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. So don’t waste any time – invest in some protection now. The best guitar cases and gigbags are designed to give you peace of mind whether you’re heading to your mate’s for a jamming session or headlining a festival – and, thankfully, they don’t have to cost the earth.
Guitar cases and gigbags aren’t just for travelling, either. For every guitarist who likes to display their axe on a wall hanger or stand, there’s another who prefers to lock their instrument safely away in its case after use. Which is right? It depends, but we’ll come to that in our Buying Advice section below. For now, let’s look at a couple of our favorite ‘no more tears’ picks.
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Best guitar cases and gigbags: Guitar World's choice
Picking one case or bag over another isn’t straightforward, because many are specific to a certain type of guitar (such as an acoustic dreadnought) or model (such as a Fender Strat). It’s a bit like comparing apples with oranges, so the best we can do is weed out the lemons and recommend models that showcase exceptional product design. Even if these cases aren’t suitable for your guitar, we’re confident that you’ll be able to find a solution with a similar feature set.
Fender’s product design team must’ve had two Weetabix for breakfast the day they came up with the concept for the Deluxe Molded Case. It isn’t as pretty as a tweed case, but it is a superbly well-thought-out, tough ABS unit that will protect your Fender from almost any threat that’s ever likely to cross its path. Beautifully made and exceptionally supportive, it features neat touches such as rubberised feet, a TSA lock and little indents in the lid that safely secure it from slipping when stacked.
Choosing a gigbag isn’t an open-and-shut case. At the cheaper end of the market there are padded sleeves that’ll do a fair job of protecting your guitar, while at the top end you can purchase semi-rigid bags that offer similar protection to a hard case. We’re going upmarket with the MONO Classic Acoustic/Dreadnought Guitar Case, purely because it provides us with the opportunity to demonstrate just how good a gigbag can be.
This feature-rich, intelligently thought-out bag has been developed to protect your back as well as your guitar. Though it’s incredibly lightweight – MONO claims that it weighs about 75% less than a comparable hard case – it’s built with tough components that’ll survive years of abuse, including accidental drops. Strategically placed foam bumpers and ABS panels are designed to deflect impact away from particularly vulnerable areas of your guitar, while a patented Headlock system reduces stress on the neck.
There’s a substantial price to pay for such protection, but even if your guitar isn’t worth it, perhaps your back is?
Best guitar cases and gigbags: Product guide
Fender introduced this case a few years ago for its upper-mid-range guitars (such as the Professional series), and boy, is it a big improvement on its rather lacklustre predecessor. Built from military-grade ABS plastic, it feels reassuringly solid as soon as you pick it up.
Flip the latches and you’ll discover acres of plush polyester fur in which to nestle your guitar. There’s a large storage compartment, with plenty of room in which to tuck strings, cables and even a strap, together with a custom-fit cut-out specific to your Fender model.
The handle is robust, comfortable and well-balanced, even for heavier bass guitars. Rubberised feet make it ultra-stable, while indents on the top make it possible to stack multiple cases securely. If your Fender didn’t come with a case, or you have the previous plastic case, then this is a fabulous buy.
Why on earth would you spend this much on a gigbag when you could buy a decent hard case for less? The answer is: weight. If you spend a lot of time lugging your dread from practice session to gig to practice session, then your arms, back and shoulders will appreciate a bag that’s light and manoeuvrable.
MONO has a reputation for building featherweight bags that rival hard cases in every respect. They boast ‘military-spec’ fabrics, and while we’re not exactly sure what that means, we do know that they’re built like tanks. High-grade webbing, bar-tack stitching, steel rivet reinforcements, a hard-wearing Hypalon sole, and a water- and abrasion-resistant ‘Sharkskin’ outer are tell-tale signs that this bag has been developed to survive some serious abuse.
Inside, ABS panels are there to absorb and deflect hard knocks, while high-density foam bumpers will divert vertical impacts out and around the lower bout of your guitar to protect the vulnerable strap pin area. The patented Headlock feature will suspend the headstock, saving the guitar from potential side and rear impacts that could snap the neck.
MONO is confident that these protective features make the bag effectively ‘drop-proof’, making it a worthy alternative to the hard case.
The Gretsch Electromatic series is universally praised for offering outstanding value for money. The build quality is spot-on, and these wonderful guitars have that signature Gretsch tone in spades. How does Gretsch do it for the money?
