Selecting the appropriate case for a guitar, whether acoustic or electric, is a decision every player has to make at some point. Hard versus Soft? How much protection do I really need? How much stuff do I need to carry? Stay tuned and below I’ll explain how to choose a guitar case for your needs.
Types of Cases
There are only two main types of cases, although a third type is available but not commonly used. Here’s the low-down on each of these:
Hard cases, in general, provide the best protection available for your guitar, both physical protection and environmental protection. Hard cases (also called hardshell cases) are usually made of molded plastic, or wood covered in fabric or vinyl or leather, although some newer styles are using carbon fiber instead of wood. They generally have lockable latches and either follow the contours of the guitar or are rectangular in shape. Some even have a pair of hooks for attaching a strap, allowing you to carry it like a backpack. Many have metal feet on the butt end to protect the covering when standing up vertically.
So, how good are they? For the most part, they offer better physical protection of your guitar. But keep in mind that not all hard cases are good enough to survive airline baggage handlers, who have a well-earned reputation for throwing bags around willy-nilly. For that, you need a Flight Case. These are bulkier, heavier, and are designed to survive the worst an airline can throw at you. Or your guitar. However, you will pay significantly more for that added protection.
The other way in which hard cases excel is with environmental protection. They offer superior protection against both dry climates and high humidity. The type of material used, whether molded plastic or covered wood, retards the flow of air from inside the case to outside. And vice versa. But, it’s not perfect, meaning you still have to use some sort of humidifier system to maintain proper humidity levels within the case.
Gig bags are made of fabric, vinyl, or leather, with padding between the layers. They are lightweight and easier to carry than a hard case. Many, if not most, have backpack style straps already attached. They also have more pockets and compartments, allowing you to carry more stuff, such as books, sheet music, cables, etc. Gig bags are cheaper than hard cases, but the best gig bags can still be quite expensive.
But how well do gig bags protect your guitar? If you’re going to keep it close to you, like going around town, they can do a good job. But, they don’t offer the level of environmental protection a hard case does.
Gig bags can do a couple of things hard cases can’t. First, once you’ve taken the guitar out, a gig bag can be folded away to take up less space. Second, you can actually take a guitar out of a gig bag with it in a standing position. A hard case can’t make that claim – it has to lay flat before getting the guitar out. Last, you can even get gig bags that will hold more than one guitar (one acoustic and one electric, or two electrics). I’ve never seen a hard case do that.
Soft cases are similar to gig bags, but with molded polystyrene on the inside for protection and cloth on the outside. The design allows pockets on the outside, just like gig bags, for carrying all your “stuff”. The one complaint I’ve heard about soft cases is the zippers tend to break. Other than that, they seem to work well.
How to Choose
Now that you know the pros and cons of each type, and before you go shopping for a case, there are several questions you really need to answer first. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these, I suggest a hard case.
- Are you planning on traveling long distances with your guitar?
- Will you be packing it away, such that it could be damaged when loads shift?
- Do you live in an extreme climate (very dry or very humid)?
- Have you invested a lot of money in your guitar?
Other Types of Cases
There are two more case types I’d like to mention here, but neither is common.
Some makers will produce a custom case for a player, based on the dimensions you provide. These are really nice for guitars that are non-standard in either shape or size, or both. The biggest drawback to a custom case is the price, as you’d expect.
One manufacturer offers a clam-type case, with a crush-resistant shell and lots of thick foam. Instead of holding an instrument, it is designed to hold either a hard case, soft case, or a gig bag. It’s like an extra layer of protection, perfect for travel. These are also quite expensive.
One word of caution for any case. Make sure of a proper fit. For your guitar, not just any guitar. Meaning – try out your instrument with the case. Make sure it fits snugly.
One additional note for hard cases. Be careful of the neck and the neck angle. If the angle is not right and the body falls down too deeply into the case, then the neck may touch the case at only one point. A good jarring of the case may potentially damage the neck. The same holds true if the support for the neck is too short. It would certainly break my heart to find out my case, which I bought to protect my guitar, ended up being the reason it broke. Yikes!
So, I hope you’ve got a better idea on which type of case to buy for your guitar. Remember this, each type of case has it’s proponents. In fact, some can be very vocal about their preferences, almost to be point of being obsessive. But that’s okay. Stay tuned for some reviews of individual models. In the meantime, keep making music. It helps make the world a better place.