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Info on Instrument Cases

Aftermarket instrument cases are immensely popular with students these days, particularly with bulkier instruments like the saxophones. A new case can range from $25 to over $500, depending on the brand and the instrument, and it's surprising to see where some of the best deals are. There are also some definite dangers, so pay close attention.

Cases in General

THE BEST CASES FOR THE BEST PRICE, are probably the ones which come with the instrument. They universally feature a hard outer shell, reliable latches, and an interior fitted precisely the model of instrument that came in them. Perhaps the greatest of these is the Selmer/Bundy double-wall plastic case. These cases are light in weight, but are a little large due to their double-walled construction. They also have provisions for being carried by shoulder straps. They are comparable to similar cases that you see today for camera equipment, firearms, and power tools which must mantain their mechanical integrity in order to function.

CASES SHOULD NEVER LACK A HARD SHELL when used by students. Never. Soft cloth or leather 'gig bags' have destroyed many a good saxophone. No matter how much foam or air padding they might contain, they provide little protection when the instrument is dropped, and virtually no protection if the instrument is struck by a heavy object (like a big school book) or subject to bending forces by tight packing or shifting cargo. Gig bags are the equivalent of riveting a carring handle onto the instrument itself. Never let anyone talk you into getting one.

Clarinet Cases

Clarinet cases are generally compact anyway. Most aftermarket cases are purchased either to mimimize size, or to add the function of a briefcase. Many collegiate and professional clarinetists also own an "A" clarinet for orchestral work, and larger cases are fashioned which will accommodate both a B-flat and an A clarinet in the same case. That case may also have an internal compartment suitable for carrying sheet music, and generous space for small accessories. Outside of the most serious classical players, these cases are not that popular.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are users who are looking for the smallest and lightest case possible. I myself came into this situation while on tour and trying to meet the carry-on baggage rules for international flights. At one time, 'French' cases were in vogue. These were smooth, compact hardshell cases which had no handle of their own and which were carried inside a leather case cover. They are still very popular with flutists. Clarinetists looking for small, light cases should investigate those made by SKB and by ProTec. The SKB cases are very small, have a hard shell made of recycled plastic, and very cheap. They also have D-rings for attaching a shoulder strap. The ProTec cases are larger and more expensive, but still very light and compact. Beneath their nylon surface is a hard shell of plywood surrounding a generous amount of foam padding. Again, there are D-rings for the included shoulder strap. The biggest advantage are the two zippered accessory pockets, which can carry as many accessories as most briefcase models. I am thoroughly thrilled with my ProPac for clarinet.

Flute Cases

Flute cases are so compact to begin with, that there is seldom a reason to replace them. French cases are the preference of professionals, and these might be carried inside a larger bag which also accommodates sheet music. SKB and ProTec also make light compact models that take shoulder straps. Some players might want to double case to fit a flute and a piccolo, but most employ the carry bags for this purpose.

Saxophone Cases

The biggest users of aftermarket cases are, by far, saxophonists. The instruments are admittedly bulky, but they also convey an image of hipness, and no alto saxophone player wants his case mistaken for a trumpet case. For this reason, there is a proliferation of soft 'gig bags' and hardshell flight cases.

Gig Bags: Don't get one...ever! They provide no protection to speak of, and there are better alternatives. Most folks agree that the best of these are the leather bags by Reunion Blues. Even so, how many cameras, power tools or hunting rifles do you see carried in soft leather bags these days? Most are in double-walled plastic cases at minumum.

Flight Cases: These vary widely in cost and quality. They feature a hard shell with internal foam padding, D-rings for shoulder straps, and--most importantly--a shape that tells the world you're carrying a saxophone. They are compact and convenient, but lack the total protection of a full size case. As their name implies, they are a minumum size/minimum weight design intended for air travel. On the down side, there is almost no storage space. Often, the neck, mouthpiece, reeds and strap have to be carried inside the bell of the saxophone. This is a very tight fit with alto saxes. Also, not all cases fit all brands of instruments. Quality varies also.

The best of these are probably the Walt Johnson cases, employing kevlar fibers, piano hinges, double handles, and military style latches. You can spend over $250 on one of these cases for an alto sax, and then another $100 on a case cover. These are overkill for many professionals, let alone students. Ditto for Winter flight cases. SKB makes two grades of flight cases for alto and tenor saxophones. I recommend the higher grade (models 440 & 450). They have better hardware and more accessory space than the cheaper models 140/150. The cheaper SKB's also have the unfortunate habit of getting unlatched when the shoulder strap slides around. ProTec also makes padded hardshell cases, and these are also in the price range more appropriate for students. What's the big difference? It depends on what you're going to do. If you play tenor or bari sax, and must fly overseas, you want a really first-rate case that can go through rough handling in checked baggage. When I took my tenor overseas in an SKB-150 case, it had to be checked at the last minute, and it came off the carousel in Ireland with two of the three latches undone. I did fine, however, overseas with an SKB-140 alto case because it was small enough to carry onboard with me.

Tray Packs:  These are sax cases which also contain smaller cases for a clarinet and a flute. They are very popular with doublers, and are very protective. They are most convenient if you always play the same size saxophone. Because I play different size saxophones, I prefer separate cases (all with shoulder straps) for my own commuting. Another thing that I don't like about tray packs is that the clarinet case is removable but the flute is not. It's usually stored in a compartment beneath the clarinet case. Remove the clarinet case and the flute is not secure. If your situation is consistent, a tray pack is for you. If your situation constantly changes, then separate cases are the way to go.

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