So I've spent the last two posts showing some of my gig bags and hybrid cases. If it's not pretty obvious or you missed me say it in one of those posts, I'd much rather use either of them than a traditional case if I feel like I have the option. When I was younger and much more of a snob in how I thought guitars should be treated and used, I would have laughed at anyone suggesting to use a gig bag because nothing beats a case, and a case should always be used. In the ensuing years, here's what I have learned.
Gig bags. No, they don't offer as much protection as a case. However, they're lighter, generally less expensive (maybe not some of the premium gig bags), and, if all I need to do is get the guitar from point A to point B, they tend to be more convenient. I still don't think I would get a low tier gig bag, but a medium tier (like that Gator Transit series) offers pretty good protection, lots of storage, and even has some add-on options that make it easy to carry extra gear if you need to. The premium tier gig bags offer a good bit more protection with those same options that you don't get with a case.
Hybrid Cases. These are still not going to offer as much protection as a good case, but they're going to give more than a gig bag. Remember, they're often just a case without the wood or molded plastic on the outside. From a weight perspective, they're not going to be that much more than a good gig bag, but they're going to be bulkier and more rigid. If you're traveling and want to carry a guitar, a gig bag will often take up slightly more space than the guitar, and you can squeeze it into whatever space is available. I can attest to being able to do that. Just shove that gig bag between the side of the car and the suitcases, and it'll fit. However, this one takes up enough space that you can't really just squeeze the guitar into your stuff. You'll have to budget space for one of these just like you would a suitcase or duffle bag. But it's a step up in protection and, with most having pockets on the outside, still gives some options that you don't have with a case.
Regular Cases. These are going to be the best protection, but they are also the heaviest of the three. They're also the most rigid when it comes to what you can do with them. No outside pockets, so, if it doesn't fit in the internal storage spot, you're carrying another bag. Bigger, heavier, (in most cases) more awkward, and, if you turn into someone's shin with a case, they're probably going to yelp in pain. However, I know someone that accidentally ran over the headstock of their guitar that was inside a case, and, while the case was crushed, they guitar survived unscathed. That's something that I'd wager isn't going to happen in a gig bag or even a hybrid case.
For me, the answer is pretty simple. Even when I am playing out on a pretty regular basis, I've never been in a position to have to do much more than carry my guitar across town (although "across town" may still be an hour and a half away). Also, I'm seldom in a situation where I'm not the one solely responsible for handling my gear. I pack it in, I pack it out, and no one is touching my gear except for me. Not that I wouldn't appreciate a good roadie sometimes, but the places I play everyone takes care of their own. All that to say, since I'm the only one handling my gear, I know that my guitar is not going to get tossed around places or roughly shoved around and other things like amps aren't going to be put on top of them. Because it's just me, the handling of my gear is going to be pretty controlled. I can get away with the lightweight and versatility of a gig bag. Even playing out, my electrics are all in gig bags.
For my acoustics that I play out, I do step up the game to a hybrid case. Still lightweight, but I've seen more bad things happen to acoustics than I have electrics, and the hybrid makes me think the vast majority of those things will be avoided. A little more bulk to the case means that it's got more padding, but it also means that those around me are going to be a little more aware that I'm carrying a guitar, and, hopefully, steer clear a bit.
Hard cases, for me, are reserved for when I fly with a guitar or am going to be in a situation where I think that extra protection might be needed. Oh, and also for that D-35 I've got that I've had for 30 years and couldn't replace if I wanted to.
That D-35 is also the guitar whose case is busted on the bottom edge because 30 years ago I was walking from work to band practice with it during the middle of winter. I decided to take a shortcut which took me through a little wooded stand where a creek ran through. I had jumped that creek a thousand times, but didn't think about the fact that it had just snowed and snow and ice were all over the ground. The creek only had a thin layer of ice on it. I got to the edge of the creek and jumped. My foot slid on the ice, and I realized mid-flight that I was only going to make it about half-way across the creek. As I went crashing through that thin ice into the freezing cold water, I instinctively held my guitar out so that it wouldn't end up in the water with me. It crashed onto the ice and bits of the roto-molded plastic (or whatever it's made from) went flying everywhere. Luckily the creek was only mid-calf deep, and I quickly jumped out. I realized then that, sometimes a case is the best option. As hard as my guitar hit that ice that day, I'm sure if I'd been using anything but a hard case, I would've had to find a luthier to repair the damage. But then a situation like I found myself that day was the exception and not the rule.
