Traditional hardshell cases are typically made from a multi-ply wooden structure covered with a material such as vinyl, a textile such as tweed, or leather. This type usually either follows the contours of the guitar (similar to most Gibson acoustic or electric cases) or is rectangular, like those for Fender solidbodies. It is secured with a series of metal latches and carried with a handle made from plastic or leather. Some hardshell cases also include a pair of hooks designed to accommodate a strap for carrying. Many also have metal feet on the butt end to protect their coverings when placed in a vertical position, and on the bottom to keep them level when horizontal.
Many moderate- and most high-priced guitars come with hardshell cases, and if you’re a bedroom rocker, or if you play local gigs and have a streamlined rig with little to carry other than your axe, then this may be your preferred method of transport. If you acquire an instrument that doesn’t include any sort of case, or it came with a gigbag and you’re worried it won’t provide enough protection (which may not always be the, er, case—again, it all depends on your playing circumstances), one obvious solution is to simply buy the model of hardshell case offered by the instrument manufacturer.
But there are many other options for a good wooden hardshell case at all price points. For less than $100, companies like Gator and Silver Creek offer well-built wooden cases with Tolex covering (the faux-leather material used on many amplifiers) in a range of sizes that will fit everything from parlor-sized acoustics to Precision bass–style solidbodies. TKL—which manufactures many of the cases that come with new instruments from Gibson, Martin, and others—offers a similar style of case, the Prestige, that has a tougher DuraHyde covering, a thickly padded interior, and a roomier accessory compartment. These start at around $90 street.
If you want the snuggest possible fit for your guitar or bass—especially if you’ve got one in a nonstandard size or shape—then a custom hard case is the way to go. Fill out a spec sheet with a couple dozen measurements of your guitar, and a company like Cedar Creek (a division of TKL) or C&G (which also makes cases for the Fender Custom Shop and Paul Reed Smith, among many other high-end clients) can build you a smart case with your choice of exterior and inner coverings, hardware packages, and other options.
Erich Solomon, a master luthier who ships many of his finished archtops with an American Vintage Series CC720 Cedar Creek case, is a staunch proponent of making sure a case hugs its contents tightly—a fit that is pretty much guaranteed with a custom build. “A proper fit is a must for any decent guitar case, especially in regards to the way the neck and neck angle are addressed in the case,” says Solomon. “If the neck is supported on too short of a distance—or the neck angle is not correct and the body falls too deeply into the case, and the neck just contacts in one spot—if there is a shock, it will act as a fulcrum, and potentially cause damage to the instrument.” This is why Solomon says it’s critical to take precise measurements of your axe when ordering a custom case.
In the late 1970s, SKB pioneered an alternative to wooden cases—the acrylonitrile butadiene styrene molded hardshell case. Better known as ABS plastic, this is the same lightweight, resilient material used for athletic helmets, sprinkler pipes, and car bumpers. SKB currently offers its vacuum-molded ABS cases—made by pouring warm thermoplastic into a mold and applying suction—to fit a wide range of guitar and bass styles. The SKB-FS6, for instance, with its universal fit for almost any solidbody electric guitar, has a street price of $100. At the other end of the spectrum, beginning at around $500, Hiscox offers its Liteflite case, available in the Standard, Pro II, and Artist versions, with an ABS outer layer and a semi-rigid cellular foam inner layer with thermal insulation. The standard case has a crush resistance of more than 1,100 pounds, as is neatly demonstrated in a video on the company’s website, while the Artist series is four times as resistant to impact and puncture.