaster the guitar really is. The intonation on the low E string was a full 12 cents sharp! No wonder the guitar was impossible to tune! I’ve never gotten a guitar with intonation that far off. First, I tried to adjust the low E string’s saddle, but even when I adjusted it as long as it would go, it was still 12 cents sharp! I was thinking that it was time to pack it up to return to Ktone but then I realized that there are also screws that move the whole bridge backwards. After fiddling with the screws and test the intonation over and over, I finally got it into decent adjustment .. just barely.. to get the low E intonation correct, I had to set the strings to the maximum length.. both the saddle adjustment screw and the tailpiece adjustment screw maxed out. My adjustments lengthened the string by …” Whoever designed the guitar didn’t measure the length of the strings properly. Unfortunately, with the tailpiece adjusted to maximum string length, the G string’s intonation goes flat by 6 cents even when its saddle is adjusted to minimum length. I can’t adjust the tailpiece, because then the low E will go sharp. If I could flip the saddle around, like they way the top 3 strings are, I could shorten the string some more, but the saddle pieces aren’t removable. I am just going to have to live with the G string 6 cents off. Or I could split the difference by making the A & E strings a bit sharp.
One thing that also signals that something is wrong is that the harmonic @ the 12th fret occurs not exactly on top of the 12th fret, but a few mm past it. Something is definitely wrong w/ the positions of the frets on the neck. Despite these issues, after my 2hrs of adjusting the intonation, it sounds a lot better. While the intonation isn’t perfect, it’s acceptable to my ears, especially for a cheap guitar that I’m going to be tossing in the car and taking to the beach. It’s inexpensive enough that I’m not going to cry if it gets stolen or damaged.
After playing with the tuning for a while, I found that the guitar always sounded out of tune, even when I used my Peterson Strobotuner. Something must be wrong with the intonation, I thought.
The single bridge humbucking pickup is pedestrian. It’s not very hot, and the tone is a bit thin, but I was surprised how much effect the tone knob has … makes sound passable. I’ll probably replace it with something better in the future, if I can tolerate the guitar.
The gig bag is cheap, but it doesn’t look any worse than the one that comes with the Shorty. What I hate about gig bags, is that they don’t protect the tuners, so the tuning is always way off when you take the guitar out to play.
So at $69.99 is the Ktone Travel Electric Guitar a good buy? Just barely. If I didn’t have to pay 2-way shipping to return it, I probably would have just returned it. Even if the Shorty has issues, there’s no way that it could possibly be as shoddily built as the Ktone.
Anyway, it serves the purpose I bought it for… a small, light, portable guitar that I can take everwhere and not have to worry about getting ruined or stolen. But I think you should avoid this piece of shit like the plague!