Our head technician, Cal, discusses the most common way instruments get damaged. The best case for your instrument means you spend less in the long-term scenario.
The Best Case Scenario for Your Instrument
As an instrument repairer, the most common reason I see damaged instruments coming across my bench needing work is because they are in an incorrectly fitting case – this is not the Best Case Scenario.
You don’t even need to drop your instrument (even inside your case) to bend keywork and cause a misalignment of the mechanics of the instrument. A case that does not fit your instrument correctly can cause damage and bending to your treasured instrument just in regular use.
A poorly fitting case can be a problem in two ways:
- Too loose – this allows your instrument to move around inside it
- Too tight – this applies undue pressure on the instrument in places that aren’t good for it.
There is a quick and easy way to tell if your case is too loose. Close the case and gently (very, very gently) shake it. If you can hear or feel the instrument moving inside, this case is NOT the right one. When you transport your instrument normally in this type of case, your instrument moves around; just as it did when you shook it. Not just the instrument, but the other contents of the case move around also, these can dent or scratch things (including destroying your favourite mouthpiece – if it is not in a good pouch).All this can result in bent keys and posts and even a mildly banana shaped body; which can be a very expensive problem to fix.
If the case doesn’t rattle at all, you should also check where the instrument is resting inside the case and on which parts of the instrument pressure is being applied.
As a general rule, if the instrument is resting primarily on any of the “sticking out” keys (eg. Low Bb/C#/B/G# table or palm keys on a sax) it is an incorrect fit. Plus, if there is pressure on the top half of the body that pushes it sideways this is likely to cause the mechanism to bend.
Believe it or not, even the original manufacturer’s case may not be the best or most suited case for your instrument. And don’t forget that cases can also wear. The mouldings might compress or become damaged over time thus reducing their effectiveness.
Case MaintenanceOnce you've found the perfect case you need to look after it too! Remember to clean out your instrument case. Empty it out completely, get all those odds and ends out. Small items that seem harmless can bounce around inside the case during transport and scrape and dent the instrument or even prevent it from playing (like that $2 coin left over from busing that is now firmly lodged down the bell of a trumpet…). Discard all old reeds, packaging and any other rubbish. Try to only keep the accessories that are relevant and regularly used in the case. Many cases have external pockets, this is usually a better place for accessories.
Don't let your cat or dog use your case as a bed (or a toilet!). I know it seems like this should go without saying, but... We regularly see cases full of pet hair, this can get inside your instrument and interfere with airflow, cause brass instruments to bind up or woodwind instruments to leaks as they stick to the pads.Give the case a vacuum and deodorise if necessary. Often just leaving the case open in the sun for a couple of hours can really help to freshen it up. This will help prevent mould growth and insect infestation.
Never underestimate the value of a good case in transporting your instrument as well, combined with key clamps where applicable, traveling with your instrument in a high-quality, correct fitting case can mean the difference between your instrument arriving in perfect condition or barely playing. Many cases are also designed for specific purposes and should be taken into consideration as to what will suit your use best. An example of this is the Bam Cabine case range that is made for fit carry on limits in planes.
Investing in the right case could save you HUNDREDS of dollars in the mid-term. This is your instrument’s best case scenario. Even with the perfect fitting case it won't make any difference if you don't make sure you close the case before picking it up. Every year we see a couple of instruments that have experienced flight because the owners forgot to latch or zip up the case before going to carry it away. This can be easier to do than it sounds. A tip we like is to always have the lid open if the case is open. If you close the lid, zip or latch it straight away.
If you are at all unsure about the suitability of your case it is best to ask a technician to have a quick look for you. Remember, when buying a new case, take your horn along and check!