Guitars are probably the most delicate instruments to travel with; all through your journey, you constantly worry about a broken headstock, a pulled-out tuning peg, scratched or broken finish, broken strings and a couple of other horrible things that an unprotected guitar is bound to face. It is important to give your guitar the best protection it needs while travelling, whether you are going by foot, car, bus, train, plane or any other means; take care of your guitar packaging properly to prevent it from damaging. You will have no need to worry about your cherished instrument if you securely protect it with the following suggestions highlighted below.
Travelling by foot
If you’ll be travelling by foot or walking a few metres to your rehearsal or gig venue, you may not necessarily need a hard-shell case because the weight of it combined with the weight of the guitar itself will make it uncomfortable for you and too heavy to walk with. Invest in soft cases, they usually come with some form of padded protection inside them so that the guitar can rest comfortably, even if you bump into someone or your guitar gets hit by someone carelessly flinging their arms while walking, you’ll still have nothing to worry about. Many soft-case bags come with two adjustable straps that can be hung over the shoulders and carried around like a backpack. But if you feel insecure and want your eyes on your guitar most of the time, then you can opt for the ones that have only one or two hands for you to carry by your side like a case and keep your eyes constantly on your guitar.
Travelling by rail or road
If you’re travelling by a car, train or bus, you can still make do with a soft case, but a hard-shell case is preferable for extra protection (if you can afford it). No matter the kind of case you go for, never keep your guitar in the trunk of a car or bus or in the luggage compartment of a train, that’s a NO NO! Luggage loaders may not fully understand the fragility of guitars and may squeeze it in with other luggage or pack other heavy stuff on top of your guitar, I cringe to imagine the horrendous fate of that guitar when it is finally brought out. If you’ll be putting your guitar alongside other luggage, give an extra padding to your guitar case (whether it is a hard or soft case), you can wrap the headstock with bubble wraps, cover the fretboard with newspapers and also wedge the corners of the guitar with soft materials like towels, sweaters or shirts to keep it in place and further prevent it from moving inside its case when the vehicle makes turns or goes over speedbumps or gallops.
Travelling by air
This is by far the biggest area of concern for guitarists. Before you travel on a plane, first things first: check in with the airline you will be going with, some airlines allow you to travel with your guitar as a carry-on luggage while some do not (majority of the airlines would permit guitars as carry-on luggage though). You’ll also want to buy a very good quality hard-shell case and wedge the edges with soft clothes as well as wrap the headstock with anything soft or a bubble wrap, the same procedure as though you were travelling by road because your guitar is going to be sitting alone up there in the cabin compartment and who knows what kind of individuals who do not give a hoot about the safety of your instrument that you’ll encounter that day. It is best to just protect it anyways so that even if someone mistakenly bumps into you on the isle, or hits it with their own hand luggage in the cabin, it would still be safe and protected. In the instance that you get a plane that would not allow you carry in your guitar as a carry-on luggage, it is advisable that you should tell them what it is so that they can put it in the ‘fragile’ section (in some airports, some hassling officials may charge a few extra bucks for that). After packaging your guitar and giving it extraordinary precautional measures, you should take a picture of what it looked like just before you sealed the bag, so that when you retrieve your bag and it is not intact, you can file a complaint to the authorities or management involved. There is a popular claim that when you carry a soft gig bag while travelling by air, you may attract sympathy from airport and flight staff and they may consider helping you out, knowing how delicate instruments are…but I wouldn’t bank on that if I were you.
Extra suggestions for packing your guitar
- If your journey would take a couple of hours or days, it is advisable to loosen the strings, there may be changes in temperature or air pressure and it will badly affect the neck of the guitar as the strings will exert so much tension on it and cause it to bend or completely break. It’s always better and much easier to re-tune a guitar than to open your case and deal with a broken headstock, it’s heart-wrenching!
- Even after loosening the strings, make sure you put a newspaper or any other sheet of paper or a light cloth between the loosened strings and the fretboard, if by any chance there is dampness in the bag/case, it will cause the strings to rust and the rust will occur from the strings and eat into the fretboard, causing more damage to your guitar.
- Take out all the extra accessories in the main compartment of your gig bag so that no sharp objects are rubbing against the finish of your guitar while in motion. Keep all your accessories in a smaller compartment of the gig bag (if it has) or take them out completely but ensure they are kept safely in another bag; it wouldn’t be good to forget anything you’ll need for your performance. Make a list of all your gear and cross them out as you pack. Unsure of what should belong in your guitar bag/case? Find out in this article.
- When travelling by air, it is safe to put a humidifier in your guitar case as the air pressure on the plane is usually not stable.
- Always lock or zip up your bag or guitar case, make sure it is the last thing you check and re-check before boarding a bus or plane.
- Be smart when it comes to the safety of your instrument. Observe your surroundings. If possible, get a unique gig bag or hard-shell case that will distinguish yours from someone else’s, I know most of them come in black, brown or gray but if you cannot get something unique, use a sticker instead; something to identify your bag at one go, just incase of theft or luggage misplacement.
The worst thing any guitarist can face after a long journey is reaching out to your guitar and expecting to cuddle it and produce some sweet melody out of it, instead you’re faced with scratches, rusted strings, broken strings, broken or bent headstock etc. No one would like that. Do all you can to give your guitar the ultimate protection it needs while you travel and prevent your own story from becoming like Dave Carroll and his band Sons of Maxwell in ‘United Breaks Guitars’.
Do you travel with your guitar? How do you protect it while travelling? Share some other tips you think we can learn from in the comment section below.