Best guitar cases and gigbags 2023: from cost-effective protection, to indestructible travel companions

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Acoustic guitar case sat on top of colourful wooden platform

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1. Product guide
2. Buying advice
3. How we choose

For us guitarists, getting a new instrument is a feeling like no other. Perhaps you’ve saved for some time to afford your dream instrument, or you’ve received a cherished gift. One thing is sure: you’ll want to keep it safe, particularly if you’re likely to take it on the road. This is when you should be looking for the best guitar case or gigbag for your instrument.

No matter how carefully you handle your guitar, those cunning bedfellows destiny and gravity will catch you out eventually, resulting in a mishap that leaves your instrument bruised and your ego battered. 

Many guitarists are guilty of choosing any old case for their instrument, rather than one that has been carefully selected and instils confidence that it will provide perfect protection. The best guitar cases are designed to cope just as well sitting in the corner of a home studio, with the occasional kick, or being thrown in the back of a van night after night. 

In our selection we’ve looked for the best cases across every price point, catering for acoustics and electrics of all shapes and sizes.

And if you want to find out which kind of case is best for you, visit our buying advice section at the bottom of this guide.

Simon Fellows author photo
Simon Fellows

When Simon's childhood classical guitar teacher boasted he 'enjoyed a challenge', the poor man had no idea how much he'd underestimated the scale of the task ahead. Despite Simon's lack of talent, the experience did spark a lifelong passion for music. His classical guitar was discarded for an electric, then a room full of electrics and the rest is history. Simon is now a regular contributor to Guitar World and MusicRadar where he reviews guitar gear and writes buyer's guides like the one you're reading now.

Product guide

Best guitar cases and gigbags: Buying advice

Woman walks along the street holding a guitar case

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How to choose the best guitar case for you

You can trust Guitar World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing guitar products so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

It's not particularly outlandish to say that all cases and gigbags are not made equal. While even the cheapest case or gigbag will offer a modicum of protection, the exact amount you will get can vary wildly between different cases.

It goes without saying that guitars – which, let’s be honest, aren’t known to be particularly sturdy at the best of times – need some protection, but the exact amount they need will depend on your circumstances. For example, are you planning on using your instrument as a snowboard? If so a soft case probably won’t cut it. 

Obviously that’s a rather silly example, but it is worth bearing in mind that a hard case may be absolutely necessary in some instances, and in others it could be overkill.

It really depends on value. By value we mean the value of your instrument to you – which could be financial, sentimental, or a mix of the two. A starter instrument that you’ve just purchased, may only need a relatively small amount of protection to transport from home, to the car, and into your guitar lesson and back, so an entry-level padded gigbag will absolutely do the job. Whereas a vintage Les Paul worth $5,000, or a family heirloom, probably shouldn’t leave the house in anything other than the finest, most robust hard case.

How much protection does your guitar really need?

Most players will want to take their instruments out of the house from time to time, but not every player will be taking their guitar around the country on tour. If you’re the latter kind of player, your guitar could be cruising for a bruising, so a hard case securely wrapped around its exterior is going to be a necessity – even the most durable of gigbags would struggle in this situation.

If you’re a player who typically has their instrument proudly displayed on a wall hanger at home, with its typical journey consisting of leaving its hanger before softly landing on your lap, a hard case feels a little over the top. However… even the most reserved player will likely need to take their instrument out to the shop once in a while, at which point you really don’t want to be throwing it willy-nilly into the back of your car. Even a cheap gigbag will provide protection against surface scratches and small knocks on your travels.

Take into account how often you currently move your instrument (or intend to) and that will inform what level of protection your instrument needs. It may be that different occasions call for different protection.

Hard case vs gigbag?

Hard cases have one major benefit, and it very much says it on the tin. Hard cases are hard! Built from traditional solid materials and shaped internally so your instrument can’t move an inch, they are undoubtedly a better form of protection than a soft gigbag.

But that doesn’t mean that the hard case wins every battle Where gigbags really shine, is when your instrument’s mode of transport is by foot. If you’ve ever tried walking any kind of distance with a hard case, you’ll know it’s heavy, awkward, and not a lot of fun. On the flip side, a gigbag is much lighter and many have straps so you can wear it on your back.  

This makes it super easy to take it from place to place, and would be ideal for students who take their instruments to school. Equally, if you use public transportation to get to your gigs; with a gigbag on your back, you’ve got two hands free for a pedalboard and even a small combo, so you can take your entire rig with you – try doing that with a hard case!

Bear in mind, if you do take your instrument out on your back, it could still be subject to the outside world, which can be a cruel mistress. Your gigbag will look after your instrument from the average knock, but if a stranger happens to push you in passing, or worse, bundle you over, your instrument might not make it through your travels unscathed.

Regardless of which case you buy, look for essentials like pockets and locking zips/latches which will add another layer of protection to your instrument and accessories. Guitars in any case are a prime target for thieves, and a case can at the very least make it a little more challenging for anybody to access your guitar.

