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The Case of the Cautionary Tale

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Instrument cases.


Cautionary tale #1


On picking up a guitar from the luthier, he pointed out that the tip of my guitar’s headstock was resting on the base of the case. In other words it was not being supported by the neck as it should be. He warned me that he had seen a lot of broken necks due to poorly fitting hard cases and that a heavy shunt or two could do that. He actually told me that a gig-bag was safer.


He was referring to the old Fender case that I’ve been using for more than 40 years. I used to keep a Strat in there, but for the last 17 years or so it’s been home to a Jackson guitar.

It has been fine, even though it’s had the odd tumble to & from gigs. This usually happens when making an emergency stop with a vehicle loaded with band gear. But I heeded his warning and did something about it.


There is a neck support ridge in the case but it was only good for the zero relief type of Fender headstock. The Jackson headstock has a backward tilt angle of about 10 degrees & that’s why it was touching bottom.


When I got home, I measured the gap in the case where the neck ridge was. I then got hold of some spare pipe lagging and cut it in half lengthwise and wedged it over the ridge & between the sides. I used a bread knife. Pipe lagging has plenty of give, so it’s easy to make an interference fit.


It fit the case well and needed no further adjustment. Lastly I placed the Jackson back in the case and the mod supported the neck nicely. I checked to see if the body was still supported properly (not just resting on the strap pin part). The job took about 5 minutes in all. It didn’t look very pretty but it was now functioning as it should.


Lesson : Understand how the case should support & protect the instrument. If it doesn’t, change it.

Cautionary tale #2


Later, when buying another guitar, the salesman told me that it ‘comes with its own case’. He also said that he could make a reduction if I didn’t want the case. Thinking that the case was made for the guitar I opted to take the case. When I got home I realised that the case was actually a generic 3rd party one. It also didn’t fit properly. The neck ridge did keep the headstock off the bottom but it didn’t hold the neck in place. When the case was picked up by the carry handle, the neck slid down out of the slot and the whole guitar rotated inside the case.

Obviously it only stopped when the headstock impacted on the side. The case was also too long and the guitar slid freely backwards and forwards as well.

Lesson: Always check the case yourself and do so thoroughly.

Cautionary tale #3


I needed a new guitar case. I called the shop that supplied the guitar. The assistant tried another guitar like mine in some cases and got back me. His e-mail gave me the make & model of the case. He said it was a ‘snug’ fit.

A couple of weeks later I was ready to go & fetch the case.


I called to check with them first. Another assistant re-checked the case and he reported that despite the snug fit, it was too deep for my guitar. He had looked at the case more thoroughly and saved me a wasted trip.

With this situation several things could have gone wrong.


Had they sent it mail order, & I would had a bad fit case.

I could have visited the shop without the guitar and brought home the bad fit case.


Lesson learned: Check every aspect of the fit, including the depth. Always take your guitar along.


In Conclusion:

If you are buying a third party case, you need to be very sure it’s going to be fit for purpose.

The guitar should have no free movement along length, width & depth. The body should lay flat and the neck should be supported.


When checking a case in a shop, place the guitar into the case yourself and do the following:


Check the neck is supported and that the head stock is isolated. Feel underneath the headstock. There should be a gap.


The neck should be held firmly in place with the case closed. With the guitar inside, pick up the case by the carry handle and make sure it doesn’t slide out of position.


There should be no forward or sideways movement (length & width).


Depth (thickness) fit. If the case is too small you will not be easily able to close the lid. Do not force it, especially with an acoustic guitar inside. To ensure it’s not too big, close the lid and do up all the clasps. Pick up the case and place it upright on the floor (lower bout on ground and head pointing upward) and tilt it forwards carefully. Does the headstock fall forward into the lid?




If you have a case that doesn’t fit your guitar properly. You may be able to modify it. I was lucky with the pipe lagging solution. It usually isn’t that simple.


Foam and/or polystyrene can be cut to shape & used to fill gaps in the case. This is usually a temporary solution, as those ‘bits’ will get lost in time.


Polystyrene (EPS) can be cut with hot wire cutters without risk of producing noxious gases. It can also be cut (with care) using a serrated knife making a sawing action.

Foam (spongy type) can be awkward to cut. Do not risk using hot wire cutters on this stuff. The best thing to use is an electric carving knife (yes, the sort you carve the roast turkey with). Check out Youtube vids of Pelican gun cases. The interior foam is cut to shape using this method.


You could also strip out your flight case and use large sheets of foam as per the Pelican case example. Before you do, make sure your case is sturdy enough. The interior may be braced with some of the parts you strip out. Try to flex the lid and the base by holding them by diagonal corners and carefully bending them. If they flex too easily it might not be up to the job at all.


If you use the foam ‘bit n pieces’ modification. Consider taping the parts together and covering them in a suitable fabric. Sewing is a skillset most of us don’t have. You could staple the fabric, but you must do this with the covering inside out. Do not allow staples to come into contact with your nice shiny guitar.


If you don’t care what it looks like, just use lots of gaffa tape.


Finally. There are some very cheap hard cases out there. If you are gigging the guitar, they may not be good enough.


Hiscox cases are expensive, but are a very good build standard. Check these out even if you don’t buy one. It will give you some idea of what you to aim for.


I’m not even going to get into the business of sending the instrument as freight. Don’t do it. If you really must, get properly insured first. And if you got religion, pray.

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