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Hoffee makes sturdy hardshell guitar cases out of highly stable carbon fiber.
Other companies such as Musicians’ Gear, Guardian, Superior, and Crossrock use lightweight, impact-resistant fiberglass in place of a wooden shell. These typically have what’s sometimes called a “universal fit” to accommodate a range of instrument styles, many for less than $200. Calton Cases also makes high-end, extra-heavy-duty fiberglass cases that can be ordered for any type of guitar or bass. Prices start at about $750. Many pros, including Andy Cabic, swear by their Caltons for touring, even with air travel. “I keep my acoustic—a Martin 000-15—in a Calton case, which is indestructible and amazing,” says Cabic.
Just as some guitar makers have turned to carbon fiber as a substitute for wood, Accord and Hoffee are two companies using this highly stable material to protect instruments in transit. Coupled with the highest quality hardware, these lightweight cases are exceptionally protective, and both brands can fit a case for your specific instrument based on measurements you provide. They’re among the finest hardshell cases you can buy, with prices to match—they start at around $1,000. “We make cases out of carbon fiber because it is one of the best materials available, in terms of the strength-to-weight ratio,” says Jeff Hoffee of Hoffee Cases. “It provides great strength while reducing weight as much as possible. In addition, the weave pattern of carbon fiber makes our cases very attractive.”
In its Gold Series, Ameritage makes an interesting hybrid case that starts at around $400 for acoustic, electric, and bass guitars. It uses a strong, 6-ply wooden shell covered in ultraviolet- and tear-resistant Cordura—a material often used for gigbags. Inside the case, Ameritage’s proprietary suspension system—a series of highly supportive pads—envelopes the guitar to protect it from shock, while a combination hygrometer/thermometer monitors the environment and works in tandem with Ameritage’s built-in Humidity Control System to keep the interior “climate” ideal—a huge plus for acoustic guitars traveling between varying external climates.
Players who often have to entrust their instruments to throw-happy luggage handlers or similarly rugged conditions can likely identify with singer-songwriter Dave Carroll, whose “United Breaks Guitars” songs and videos on YouTube lament the demise of his Taylor 710 at the hands of the airline’s workers. And maybe you’ve heard the sad story of the 1965 Gibson ES-335 that belonged to Dave Schneider, singer and guitarist in the Zambonis and the LeeVees. On a recent flight, Schneider was forced to check the guitar (which was stored in a modern hardshell case) with other luggage. It got stuck in an elevator when it was being unloaded. The case was destroyed and the instrument sustained heavy damage. “It was an emotional TSA [Transportation Security Administration] moment,” says Schneider of the instant he was reunited with the guitar after a worker spent an hour freeing it.
Anvil/Calzone, which also makes cases for sensitive military, medical, and aerospace equipment, makes standard Airport Transportation Administration-approved cases for Les Pauls (around $450), Stratocasters ($450), and P basses ($500). The company says the cases are 30 percent lighter than standard flight cases but just as shock and drop resistant. They can also be custom ordered to fit any guitar or bass, and they’re available in a rainbow of exterior and interior colors.
SKB’s 3i series of waterproof flight cases uses molded thermoplastic and plush padding for apt protection.
Another good bet for air travel are the injection-molded ATA cases from SKB (like the 3i-4214-66 for Stratocaster- or Telecaster-style guitars, which goes for around $250). Formed by feeding plastic into a heating mold and letting it cool and harden to the shape of the mold, this military-grade design is made of an ultra-high-strength polypropylene copolymer resin that’s airtight, water resistant, and resistant to corrosion and fungus—attributes that make them good candidates for, say, a home that may be prone to a waterlogging situation like a basement flood. These SKBs are available for a variety of guitar and bass types, and they feature a patented trigger-release latch system with TSA locks and wheels for easy transport. “You can drop one of these cases with a guitar in it in the ocean,” says SKB product manager Will Steven, “and it will float. Put some weight on it and it will sink. Then, when you remove the case from the water and open it, the guitar will be completely dry.”
Case Extreme has a unique take with its crush-resistant shells coined The Clam, which start at around $270 and feature an outer layer of aerospace-grade plastic. Inside, they use a series of thick foam pads to sheathe standard hardshell cases or even gigbags. The company also offers models (like the CXLP for a Les Paul or the CXFS for a Strat) that cradle a guitar or bass in 3" foam padding and prevent the instrument from touching the walls of the case. These cases, which start at $300, can withstand an 850-pound crush test, and they can also be built to accommodate any type of instrument—or even two in one.
A Case for Every Case
As we said at the beginning, which case you buy for your guitars is really a case-by-case decision. It could be that you only need the case your instrument came with. You may also find that the hardshell case that came with your bass is a bit cumbersome for what you usually do. Or, you might benefit from having as many as three different types: a gigbag for local shows, a hardshell case for gigs involving longer travel on the road, and a flight case for dates requiring air travel. Assess your needs and select the very best you can afford in whichever category meets your needs. And remember, models that inhibit the bass or guitar from moving around inside and offer optimal support to vulnerable areas like the neck are going to safeguard your babies better than those that don’t. Take this precaution, and you’re much less likely to receive a nasty, costly surprise when you open your case after your next trip—regardless of whether it’s a long or short jaunt.