Chatter: Nicky Garrat - Beat Airling Baggage Restrictions

WHAT’S THE RANGE ON A fretless bass?
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WHAT’S THE RANGE ON A fretless bass?

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About 10 yards with a good wind up.

Not such a funny joke, however, when you watch the baggage handlers at an airport. What precautions can you take to ensure your precious guitar arrives safely in Frankfurt or São Paulo? Ruling out buying a seat for your Les Paul, you are left with carrying on a soft gig bag, or investing in a flight case.

Checking in your flight-cased guitar typically means you must cram your personal items into a small carry-on case, or pay for a second checked bag—which, if the tour involves multiple flights, can cost you more than the guitar is worth. Going the carry-on route can be a gamble, because if you show up with a soft case and are told you cannot carry on the guitar, you are in trouble. You do not want to check the instrument without adequate protection.

My solution, while not perfect, has worked very well for me over the years. I converted a couple of SKB keyboard cases to hold two guitars. The dimensions and weight are within airline requirements, and I can take a couple of guitars, a small carry-on case of clothes, and a computer bag on international flights without incurring additional luggage charges.

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Here’s how I modified the keyboard road cases.

First, I removed the fitted foam that holds the keyboard snugly. Then, I fashioned a modular system where 2" thick foam is cut out (using a common utility knife) in the shape of the average guitar neck, with a couple of small storage areas added to the side. This foam section is glued into place (just like the original foam). For the body end, however, I cut two foam pieces that are removable, so that the case can accommodate a Fender Stratocaster or one of my Ovation Breadwinners. I simply cut out the body contour of each guitar, and then glue the foam to a thin plastic sheet so that it remains firm. Of course, if you use only one shape of guitar, this approach is unnecessary.

Because I often want another guitar with me on tour, I cut out another foam insert so that I can fit two guitars within the keyboard case. Then, a “center pad” fashioned from thin plywood— with ¼" foam sprayglued to each side—is cut to fit the entire inside dimensions of the case. I simply drop the guitar into the bottom foam insert, lay the center pad on top of it, and then put the second section of foam on top of the center pad to hold guitar number two. Now, I have a durable case (with wheels!) for two guitars throughout the whole tour. The first keyboard case I converted has been around the world several times, and to Europe a dozen times. There’s even sufficient weight left in these cases that I can slip in a couple of jars of Marmite when returning from Great Britain (I’m English— what can I say?).

There are a couple of other strategies you might want to consider. I used to buy a guitar at my destination—particularly in Australia and New Zealand— and then sell it at the end of the tour. Frankly, that was a hassle. A better idea comes from a friend of mine. He simply unbolts the necks of his Fenders and packs them in a conventional suitcase.