Flying with a guitar can seem more daunting then it is. There are concerns when it comes to protecting your instrument and you do have to make some decisions in advance. The first thing that affects your decision is what kind of guitar you’ll be bringing. If you’re bringing a solid body electric your options are a little more simple because the size and shape of the guitar will be the easiest to deal with. Lets start there:
When I have the choice to decide on an electric for a tour I pick something thing that has certain criteria. For flying with a guitar that may be the following:
• Solid body
• Bolt on neck
• Fewest moving parts
• Easily repairable
From my collection that would be one of our 2 Tele’s. They’re basically a plank of wood with pickups and they sound amazing. On occasion I’ll also take a Stratocaster. Not quite as simple as it has a tremolo. I know not super complicated, but more moving parts.
I love Les Paul’s and Melody Makers but I rarely take one due to the angle of the headstock. Those things are fragile. Even if the guitar is in a gig bag it’s going to get knocked around a little bit. When flying with a guitar someone is going to try and stack their heavy book bag on top of your instrument. This is because “The Voice” never showed them what a real instrument aside from the mouth looks like. <zing>
This could potentially add stress to the neck. This is not a worry with a Tele/Strat style guitar. The Tele I usually take with me is an early ’52 issue with Voodoo pickups. It’s so stable it’s usually in tune when I pull it out of the bag at sound check. I’ve also been using flatwound strings and they have been very reliable on tuning.
Hollow Body Guitar:
This is where it starts to get more complicated for flying with a guitar . Because of the size of most semi hollow or hollow body guitars you’re going to have a more difficult time placing it in an overhead compartment. You’re two options are either to check when you arrive with luggage or you have or gate check it.
You can’t even think you’ll be able to carry on an acoustic unless its a baby Taylor or other small bodied guitar. Dreadnought sized guitars won’t fit. This means you’ll have to check it with luggage or gate check it. Acoustic guitars are very fragile. I don’t recomend using a gig bag
This your best option if you’re flying with a guitar that is big. You take your guitar through security and leave the guitar as you’re boarding the plane. You personally get to hand it over. You can even give a little skunk eye as you hand it over.
I do recommend having your guitar in a hard shell case though. Typically when you gate check something it gets handled a little more carefully then if its sent underneath with all other luggage but…… You still have to hope who ever is handling it didn’t flunk out of the Neanderthal School for Baggage Handlers. In general they treat it well. But, even if they treat it well they won’t handle it like you do. So when flying with a guitar always make sure you pack it so it can be dropped. Cause it will!!
This is where using gig bag instead of a hard shell case is a bad idea. Assume its going to get bumped around and have things stacked on it. You won’t need an ATA style flight case for gate checking, just make sure it’s a solid case.
Checking a guitar with Luggage
This is my least of favorite option unless I’m using an ATA style flight case. You’ll want a case that can handle Sumo wrestlers doing their best Jimmy “The Fly” Snuka.. They do make special Anvil ATA cases for this purpose. They will run you a few hundred dollars but are well worth the expense if flying with a guitar underneath the plane is your only option. This is where most instruments get damaged in transit. Have you ever watched them unload baggage from a plane? They toss the baggage to the cart!! The more fragile your guitar the more support you want.
They’re also more likely to open up your instrument and inspect while you’re not there. I’ve known many people that have gotten their instruments back broken and not placed back in the case properly. This does not happen every time, but pack your instrument for battle.
There are a lot of gig bags on the market. My personal criteria for buying a gig bag has been the following in regards to flying with a guitar :
• Padded well
• Small and not bulky
This led me to use Levys Bags. They are the most protective bags for the size. There are other bags that may protect just as well but are much more bulky. This makes placing a guitar in the overhead compartment more difficult. It’s difficult enough, why add more stress?
Storage in Gig bag
It seems like a great idea to have a lot of pockets on a gig bag. I know I like the ones that are on my Levys bag. Having storage for bouncing around to various gigs in NYC and flying with a guitar are 2 very different situations. It’s best not to overstuff your bag. Keep it simple. Place as much as you can in your suitcase. Some of the items I place in my suitcase are:
This not only makes it a little more simple going through security but lightens your bag. I often save the pockets in my gig bag to place carry on items in it like:
• iPhone and iPad chargers
• Granola bars
• Hand sanitizer
• Band aid
• Earplanes (special ear plugs for flying)
• A coupe of CDs and flyers for the band I’m touring with
The reason I do this is sometimes when flying with a guitar they’re going to hassle you about your carry on. If I have only 1 carry on I can argue with a little more momentum on my side.
Smile and Be Happy
Always remember that you have the chance to set the atmosphere for your environment. And the right attitude can make a difference when flying with a guitar !! More then you realize, your body language can say a lot before you speak. When approaching the plane and speaking to staff smile and say hello. Create small talk. If it turns out someone is having a bad day and unknowingly starts to take it out on you, it may be possible for you to turn it around.
Most of the time people are just doing their job. Some are more sticklers about it then others. If you’re kind you are much more likely to have an easier time. Always keep your cool. Raising your voice and being condescending is just going to make people more angry. In which case it going to make flying with a guitar infinitely more difficult.
If they are giving you a hard time explain why your instrument is valuable. Negotiate, don’t hit the nuke button. Who would you rather help a crabby jerk or someone kind?
Usually if you stand your ground you’ll get your wish with placing your instrument. Kind but firm is a good recipe.
There is a lot of talk about detuning when flying with guitars . I have never done this. Guitars are happiest if they keep the same tension. It may be a good idea to keep a Dampit humidifier in your case of you have an acoustic or semi acoustic guitar. Just in case where you’re flying it happens to be really dry.
Well, there you go. That’s what I’ve learned from all the National/International touring I’ve done. I hope that this will make your next flying with a guitar experience better!!
Find other tips from Guitar Lessons NYC