To keep retail prices low, the manufacturer doesn’t bundle said guitars with a case or gigbag. It has such a following, and the guitars are so unique, that this won’t concern most potential buyers, who’ll just budget for a case anyway.
First choice for solid bodies has to be the reasonably priced G6238FT. The spec is fairly modest – plywood construction with a smart, black Tolex wrap – but the plush grey interior will make a lovely home for your Gretsch.
Fender’s modern ABS plastic case may offer superb protection, but this ’50s-vibe tweed case just looks so good. It’s very similar to the cases that Teles and Strats shipped with back when Ritchie Valens was performing La Bamba.
Its 3-ply wood construction, which uses 8mm on the sides and 5mm on the top and bottom, is plenty strong enough for most players, while the vinyl-wrapped steel core carry handle is comfy for long-distance treks from one venue to the next. If tweed is a bit too flamboyant for you, then you could always go for the black vinyl version.
G&G has been supplying Fender since the ’50s, and its cases are still bundled with top-end models and custom shop guitars. This case looks remarkably similar to Fender’s own Classic Series Wood Case, but this is the authentic one – the other is the, er, ‘tribute’.
Handmade by a small bunch of artisan types in Los Angeles, these cases feature the very best in materials, including real hide end caps, a bonded leather handle and a plush velvet ‘vintage red poodle’ lining that won’t mark the finish on your guitar. They’re hardly cheap, but then your guitar deserves the best.
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Gator makes some of the best third-party cases around, so there’s no doubting this one’s pedigree. It has all the usual features: a tough, impact-resistant ABS shell, a heavy-duty aluminium bumper for added strength, a plush interior that molds to your guitar shape, a padded neck cradle and useful storage compartments.
What really sets it apart is the integrated LED panel that quite literally shines a spotlight on your beloved guitar and any stowed accessories. For bedroom players, this could be dismissed as a vanity light, but for touring musicians used to playing on dimly lit stages it’s a godsend. About to go on and still can’t find the right pick in the gloom? Or your guitar for that matter? No worries – flick the switch and your entire case will be bathed in light.
It sounds gimmicky but it’s actually genuinely useful. The one to get if you’re fed up with fumbling around in the dark.
It goes without saying that we love Epiphones here at Guitar World (just check out our guide to the best Epiphone Les Pauls for proof). The quality is amazing, they play great, they can sound out of this world and the prices are affordable – what’s not to like?
Well, some Epiphones don’t come bundled with a hard case (which is no great surprise considering the price points). It’s not a biggie, though – here we’ve highlighted Epiphone’s Les Paul case, but the manufacturer makes similar cases for the rest of its model range. We believe they should be right up there towards the top of your list when looking for a case to protect your new Epi. Tough, well-made and kinda classy in black with that bold gold logo, they’re a great addition to your set-up.
In fact, we’d recommend them for Gibson guitars, too. That may sound like sacrilege, but bear with us. A case takes the knocks so that your guitar doesn’t have to, which means that it’s eventually going to need replacing. Yes, a Gibson case is better quality, but there really isn’t that much in it. So if you’re a busy touring guitarist who gets through cases quite quickly, then save yourself some money and buy Epiphone versions instead.
What’s more – and we mean no offence to Epiphone players when we say this – the brand simply doesn’t have the reputation that Gibson does. Lock your expensive Gibson Les Paul in a case with a big, bold Epi logo printed on it, and it’ll immediately become less of a target for thieves.
Beware trying to shoehorn an Epiphone into a Gibson case, though, because you may find that the extended headstock won’t fit.
If you’re looking for an almost nuke-proof solution to protect your acoustic guitar from armageddon-rated mishaps, then this is probably it. SKB iSeries cases (there are models for acoustics and electrics of all shapes and sizes) are made from seriously tough, corrosion-resistant materials, and feature extra-strong hinges plus a plethora of beefy latches.
The most significant selling point is that these cases are fully waterproof. A gasket will keep out everything from pure H2O to sticky soda, while an equalization valve will stop pressure from building up inside when temperatures rise. Acoustic guitars are very susceptible to water damage, so these iSeries cases provide much-needed reassurance for those living in, or travelling to, wetter climes.
