The question of whether you need a gig bag or a case has been posed many times. The answer, as always, is not clear-cut. There are a lot of things to consider before you make the final decision. You have to take into account your budget, lifestyle, the price of your instrument and, of course, the actual needs you have and what you will require from the product. The first thing to know is that you’re on the right track as there are too many people who just do not consider that gig bags/cases are a necessary accessory. They usually end up regretting is once their instrument gets a small scratch or, God forbid, just breaks completely. I know that as I was one of those people. Many many years ago (more that I actually like to admit to myself), as a teen I got my first guitar. Being my first guitar that I had to basically spend all of my savings on and pretty much be broke for the next several months, I thought that accessories and additional materials could wait. Clearly, it did not take a few months for me to scratch and damage my guitar in dozen ways. That’s when I finally decided to shell out some money and invest in a gig bag. Since then I have owned a lot of gig bags and cases. While I can only speak for myself and my specific needs, I thought I would write this post to help out a beginner, or pretty much anyone who realized that a gig bag or a case is not just an accessory but a necessary protection for your beloved instrument.
First things first, you need to know what is your budget. While that is a decision you should make there are a few factors to take into account:
- How much does you actual instrument cost? While all instruments need a certain amount of protection a ukulele that cost you $50 will not warrant the same amount of protection as a $1000 guitar. So when you are determining your budget for the gig bag or a case consider how much your instrument costs. Buying a $100 gig bag for a $50 uke does not seem like the best distribution of your money (unless you plan on using that gig bag for other ukes in the future). Even if you are on a very strict budget getting a $15 dollar gig bag that does anything but protects your $1000 guitar, is also another polarity you do not want to get yourself into.
- Another issue to take into account is not your budget but how you will be judging a gig bag and a case. Most cases cost a lot more than gig bags. Some of the best gig bags do not even come close, price-wise, to the best guitar case prices. And that is why when you compare one gig bag to a hardshell case, the race is not going to be that fair.
If you have determined how much you want to pay for the protection of your instrument you need to know the purpose. This seems like such an obvious thing. AND since this seems like such an obvious one, in a lot of cases people do not really stop and think about it. If you are just a beginner who rarely takes their guitar out of their room you do not really need a lot of protection. So instead of something that will protect your instrument from accidents, you might need something that will protect it from dust (do not underestimate the damage dust can do to your guitar). On the other hand, if you rarely stay in one place and constantly have to drag your instrument and accessories around, you will need a lot of protection. While it is assumed that cases protect the instrument a lot better than gig bags, the answer, still, is not as clear-cut. Let’s talk about why, if you travel a lot, a case is not always the best solution.
Consider this, you are a traveling musician – or just a traveling person who happens to have a guitar or any other string instrument – and you decide to be responsible and have the most protection for your instrument. You get a sturdy as hell hardshell case that will basically keep your baby safe even if it falls from a plane flying hundreds of feet over the land (that’s just a hypothetical, please don’t try it). And while you are protecting your guitar, you are probably not doing any favors to you back and hands. Most times hardshell cases weigh quite a lot. With an average weight of about 15 pounds – and that’s not including the instrument and all the accessories – you will have a hard time carrying it around if you do not have a car at all times.
- If you have a car, a hardshell case is a better option.
- If you usually walk around with your instrument, a hardshell case might be too heavy to carry around for too long.
Plane Mode Activated
Now, here is a situation that not a lot of people consider but a lot end up in. What do you do if you have to travel with your instrument? The situation is more probable for musicians but a lot of casual players sometimes decide to take their instrument to other states or countries. The first thing you need to know is the policy of the company you are using. A lot of companies will not allow a guitar unless you pay a lot of fees. The chances of being allowed with your instrument on a plane are much bigger if you have it in a gig bag and not a case. So that’s one advantage of getting a gig bag. BUT in case you are not allowed to take it on the plane, you have to check it as a luggage. And if you have ever seen the luggage handled, you do NOT want to put it in a gig bag. That is basically signing up your guitar to be chopped into pieces. Granted, there is way to put a “fragile” note on it, but I personally always prefer to carry my own instrument with me.
- If you are taking the instrument on a plane, use a gig bag.
- If you check it in, use a very sturdy hardshell case.