For me, gig bags whenever I can. Cases only when I have to.
Last week I talked about gig bags. This week, I'll show you a couple of polyfoam hybrid cases. When it comes to cases, I don't really need a road dog. I just need something that will keep a guitar in the closet and get it across town (or maybe across the country) without too much trouble. I prefer smaller and lighter. So, if I'm not using a gig bag, a polyfoam case will generally do.
Now, before I show you mine, I'll briefly describe some differences for you. A gig bag, is a bag, It might have some good padding, but it won't generally stand up on it's on (even on its side), and it would never be mistaken for a case. Some of them are even kind of floppy. After all, they're generally just foam padding inside a tough exterior. A case is generally molded or wooden. It's got some padding of some sort inside it to keep the instrument off the hard exterior. If you need a road dog, a case is usually the way to go. The polyfoam hybrid cases are a good in-between. They look like a case. They act like a case. But they're just the polyfoam that is often found inside a hard case, but without the case. Instead, it's put inside a tough canvas-ish cover. The exterior is pretty similar to what you would find on a backpack. Not the lightweight nylor backpacks, but rather one of those kind of old-school canvas packs. So it has the rigidity and stiff protection that a gig bag lacks, but, although it's rigid, it doesn't have the super tough exterior of a case. But that also means it's not nearly as heavy as a case. It's a nice in-between. I've got several of these cases. They work really well for acoustic guitars. Price-wise, I've found that they run around $100. That's about the price of a low-end hard case, but half the price of most premium gig bags.
Travelite Polyfoam Case. I just realized I didn't get a pic of this one, and it's far enough back in the closet I'm not digging cases back out again, so it's going to have to be pictureless. It's a beast of a case. Out of all the polyfoam cases I've got, this one is easily the most well made. It has my flamenco guitar in it. The flamenco guitar originally was in the case the dobro is in. When I got the dobro, I bought this case, and moved the flamenco over. So the guitars that go inside are the same size, but the difference in the case size is noticeable. This one is bigger all the way around. On the exterior, it has that same weird strap-handle system as the no-name case above. Like the Gator cases, it has a little cover for the zipper or to keep the case from falling open if you pick it up thinking it's close. This one is different, though, because it's an actual latch and not just a strip of velcro. It also has the same detachable backpack straps on it. Inside, it has that usual neck pocket, but this one you could park a Buick in. This is a behemoth of a case. It's huge! A classical/flamenco sized guitar is a small guitar in the overall scheme of acoustics, but this case is big enough it borders on being awkward. I would hate to see a dreadnought sized case like this one. That said, I absolutely love this case! I would trust this case in most any situation short of putting the guitar on a plane.
I'll just get this out up front. I really like gig bags. Truth is, unless there is a compelling reason to use a case, I'll grab a gig bag every time. Here are some of the ones that I've got along with a synopsis of each of them. I'll tell you which ones I use and which ones are only used as the closet keepers.
Fender Stock Gig Bags. I don't have a pic of one of these bags down below. It's the one that you used to get with some of the MIM instruments. I'm not sure they include them anymore. I'll tell you up front that, I guess you could use these as a real gig bag. They'll get your guitar to and from where you're playing so long as you're not banging it around. They offer some protection, but not a whole ton of it. There's a pocket on the front where you can stick a cable and book or something too. Clip-on back pack straps. I have (and use) several of these bags. They keep some of my Strats and Teles in the closet. If one of the guitars that I have stored in them decides to get played out, I move it to a better bag before I head out with it. From a price perspective, I'm pretty sure you could get one of these all day long for under $50.
Parker Stock Gig Bag. No pic of this one either. It's a bit more padded than the Fender stock bag. Outside of that, it's got an extra pocket on the outside that the Fender doesn't have, but feature-wise, they're pretty much the same. It keeps my Parker (P-44) in the closet, but I have also used it when I've traveled with that guitar. I trust it more than I would the Fender bags. Back when Parker was in business, they included this with all of their non-MIA guitars, and, if I remember correctly, you could buy one for around $80. Since Parker isn't making guitars anymore, I have no idea what they would cost if you went looking for one.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. He believes chocolate milk made from milk that is anything less than whole milk is basically water and deserves to be dumped down the sink so nobody has to suffer through it. He hates having to shop for clothes. But he has a thing for really cool bags, and, consequently, has more gig bags than guitars and a closet full of messenger bags and backpacks. He still misses his dog who was taken by cancer years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.