The soft handle makes this case relatively comfortable to carry around, but it can also roll on its own integrated wheels. Good thing, too, because, at almost 27lbs/12kg, it’s not the lightest case around.
Overkill? Not if you’re a frequent flyer or live in a city where heavy rain and snow seem to accompany your every move.
You can go out and buy an inexpensive gigbag for about $30/£22, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Essentially, you’ll end up with a padded, guitar-shaped sleeve that’ll fight off occasional dings and scratches. However, the Gator Pro-Go Series Electric Guitar Gigbag is a step above.
First off, it’s a semi-rigid design, meaning that the sidewalls are so thick, they add some rigidity to the bag. Second, you can still treat it like a gigbag. It’s squashable for storage and there are comfy backstraps so that you can handle it like a backpack.
This thing has pockets galore, including one for your iPad. The soft micro-fleece interior will ensure that your guitar is more cosseted than a rock star at Claridge’s, and the padded neck cradle will ensure that it remains straight enough to play gig after gig. There’s even a rain cover to stop the weather gods from raining on your parade.
After gigs, Joe Strummer would allegedly just throw his Telecaster into the trunk of his Thunderbird before speeding off. The simple slab-like Tele is probably the hardiest guitar of all time, but it does make us wonder if the Clash man’s more lightly built acoustic guitars stood up well to similar treatment.
If you fancy chucking your dreadnought into the back of a large American car, then we recommend you slip it into an SKB Acoustic Dreadnought Deluxe Guitar Case, just in case. It has a tough shell, complete with an aluminium bumper, that should see off the threat of damage from sudden acceleration, violent wallowing around corners and vague braking.
They may look a little clunky but we prefer the chunky latches on this case to fiddly, traditional hardware, as they’re so much smoother to operate and less likely to snag.
Best guitar cases and gigbags: Buying advice
All cases and gigbags will protect against damage, but some offer more protection than others. Clearly, we want to max out the protection with something that makes Fort Knox look as safe and secure as a soggy cardboard box, right? Well, kinda, but there are a few things to consider before blowing your spare readies on a pint-sized panic room for your guitar.
Firstly, let’s deal with the tricky matter of value. How much is your guitar worth? Let us rephrase that – how much is your guitar worth to you? What we’re driving at is that even a rather nice $200/£145 case may feel totally insufficient for a ’54 Strat, but for a ’14 Squier Bullet? Unless that Squier has gained family heirloom status, an inexpensive gigbag makes more sense.
Another awkward question – just how pernickety are you? If you’re not sure, just ask your partner or your mates – they’ll be dying for an excuse to tell you. If you’re an absolute perfectionist, who believes that relic’d guitars are the work of Satan, then we doubt you’d settle for anything less than a hard case.
If you’re not troubled by a lack of perfection, or you’re extremely frugal (funny how those two qualities are often found together), then a gigbag may well suffice.
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How much protection does your guitar really need?
It’s pretty obvious that a case or bag is going to protect your pride and joy in transit, but what if you’re a home player who never takes your guitar anywhere? What if your entire collection is hanging on nifty wall hangers?
The fact is, one day you’ll need to take a guitar to the shop for servicing, upgrades or repairs. Wrapping it in a bin liner just isn’t cool, so do yourself a favour and at least buy a cheap gigbag. They’re really not that expensive.
While we’re on the subject of wall hangers, which is better – a hanger or a case? Provided your guitar isn’t hung on the inside of an external wall, where it can be subject to condensation, then wall hangers are great.
Cases and bags do offer the additional advantage of protecting your guitar from sudden changes in temperature and humidity, though, so if that’s a problem where you live, then they’re probably a better bet. All that padding will not only cocoon your guitar from dings, it’ll insulate it too.
That said, a guitar on a stand or hanger is like an adorable puppy begging for a biscuit – it’s always pleading for your attention. A guitar in its case often stays in its case, which is why some players have their expensive guitars tucked away in their cases and a cheap ‘beater’ out on a stand ready for an impromptu jam. No matter if it gets knocked occasionally.
There’s only one type of guitar that doesn’t need a new case – the type that comes with a case from new. Top-end guitars will almost certainly ship with a hard case, and usually a pretty good one. Mid-range guitars, around the $1,000/£720 mark, may or may not, so remember to factor in the cost when choosing between brands. Entry-level guitars may come with a basic gigbag.
