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Get on the Case: Hard Shell vs Gig Bag

Whenever buying a guitar or bass, it's important to consider storage when not in use. While an instrument stand can be a good place to set it down for brief periods, it's not really an ideal long-term storage solution, and doesn't protect the instrument during transport. Specialized ATA-style flight cases are great for touring musicians, but are overkill for someone who is just starting to play. Cheap chipboard cases have largely become a thing of the past. That leaves two broad categories of instrument storage and protection solutions–gig bags and hard shell cases. Let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Gig Bags and Soft Cases
While the exteriors of soft cases may look similar to a regular gig bag, they usually have significantly more padding; some even offer cloth-covered rigid foam inserts and padding levels that rival hard shell cases. The better the padding, the more protection the bag will provide. As for the exteriors, the bags are usually made of a tough fabric material such as nylon, Cordura, or leather. While they won't protect your instrument from being crushed, they offer protection from scratches, minor bumps and dings, sunlight and dust, and to a degree, rain, snow and temperature extremes.

Soft cases and gig bags have a couple advantages over hard shell cases. They tend to be lighter and easier to carry; in fact, many have built-in straps so you can wear the instrument like a backpack, which frees up your hands for other things. Many also have more built-in storage for accessories and cables than hard shell cases do. They also tend to be less expensive than hard cases, but remember, you get what you pay for; some of the nicer bags can cost as much as some hard cases do.

Hard Shell Cases
The design of hard shell cases can vary, from the materials used for the hard outer shell to the level of padding and protection they provide inside. Many are made of plywood and covered with vinyl, or some other durable fabric. Others use an external shell made from fiberglass or polypropylene plastic. The heavier the shell material and structure of the case, the better protection your instrument will have from things that can break, bruise, ding or crush it, and increased protection from this kind of significant damage is the biggest advantage of a well-designed hard shell case. Of course, the downside is that the heavier it's built, the more it's likely to weigh.

Many hard shell cases have interiors that are filled with fabric or felt-covered EPS foam, with form-fitting molded recesses shaped into it to fit the instrument the case was designed for. This holds the instrument more securely than many gig bags do, and does a better job at preventing the instrument from shifting around inside (and potentially being damaged) during travel.

Hard shell cases tend to be heavier than gig bags and usually cost more, but they are generally your best choice for maximum protection.

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