CASE TYPE

 

IMPACT & CRUSHING

 

HEAT & COLD

 

HUMIDITY

 

COST

 

Padded Gig Bag

 

Poor

 

Acceptable to Good

 

Poor to Acceptable

 

$30-100

 

Padded Fiberglass

 

Good to Excellent

 

Good to Excellent

 

Good to Excellent

 

$200-1000

What should I look for in an instrument case? - Aug 2001

What should I look for in an instrument case?  An instrument! ha!

 

Cases are more than carry-containers; they should protect instruments from impact & crushing, heat & cold, humidity & dryness. No case provides perfect protection. But a good quality case significantly reduces risk of instrument damage.

Impact & crushing - These traumas can crack instruments badly. Repair cannot always restore playability or sound of an instrument once it's damaged To protect from impact & crushing, a case must be hard or thick enough to prevent puncture & smashing. Also, the case must have shock-absorbing ability to prevent concussion damage that can snap off the neck. Plywood, molded plastic & fiberglass cases with snugly fitting padding give good protection. 

 

Heat & cold - Temperature affects wood, glue, metal, & lacquers or varnishes differently. So, temperature extremes & rapid temperature changes can damage instruments. Heat softens glue & allows string tension to literally pull the instrument apart. Extreme cold, by itself, is not usually damaging. However, rapid transition to/from extreme cold can crack the finish. Finish cracking is cosmetic & doesn't affect playability or tone significantly (but reduces $-value). And, in severe circumstances, cold can embrittle & crack glue at seams & braces. Even when the instrument returns to "normal" temperature, such cracks do not heal. To protect from heat, cold & the transition between the two, a case must insulate thermally. The same hard, thick shell & padding that protects an instrument from impact & crushing also insulates against temperature changes. Insulation buffers external temperature change, & gives you time to transport instruments undamaged by heat & cold. 

 

Humidity & dryness - In high humidity, stringed instruments absorb water vapor & swell. The swollen belly pushes the bridge outward & raises the strings farther from the fingerboard. The instrument gets harder to play. This condition is reversible, not permanent. In dry conditions, however, permanent damage is more likely. In dry air, instruments loose water vapor & shrink. The top of the instrument is glued at the edges to the sides (typically harder, stronger wood than the top). The top is also glued to bracing on the inside of the instrument. Constrained by the sides & the bracing, the top is in tension. Eventually, the top cracks. To protect from excessive humidity & dryness, the case must be relatively non-porous & seal well. Leather, vinyl & treated fabric outer layers on hard cases & snugly fitting closures slow down absorption & loss of water vapor (a humidifier that fits in the instrument in a good case is even more helpful). To help you evaluate the case you own, or one you might be considering, the table below summarizes protection offered by various cases (the costs are for guitar cases). 

 

Chipboard

 

Poor

 

Poor

 

Poor

 

$20-50

 

Padded Plywood

or Resin

 

Good

 

Good to Excellent

 

Good to Excellent

 

$60-200