Every year around summertime we receive many calls from customers with a common concern: what is the best way to travel with your guitar? This year is no exception. Whether you are a touring musician or simply an enthusiastic hobbyist wishing to take the joys of your instrument with you on your travels, there are a few rules of thumb you can follow to ensure your guitar arrives safely with you at your destination.
Regardless of your method of travel, make sure you have a good hardshell impact-resistant case in which to carry your instrument. The case not only protects the instrument from scratches, direct hits, etc., but it also helps regulate sudden changes in temperature and humidity. Cases such as the HumiCase™ and the Double-Arch are both excellent choices and were designed for travel.
To complement this protection the use of a well-padded Case Cover is strongly recommended. It not only adds an extra layer of insulation, but also absorbs shock. In addition, case covers (such as the HumiCase Cover) usually have a shoulder strap that makes transportation more convenient.
Once you have acquired a good case and case cover, make sure all small items (humidifier pads, string packs, string winders, etc.) are either kept inside the case compartment, or carried separately. This will help you avoid the disappointment of finding scratches on your guitar caused by a fugitive string winder or case key.
Loosening the Strings?
Another common question is the matter of loosening the strings before flying. There are conflicting opinions regarding this. What can be said for sure is that it doesn’t hurt to do so. As temperature drops, guitar strings contract, increasing tension on the neck, bridge and soundboard. Slightly detuning the guitar may help compensate for this increase. If nothing else, decreasing string tension may help reduce the risk of damage should the case take a direct hit.
While we are all grateful for the increased security at our nation’s airports, traveling with a musical instrument has become a trickier venture than in the past. Since taking your instrument with you as a carry-on item is still the preferred choice, most people phone the airline in advance to ask if this is allowed. Although this may seem like a good idea, almost invariably the answer will be “no”. In the unlikely event they say “yes”, upon your arrival, the ticket agent, Airport Security , or even the cabin attendant may beg to differ.
Before becoming exasperated by all of this, try to remember that the airport and airline staff are simply doing their jobs: keeping you and other passengers safe while trying to accommodate individual needs. Airline agents are mostly concerned with the dimensions of the case, making sure it fits wherever it ends up. Airport Security, on the other hand, are more concerned with making sure the case’s contents conform to security guidelines. That being said, the best choice is to simply show up early at the airport with your guitar. If you are traveling within the U.S., try to take your guitar all the way to the boarding area BEFORE ASKING ANY QUESTIONS. At that point, one of two things are likely, both of which are good news:
1. Airport personnel will let you take your guitar on board as a carry-on, or
2. They will ask that you check it in as luggage. If this is the case, you can request that your guitar be hand-carried to the luggage compartment, and that it be hand-carried back to you when you reach your destination. If airline personnel agree (and they usually do if you are polite about it), the chances are your guitar will be on top of the rest of the luggage, and therefore safer than if it had been checked in at the ticket counter.
In the event you are not allowed to take your instrument all the way to the boarding area, you can tell them you would like to check with the airplane’s crew whether there is space for you to take it on board. If this does not work and they insist you check your guitar in as luggage, be sure to attach plenty of ‘FRAGILE’ stickers on it, and request to have it hand-carried on and off the plane. At that point all you can do is trust the impact-resistant hardshell case and case-cover you already acquired.
When flying outside the U.S., it may be necessary to show your guitar at the ticket counter. Often, carry-on items on international flights require a sticker provided to you at check-in. If asked to check the guitar in, tell the staff you would like to check with the airplane’s crew to see if there is space for you to take it on board. If you’re unlucky, you may need to check it in and again, trust to your hardshell case and case-cover.
Whatever your choice in boarding strategy, be sure to give yourself plenty of time before the flight.
Finally, if at all possible, acquire some type of insurance policy for your instrument. Different airlines have different regulations regarding this; but as a rule, when available, airline insurance policies are quite restrictive and change constantly. It is therefore advisable to purchase insurance through a separate insurance agency. This is particularly important if you own a high-end concert instrument, or a collectible piece.
For your convenience, here are two firms which provide musical instrument insurance:
Heritage Insurance Services, Inc.
Clarion Musical Instrument Insurance
Note: This is not an endorsement. GSI cannot be held responsible for business conducted with other companies.
These may seem like extreme lengths to go to for travel, but considering the value of your investment (both emotional and financial), we believe the effort to be well worth your while.
Have a safe trip!
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