There are countless different guitar case models out there to choose from.
How do you choose the right case for you?
In this article I will go over four different types of guitar cases that you will frequently come across. I will discuss their ideal uses, pros & cons, and some options for you to consider purchasing.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The most important question you can ask yourself when deciding what kind of guitar case you are going to buy should be whether or not you plan to travel with your guitar. A good guitar case is a necessity, but there are certain kinds that are better suited for travel.
While any guitar case can technically be traveled with, you should consider how you want to travel with your instrument.
Some follow-up questions you can ask yourself include:
Are you wanting the best protection possible?
Are you going to be flying with your guitar?
Do you want your case to be lightweight?
Do you want to carry your guitar on your back?
Answering these questions will help you take the first step in deciding what kind of case you want for your guitar. If traveling isn’t something you plan to do with your guitar, then I suggest you go straight to section #3 of this article.
If you are definitely considering traveling, then there are a few more options available to you.
Let’s see what’s out there!
Four Types of Guitar Cases
1. The Gig Bag
When you see the term “Gig Bag”, it usually refers to a soft guitar case with straps, a zipper, and maybe a pocket for loose guitar items. These bags often come free with the purchase of a guitar as they are cheap and are pretty much only good for protecting your guitar from light rain.
None. These cases offer zero protection in terms of rigidity, form, or cushion. Think of these guitar cases as like your grocery bag. It lets you take the guitar home, but it shouldn’t be used for long term protection. Because these cases are light weight and have straps that allow you to throw your guitar on your back, they seem like a good travel option. However, if you drop your guitar in this case, it will offer little to no impact protection.
- Often Free
- Zero instrument protection/support
This is the only kind of gig bag I’m not offering suggestions for. If your guitar comes with one, think of it as a small, temporary bonus and then go get a real case.
2. Hybrid Cases
Hybrid Cases are often referred to as Gig Bags as well, but these are the types of bags you could actually take to a gig and feel confident that your instrument will be protected. Hybrid cases have the benefit of added protection while remaining light weight. They often have foam interiors, rubber bottoms, plastic molds, or any combination thereof to make sure that your guitar stays in place.
Hybrid cases also often feature multiple pockets for housing your straps, cables, picks, sometimes even your pedalboard. Hybrids are ideal for touring musicians in that they can go on your back while you lug other gear in your hands, therefor saving you trips to the van.
The most important feature I look for in a hybrid case is some form of neck protection. The neck is the most vulnerable part of your guitar and the spot most likely to break. A good hybrid bag offers some kind of neck support, as well as protection on the bottom of the case. I use the Mono M80 Dual Electric Bag whenever I go out gigging, because it has great neck protection and houses multiple instruments of any shape.
Hybrid cases are the perfect choice for gigging musicians that are going to frequently take their guitars out to shows. While I wouldn’t check it onto a plane, I would feel comfortable taking a hybrid case as a carry on and stowing it overhead. I’d also feel comfortable stowing it in a crowded van for long stints on the road. If you want a case that is lightweight, yet offers substantial protection to your instrument, then hybrids are a great choice.
- Lightweight, but offer substantial protection
- Some models hold multiple guitars
- Ample storage
- Airplane/Van travel worthy
- Don’t offer full protection
- No mold makes them flexible, but less protective
3. Hard Cases
Hard cases are what first come to mind when I think of as the ideal guitar case, because they are often form-fitting to the guitar and they offer ample protection. The exteriors are typically made of black vinyl, leather, or tweed materials that are rugged enough to take on the world at large. Some are even made of fiber glass.
The insides usually have a velvet or fur lining to them and can be cut to the exact shape of your instrument, no matter how crazy of a shape it is. Just make sure to custom order if the product description doesn’t match your exact guitar model.
As a result, you get a case that cradles your instrument. While I am a fan of my hybrid case for traveling, I treat that case as a “road only” housing. My guitars have a permanent residence in hard cases. My guitars could spend months, even years, on end in a hard case and I would know that they are safe in there.
As I said before, these cases typically stay at home for me. That being said, these cases are perfectly road worthy. They WILL protect your instrument wherever you go. The only downside is that they can get a bit heavy and they can be a little cumbersome, especially if you are hauling multiple guitars around.
Hard cases are especially ideal for more expensive acoustic guitars for humidity control. If you aren’t humidifying your acoustic guitars already, start now, and keep them in a hard case. The formed fit and limited air space in a hard case allows for minimal climate change inside your guitar’s case, keeping them extra protected.
- Ample protection
- Form fitting
- Appropriate for long term storage
- Usually come with a combination/key lock
- Help keep guitars humidified
- Can be expensive or added expense
- Usually only house one guitar
4. Flight Cases
Flight cases are a type of hard case that are specifically designed to survive the most demanding of travel conditions. They are often made of lighter weight synthetic materials such as Polyethelene or other military grade materials that provide extra protection.
Even with this lighter material, these are heavy cases. While TSA is hopefully handling larger items with care, it never hurts to have that extra bit of insurance. Like a good hard case, the inside materials are typically molded to the shape of your instrument for the most protection possible.
Flight cases often feature TSA approved locking latches to make sure that your instrument won’t fall out in transit. Typical hard shells have locks too, but they are much simpler mechanisms that could come undone if they bumped into something, or if someone accidentally flipped them. This won’t be the case with the locking latches on flight cases.
Flight cases are typically rectangular in shape, making them a bit bulky for everyday use, but you’ll be glad you have them if you are finding yourself having to check your guitar into the underbelly of a plane. Like a typical hard-shell case, I would feel comfortable leaving my guitar in one of these cases for extended periods of time.
I would recommend these cases to musicians that know they are going to do extensive flight dates. Otherwise, a traditional hard case will work just fine.
- The most protection possible
- Secure locks
- Wheels for easier travel
- Molded to instrument
- Bulky and heavy
Guitar Cases Are The Unsung Hero
Guitar cases are the unsung heroes of our guitars. They watch over our guitars when we aren’t using them. The nicer the guitar case you buy, the more peace of mind you are giving yourself. It’s like the most basic form of insurance for your instrument.
I often think of guitar cases as my guitars’ home. I care deeply about all the instruments that I own, and I want them to have a case that they can live in that is going to make sure they last longer than I do. Even if you get an ‘heirloom’ quality guitar, you’re not going to be able to pass it on if it wasn’t protected during its years of service for you.
Whether you are taking your guitar out on the road or keeping it at home, it’s a good idea to get a case for your instrument. My last bit of advice is that you don’t have to just pick one case!
All of my guitars have hard cases for when they are at my home, but then I also have my hybrid case that I transfer my electric guitars into when I’m traveling. It’s up to you to make the call that supports what you need from a guitar case.
Different cases are appropriate for different circumstances. At the end of the day, the only bad choice you can make is to not get any case at all.
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.