This year’s plethora of new Gibson guitar models — 13 Les Pauls, 7 SGs including 2 basses, and fresh variations on the EB and Midtown basses — are grabbing all the headlines, but the company is also returning one of its most revered and dependable workhorses to service: the brown Tolex hardshell case with the soft, pink plush interior. Most of these new models come with this classic case, which looks great and withstands serious abuse.
The return of “Brownie” begs for a reexamination of the types of cases available for guitars today and raises the matter of selecting the right case for each guitar in a player’s arsenal.
The opposite end of the spectrum from “Brownie” is the gig bag. For a simple gig across town, a jam or light travel, it’s hard to beat a gig bag’s easy weight and efficiency. While a gig bag won’t protect against major impact, it will keep your guitar out of the elements and cushioned from scrapes and light bangs.
When choosing a gig bag, look for high quality metal — not plastic — zippers, which will last longer, and comfortably thick padding about a quarter-inch on the sides and front and thicker around the guitar’s heel and headstock. Most gig bags also have pockets in front, which will do double duty by protecting the face of the guitar inside. Usually gig bags are made of several materials, with polyester and nylon leading the pack. Nylon is a bit lighter, but poly bags generally offer more protection due to their stiffness. Regardless of material, be sure to get a bag that is waterproof. Some manufacturers make leather gig bags, which are highly durable and pricier.
All decent gig bags have a handle for case-like carrying and straps, for backpack-style lugging. Be sure the stitching on the handles or backpack straps are secure. Funky gig bag handles and straps can let go, which can result in a cracked neck or headstock. Choose a gig bag that fits the instrument you are trying to protect as snugly as possible. Wiggle room makes any impact far worse. If you’re shopping for a bag or case of any kind at a music retailer, always bring the instrument you’re aiming to protect and be sure there’s a snug fit.
Gig bags, more than hardshell cases, will begin to collect dirt and dust inside, although any piece of gear that enters a club is going to get dirty. Have you ever seen anyone vacuum or mop a club stage? And there’s airborne smoke plus grit falling from uncleaned ceilings, pipes and fixtures that provides its own delightful patina of scum.
If your guitar is stacked into a van or truck full of shifting gear, a hardshell case is a requirement. They have been the tried-and-true method of guitar storage and travel protection for more than century. Once made exclusively of wood with a fabric coating, they have evolved considerably. Many still pine for the days of Gibson’s so-called heavy-duty “chain saw” case, also called the “Protector” model, from the 1970s. These were made of sturdy, snug fitting plastic. They were bulky, but relatively light and highly resistant to damage.
Contemporary hard shell cases are either wood, plastic or metal and wood, with plastic or metal hardware. They typically have plush linings and storage pockets for picks, strings, capos, straps and whatever. Often the exterior of wood framed cases has a leather or tweed style finish. Brand-name cases are a good option. Nothing cradles a Gibson like the case built for it or one of the Gibson’s replacement Tolex covered hardshell cases .
Wooden framed hardshell cases should not flex when pressed on. If a case gives when you push on it, don’t buy it — period. The same applies for plastic — more specifically, molded polyethylene — cases. If they have give, they put guitars at risk.
The case you buy or the case that comes with your guitar should fit your instrument securely without head to tail or face to backside give. The neck of your guitar should also be firmly supported and held in place. There should be no angling and no room for that neck to move when the case is closed. Also, a case that is too fat for the body of a guitar will not support the neck properly and can trigger breakage. Be sure guitars fit flat and securely in their cases.
Fiberglass hard shell cases are also available, mostly for acoustic guitars. They are lightweight and durable and cost only a bit more than polyethylene cases.
The most secure way to carry your guitar is in a flight case, but the weight and cost of most flight cases make this prohibitive unless, of course, you’re actually flying and checking your guitar as baggage. The traditional flight case is made of heavy wood and steel construction and costs $250 and up, compared to $100 and up for a standard hard shell case. There’s a new generation of plastic molded flight cases that meet military specs – a higher level of protection than required by the Air Transportation Association. They are comparably priced to wood-and-steel and they are also waterproof and much lighter. The same rules apply: you want a tight fit with no wiggle room and walls that don’t flex under the touch. Although most ground crews have the sense to handle instruments accordingly, I’ve seen them toss cases like duffle bags, so a loose fit can--once again--be disastrous.
Check out Gibson’s collection of high quality cases here.