Gear Guide: Instrument Cases

Every musician can recall bringing home his or her instrument for the first time, and for many, it becomes more like a newborn than a valuable piece of wood and metal. But like any other proud (but protective) parent, sooner or later musicians will have to let their child face the harsh and unpredictable world. Whether it’s raining on the way to a lesson or it gets tangled in the middle of a “cab-alanche” – you know, when you open the back of a van and everything comes tumbling out – your gear needs to be dealt with accordingly when it comes to protection.

But there’s some good news: Instruments are better protected today than ever, and you’ll be glad to know you’ve got some options regardless of the instrument you play. Guitarists can pick from gig bags, hard shell cases and hybrids between the two to protect their instruments. Drummers and keyboardists both have similar options with manufacturers making cases with both nylon gig-bag and hard shell material. Even amplifiers and mixers get their own protection in the form of flight cases, which are rugged cases built to the specifications of the Airline Transport Association.

Guitar and bass players have a few options, but the most basic choices are gig bags and hard shell cases. Gig bags are padded bags made from nylon and canvas that emphasize convenience, protect from surface scratches and absorb some shock if an instrument were to fall. They are extremely portable and easy to transport, and bags made by Fender, Ibanez and Roland can even be carried like a backpack – great for urban musicians who rely on public transportation.

The downside is the gig bag can’t protect from high-impact situations, like if your drummer (who means well) falls down the stairs at load-in…again. The gig bag is a low-cost alternative to the stronger hard shell case, which is generally made from molded plastic and meant to protect your instrument from the toughest elements. A simple gig bag can cost around $20, and hard shell cases can cost anywhere from $60 to $300.

Ken Haas of Reverend Guitars (reverendguitars.com) said that having a hard shell case is a part of maintaining your instrument over time, especially for someone with a collection. He stores many of his guitars that have sentimental value or that he doesn’t use often to avoid any accidents that could happen by displaying them.

“You just have that extra layer of protection against the humidity or dryness in your home and you’re protecting the things from dings and scratches,” Haas says. “I mean, you’re not going to throw a bare guitar in a closet and store it there over time.”

But how do you pick the bag that is right for you? Marty Harrison, Senior Vice President at Access Bags and Cases (accessbagsandcases.com) says it’s about preference.

“It’s all about your comfort level and what your lifestyle situation is,” he explains. “I’m a bag person and I’ve been a bag person forever. It has to do with the ease of transport, the ability to throw it in the back of a car without messing with the interior. And walking on planes – it’s very hard getting a guitar case on a plane.”

Another choice guitarists have is a hybrid bag. A hybrid bag combines the protection of a hard shell case in heavy-duty padding with the convenience and materials of a gig bag. Harrison says that although hybrid bags can be more expensive than hard shell cases, they actually offer a better form of protection.

“It’s really a better option, regardless of what guitar you carry,” Harrison said. “A lot of people don’t understand that a traditional wooden case imparts a lot of the shock that it absorbs back instrument. A hard bag that has a barrier keeps the bag itself from being penetrated and getting into the compartment of the instrument.” Access Bags’ hybrid Stage Five model retails for around $289.

Drummers and keyboardists have similar options in protection with companies like SKB and Gator, which makes both padded and hard cases for drums, and padded and flight cases for keyboards. And although they are completely different instruments, the principles of protecting them are very similar to the way you would protect a guitar.

Gator, which manufactures guitar, drum and tons of studio cases, says that padded cases for drums, which are ordered to fit your specific shell size, are meant to hug the drum, much like a guitarist’s gig bag would. These cases also protect against cosmetic damage and are useful for transporting your kit around town or light touring.

Hard flight cases protect against humidity and are preferable for touring musicians or long-term storage. But with companies making flight cases becoming more accessible with the Internet, artists have more options, and a case’s brand might not matter as much as cost or performance. A quick check over at eBay will give you hundreds of results for flight cases molded specifically for all kinds of drums and amplifiers. You can also check out online retailers like New York Case Company (newyorkcasecompany.com), who specializes in all sorts of instrument protection.

In the end, it is up to you to decide what the best form of protection is for your gear. Whether you’re getting a case to fit snugly around your Moog Little Phatty or you just want a bag to toss your Reverend JetStream in before taking off for a jam session, you’ve got options.

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