Review: Composite Acoustics Cargo

Small-bodied, travel-ready acoustics are no-brainers for wandering guitarists and songwriters.
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Small-bodied, travel-ready acoustics are no-brainers for wandering guitarists and songwriters. But just because a guitar is mobile doesn’t mean it’s indestructible, and trekking into the wild like flower-child-era Donovan—with only a naked flat-top hung around your neck— could court disaster. That is, if your acoustic guitar of choice is made out of wood.

The Composite Acoustics Cargo, however, is fashioned from carbon materials and polymers—including a one-piece neck and body—that are as tough as an Abrams tank. You could play the Cargo in a full downpour (if you’re one of those crazy, singing-in-the-rain types), bang it around in buses or the overhead compartments of airplanes, kick it across a hockey rink, or even turn it backside and smack a few softballs into the outfield. I’m not joking. I brutalized the Cargo during testing. Whenever I took the guitar anywhere, I never put it in a case or padded gig bag. I knocked it from my SUV onto the streets of San Francisco. I tossed it rudely into every car and closet, and onto every floor, chair, and table. I dropped it on its headstock from a height of about five feet—ten times! While I may have introduced a few scuffs to the Cargo’s shiny black finish, it never cracked, split, snapped, or betrayed any signs of serious damage (even to the tuning pegs). If the tuning got a bit sour after a torture test, I simply retuned and played as if the Cargo had been nestled safely in a case. In fact, tuning integrity and intonation appeared fine. I didn’t have to continuously tweak the tuning to keep the guitar in pitch after it was knocked around.

Although the Cargo has the grit of a Navy Seal when out in the cruel world, it becomes like a warm, happy puppy when you play it. It’s a light guitar, and the body contours melt comfortably into your playing position—whether you are sitting or standing. It just feels so right that playing it becomes almost an out-of-body experience. No impediments. No discomfort. The neck invites chording, fingerpicking, and flat-picking, and all with the greatest of ease. The only ergonomic bummer is reaching somewhat awkwardly into the soundhole to detach the pickup system’s battery pouch from its tightly Velcro-ed seal. Happily, you won’t need to change the battery for hundreds of hours of use.

Close your eyes, and the Cargo tones are nothing like what you might envision a non-wood acoustic guitar to sound like. There’s a smooth warmth to the midrange that retains articulation for sounding out notes, but never gets bright or thin. By comparison, I’ve definitely played some full-sized, lovely looking all-wood acoustics that sounded rather shrill and clang-y. The high-midrange frequencies breathe nicely, but you don’t get a lot of air or shimmer. Strum aggressively, and some compression is audible, but, for the most part, the Cargo speaks clearly and elegantly across its low-midrange to high-midrange spectrum.

The Cargo was one of those guitars that the entire GP staff constantly picked up and loved playing. It’s on the expensive side if you’re looking solely for a mini-traveling chum, but mobility isn’t the whole story here. I see the Cargo as a comfy, easy-playing guitar that produces fabulous tones in both live and recording-studio situations that also happens to be a small-bodied acoustic. That’s an all-around “win” in my book.

PRICE $1,099 street (carbon burst)
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16”
NECK Carbon fiber
FRETBOARD Proprietary reinforced polymer, 22.75” scale
FRETS 21 medium jumbo
TUNERS Gotoh, 18:1 ratio
BODY Proprietary carbon composite
BRIDGE Proprietary carbon composite
WEIGHT 4.16 lbs
FACTORY STRINGS Elixir Nanoweb, .012-.053
PICKUP L.R. Baggs Active Element System
KUDOS Tough as nails. Easy to play. Warm, yet articulate sound.
CONCERNS Battery somewhat hard to get to.