Just because your new guitar doesn’t need a new case or bag doesn’t mean you won’t want to buy one. Mid-range guitars are sometimes supplied with cases that are, quite frankly, a bit ‘budget’, so you may want to upgrade to something a little nicer with a bit more bling (or better protection). After all, the wrapping should hold promise for what’s inside, stoking excited anticipation at the prospect of flipping the catches and lifting the lid…
Hard case vs gigbag?
If it sounds like we believe the gigbag is a second-rate option, that’s really not – ahem – the case. Gigbags have significant advantages for some guitarists.
Basically guitar-shaped padded fabric holdalls, gigbags are light, typically inexpensive and pack down small. They’re perfect for occasional use, such as travelling to lessons or taking your guitar to the shop, and they can be easily stuffed in a wardrobe or under a bed when not in use. Somehow, in comparison, hard cases always seem to take up an inordinate amount of room.
They come in just a few different flavours – generally fat and capacious for acoustics, and thin and slender for electrics. Where most cases are model-specific, you can stuff almost any guitar into a gigbag. This is a good thing because it means you don’t have to keep shelling out on more and more cases or bags as your collection grows.
All come with carry handles, but many have rucksack-style straps too. This means you can throw them on your back to ease the burden, freeing up your hands to do more useful stuff like carrying your amp or cycling to your next gig. Word of warning – with an offset in your gigbag and your hands on the bar of a fixie, you’ll have the ultimate hipster ride. But don’t let that put you off.
A gigbag will stop the odd knock from ruining your guitar, but most won’t tolerate a proper kicking or a big drop. For these reasons, we don’t recommend shipping a guitar in a basic gigbag or entrusting it to airport baggage handlers.
Look out for other desirable features, such as pockets for picks and strings, and a lockable zip or closure. A decent gigbag should shrug off a light shower, but for serious weather you can buy a waterproof rain cover to fit over it.
It’s worth noting that not all gigbags are dirt-cheap, with some of the more fully featured models easily rivalling hard cases in both performance and cost. At this pricier end of the market, you would really need to tally up the pros and cons of each, before making a buying decision based on your circumstances and personal preferences.
A right proper hard case
A hard case offers the ultimate protection for your guitar. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside, they swaddle your instrument in a sea of plush, velvety loveliness. The advantages a case has over a gigbag are torsional strength and rigidity – it’s hard to fold a guitar in half in a hard case, though not impossible if you’re an aforementioned baggage handler.
Hard cases are designed to hold your guitar snugly so that it doesn’t rattle about too much or shed parts that really do look and sound better when left in place. In many cases (pun intended), specific versions are available for certain guitars or guitar types. Cases will often be marketed as suitable for, let’s say, S-type or T-type guitars, but occasionally you’ll need to precisely match your instrument with the right case to ensure the correct fit.
Guitar cases commonly come in two distinct shapes – an outline that looks like a chubby, featureless guitar (aka a contour case, a thermometer case, etc) or a large rectangle. Rectangular cases tend to offer more space for additional pockets and cubbyholes, which are useful for storing picks, strings, straps, slides and the sunglasses you’ve been searching for since last summer.
Hard cases have few downsides, but size is definitely one. Anyone with a small studio or practice room will confirm that it doesn’t take long to get quite literally boxed in with cases. They make great trip hazards, too. Sometimes, the humble gigbag is a better option.
Plastic vs plywood
Two methods of hard case manufacture dominate, utilising different materials. Old-school models are made from rugged plywood panels covered in Tolex or fabric, while more modern interpretations are moulded 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 travelling 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.
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. 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.
Should you buy a flight case instead?
For touring musicians who spend almost all of their time on the road or in the air, the hard case has a beefier cousin – the flight case. Usually pictured being manhandled by a burly roadie, these are like hard cases on steroids.
Metal-reinforced corners, sturdy aluminium bumpers running along every exposed edge, heavy-duty latches, custom foam interiors, swivel castors and plenty of space for ‘fragile’ stickers and air carrier stamps, they’re the daddy of all guitar cases. Often, they’re made to house half a dozen or so guitars, and will double up as the ultimate integrated guitar stand from which to show off your dazzling collection of hair metal axes.
They are, however – as your loved ones will no doubt remind you – overkill for the average three-bed family semi, and damn awkward to get up and down the stairs. For serious pros only.
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.