Man stands in front of a set of stairs with a guitar gigbag over his shoulder

(Image credit: Getty/Westend61)

Hard as nails, in-case you couldn’t tell

Hard cases are sensational when it comes to protecting your guitars, with their resilient outer, opening to a plush, lined interior, in which your shred machine can slumber. There are typically two types of hard cases, one which mirrors the shape of your instrument – albeit more bulbous – and the other being a large rectangle. Neither is better than the other, though the shaped cases will usually be perfectly sized for your instrument, ensuring there is absolutely no movement internally from your instrument. Some of the rectangular cases will also have a cut out inside for your guitar to fit perfectly, however this isn’t always the case.

Some generic hard cases – typically at the lower end of the market – will be one-size-fits-all, which is great if you switch guitars regularly and only want to purchase one case, but may mean some instruments could slip. For example, a guitar with a shorter scale length or body may have movement up and down inside the case, which could result in damage to the head or base of the instrument.

Where rectangular cases can have an advantage, is they have more space for internal pockets, for the likes of picks, sheet music, capos, and even folding stands. If you like to have all of your guitar peripherals in one place, this is super handy.

Regardless of shape, the hard case has a mortal enemy… the baggage handler. These individuals are architects of guitar destruction, always plotting new evil with which to torture instruments. The greatest of all hard cases have succumbed to these menaces, being left crumpled, broken, and unsalvageable. Fortunately, the hard case has an even tougher big brother – the flight case.

Do you need to buy a flight case?

Flight cases are typically made from aluminum, with reinforced corners that are designed to deal with the most violent assault from the outside world, while your precious cargo remains safe inside, wedged between custom-carved foam. When it comes to guitar protection, this is the pinnacle.

So why not use a flight case all the time? We wouldn’t recommend it. These things are stupidly heavy and even more awkward than a hard case, plus they can cost a fortune. 

They are really only utilized by touring bands who are taking multiple guitars across the world. For the majority of non-global-touring-artists, a hard case is the perfect level of protection.

What material should my hard case be made from?

Two methods of hard case manufacture dominate, utilizing different materials. Old-school models are made from rugged plywood panels covered in Tolex or fabric, while more modern interpretations are molded in tough ABS plastic. Both will do a great job of protecting your guitar, but the plastic versions have the edge if you travel a lot.

ABS plastic has a high-tensile strength and is very resistant to both physical impacts and chemical corrosion. If, however, you’re trying to cut back on your plastic purchases then a plywood version may suit you better. Just bear in mind that we have no way of knowing just how good or bad these really are for the environment. 

Look out for strong hinges and latches or clasps that have been attached squarely and securely. Plywood-based cases tend to have traditionally styled nickel or chrome-plated steel or brass hardware, with metal stud feet. Steel hardware, even when plated, can rust surprisingly quickly in damp conditions, so keep an eye out for the early signs. A neat trick is to combat corrosion with a coat of clear nail varnish (it’s not often we use the words combat and nail varnish in the same sentence here at Guitar World).

Plastic cases will often have plastic hinges and clasps, reinforced where needed with metal pins for strength. Because they’re more likely to be shoved in the hold of a plane, they may boast other niceties such as metal bumpers that run all the way around the lid lips, chunky feet for stability and TSA locks.

If you don’t do much traveling with your guitar, then choosing between the two styles will be down to little more than aesthetics. There's something special about pulling a Tele from a tweed case; an emotional response you just don’t get with plastic.

Large stack of Fender guitar cases

(Image credit: Future)

How much should I consider weather and humidity?

All hard cases should be more weatherproof than their gigbag cousins, so a touch of rain or snow shouldn’t trouble your guitar too much. However, standard models are far from waterproof, so if you live in a location where torrential downpours are the norm, or you busk from a canoe, then buy yourself a waterproof case – which could basically double up as a canoe too (Guitar World does not recommend trying this). It’ll feature proper watertight seals and a relief valve to purge any unwanted build-up in pressure as climatic conditions change.

If humidity, or lack of it, is an issue in your home, then you can turn your case into an acoustic guitar humidor by adding a humidifier system from the likes of Planet Waves or D’Addario. Whether you need this sort of solution or not will largely depend on whether you live in a temperate region. But regardless of where you are, never leave your guitar in its case for extended periods of time. Open it up from time to time, and give both case and guitar a good airing. You could even play it.

Watch out for case bite

Finally, there’s a terrible condition associated with cases that has been known to make grown men cry. Case bite – the ultimate own goal.

Case bite usually occurs in that split second when your gorgeous guitar is not fully in the case and not fully out. It’s the midway, no-man’s land that strikes fear into the hearts of all guitarists who love their instruments a little more than is strictly healthy.

It goes something like this. As you lift the guitar up and out, over the bottom lip of the case, a freak vibration (most likely your forearm) causes the lid to waver, lose its already tentative grip on balance, and come crashing down on your guitar’s pristine top. At least one of the latches will punch a snakebite-like indentation in your guitar’s soft nitrocellulose finish. It’s not going to polish out. 

So, before removing or replacing your guitar, always steady the lid, or you risk damaging your beloved instrument with the very thing you bought to protect it. Case closed.

How we choose the best guitar cases

Here at Guitar World, we are experts in our field, with many years of playing and product testing between us. We live and breathe everything guitar related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience of using products in live, recording and rehearsal scenarios when selecting the products for our guides.

When choosing what we believe to be the best guitar cases and gigbags available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.

First and foremost, we are guitarists, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best guitar cases and gigbags on the market right now.

Read more about our rating system, how we choose the gear we feature, and exactly how we test each product.

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