Now, the next issue you have to deal with when deciding whether you want to get a gig bag or a case is space you can allocate for it. If you are living in a 15×15 dorm room, chances are you barely have enough space for the guitar, let alone a hardshell case. But the chances of accidentally tripping over the instrument and damaging it are also higher. But in that case you do not really need a gig bag or a case, a nice stand or a wall-hanger might be a great idea. Wall hangers are also a great way to save some space and they do not cost that much.
Even if you have a lot of space at home, if you travel by a car cramping in a hardshell case into a car or any space, for that matter, might be a bit hard or annoying. Even if you work on a set, you have to have some space to put down the case, to take out the instrument and all the necessary equipment. So when it comes to space, gig bags have the upper hand. That being said, when you are traveling in a car or a van and there are other musicians who throw in their instruments into the car truck, you do not want to end up with a guitar in a flimsy gig bag under a pile of hard shells.
Let’s talk about the obvious reason why you should be buying a guitar gig bag or a case – protection. Hardshell cases, hands down, are the best way to protect your instrument. Not only do they offer better protection from physical damages – like knocking the instrument over or exerting pressure on it, they also offer a little bit of protection from humidity and environmental changes.
Hardshell cases exteriors are usually made of a combination of wood, metal, and carbon fiber for the best protection and rigid frame. The interior is usually made of a plush material that is padded most of times. This allows for your instrument to be tucked away and have zero ability to move around. They usually do a better job at sealing the instrument from the outside environment – humidity protection. While it does not do the same job as the best humidifiers, it is a good start.
Gig bags, while not protecting the instrument to the same level as hardshell cases, offer enough protection from minor damages. You also need to consider your own personality. How clumsy are you and what is the probability of you putting your instrument at a risk that a gig bag will not protect. If you forcefully toss your gig bag with the guitar in it from one end of the room to another, chances are your instrument will be damaged. But this type of “accidents” rarely happen unless you are traveling a lot or have some sort of anger management problem and like to take it out on your instrument.
While most gig bags are made from some form-fitting fabric or leather there are also level to this often underappreciated accessory. A lot of the gig bags, like Hola! Deluxe Padded Electric Guitar Gig Bag, are padded and have quite a durable and sturdy construction. While the gig bags that usually ship with the instruments and are “free”, do a better job in transporting the instrument than protecting it. You also have to take into account that the more padded gig bags come at a higher price but not highest than most cases.
Maybe Not “Or” But “And”
I have talked quite a bit about gig bags Vs. cases but there are, of course, other options. I will be discussing two of the options. The first of them might seem a bit splurgy to some casual players but you should still consider this option. Instead of choosing between a gig bag and a case why not get both? And I do not mean get both at an over $200 mark. If you manage to find a case at a budget-friendly price, and we have reviews of quite a lot of them, you can also have a bit left over for a gig bag. In this case, you will have an option of using a gig bag if you are going to a nearby gig location and a case if you are traveling with a van to a further location. Space-wise, you can also keep your gig bag inside a case.
Hybrids or Soft Shell Case
The one alternative that a lot of people seem to choose nowadays is a soft shell case. Softshell cases are sort of a middle ground between a gig bag and a hardshell case. While sometimes people might call a soft shell case a gig bag, usually these cases are a bit more sturdy and offer more protection and space for accessories. They are also, as expected, a little more expensive than gig bags but not as costly as cases.
I know, that’s a lot of factors to take into account for something that a lot of people do not even think is a vital accessory. But when you get a guitar or, for that matter, any other instrument, you want to keep is as fresh and beautiful as the first day you got it. While it is important to take a case of the instrument and properly clean it, if you damage it, there is either no going back or it will cost you a hell of a load. To save your guitar from a physical harm and yourself from mental and financial one, you need to have a gig bag or a case. We have discussed different reasons why a gig bag is better than a case and vice versa. We also discussed alternatives but the final decision is on you. Just as a parting note, I thought I should just to a summing up of which one is better for which situation:
Buy Gig Bag If You:
- You do not have a big budget
- Need a lot of protection
- Do not travel too much
- Carry your instrument around but do not use a car
- Want a more lightweight protection
- Want it to take less space
- Want to carry your instrument with you on a plane
- Your instrument did not cost too much (relatively)
Buy Case If You:
- Want more protection from physical damage
- Want more protection from humidity and environmental impact
- Have a big budget (relatively)
- Your instrument costs a lot
- Do not have a problem with space
- Travel around a lot with a car (carrying it on your back is kind of hard)
- Plan on checking in your guitar on a plane