Ok… you’re headed to the other side of the country, or… out of the country, and you really want to bring your cherished (possibly expensive) acoustic guitar with you.  The logical question to ask is, “How am I going to get my guitar to its final destination in one piece?”

Best Option: Buy a hard shell case and prepare to be “Checked.”

Since, you are not always guaranteed to keep the guitar with you during the flight, but are (with most airlines) able to check your guitar (eeerrr), the number one, best thing to do would be to invest in a good, solid hard shell case.  Most guitar manufacturers that provide hard shell cases for their guitars usually provide cases that should survive the baggage handler and “below deck” environment of the airplane. 

Loosen the strings and pack it up tight

In the unfortunate event that you have to check your guitar underneath the plane, make sure you loosen all of the strings.  Doing this will help to prevent the neck from possibly snapping due to the pressure changes that will take place in flight. 

Also, having your instrument in it’s hard shell case is great, but it’s also a good idea to add more protection by surrounding the instrument with more padding in the form t-shirts, socks….whatever soft material you can find to help keep the guitar from moving around inside the case.

Go for the “Xtreme” case option

There are other options for cases such as, Case Xtreme.  This company states that they are “The Only Guitar Case Company that has never heard of a guitar being damaged in one their cases in 17 plus years!”  They have a variety of options that include putting your existing gig bag, or hard shell case inside one of their cases doubling the protection – and / or getting a custom fit that includes a ton of foam protection.  If you have a few extra minutes, you can view their “Jump Test” and “Roof Toss” videos that demonstrates the level of protection their cases provide.  Yep, they actually toss an acoustic guitar (that’s incased in one their cases) off the roof of a house, then open it up and start playing like nothing ever happened.  They’re a little costly, but probably well worth the added piece of mind if you travel a great deal by air.

Consider buying a Travel-Size Guitar

Thanks to an article at Truefire.com I came across a few other options for guitar players who travel a lot.  These options offer smaller guitars that can still be played normally (for the most part) by have stripped away the extra weight and size dimensions.

air-travel-with-acoustic-guitar

First off, you have the Traveler Guitars, which comes in all shapes and sizes with the main idea being to provide guitar players with the means to take their guitar with them where ever they go, including on a plane.  Some are bigger than others, but they certainly make ones that can pass as carry-on luggage.  Take the Traveler Guitar Electric Ultra-Light Acoustic – Natural Maple, for instance… It’s only 28 inches long and 5.25 inches wide (and costs only $300).

Secondly, there’s the Voyage Air… This thing folds in half and fits into the provided backpack for easier carrying.  The neck folds on top of the body of the guitar with the strings still attached.  There’s a screw (that could serve as an alternate strap button – maybe) on the neck that is utilized for attaching a detaching it to the guitar.  All the moving parts, hinges and such, are located inside the neck and body, not noticeable when it’s ready for playing.

It may be more compact, but I have flown on smaller commuter planes, eight passenger Cessna’s and such that make you check every bag.  Also, if you fly enough, you know that on regular full-size Boeing 747’s can still ask at a certain point during the loading of the plane, for people to start checking their larger carry-ons.  It’s possible that this backpack could be considered “larger.”  But still, an ingenious idea come to life and well worth investigating.

And thirdly, there’s the First Act 30” children’s guitar.  Since it’s sized for kids to begin playing on, this makes it perfect for the traveling adult musician as well.  Even comes with a few accessories like guitar chord “cheat sheets,” or cards in-case you need a quick reference.

Just do a quick search at any of your favorite online musical instrument retailers and you’ll plenty of options for travel size, or mini, guitars:

Granted, your playing style will have to change a bit and you will not be playing your favorite, go-to acoustic guitar, but hey… you’re probably not having to worry about arguing with the flight attendant about keeping your guitar with you either…

You can always opt for taking a ukulele or mandolin on the road

Depending upon the reason for your travels, you could always take a break from the guitar and practice a little mandolin or ukulele.  Everyone needs a break at some point.  Besides, sometimes playing another related instrument could give you some inspiration for new music.  Especially, if you really get engrossed into it for a while.  If all you are normally hearing is guitar, guitar, guitar… then perhaps some time spent on another instrument could serve as an “idea generator.”  Who knows…

If it’s that important just ship the guitar

If you really have to have your acoustic guitar with you at your final destination and you have planned it all out properly, maybe you could just ship the guitar to wherever you’re going.  Of course, almost the same amount of worry will probably be involved here as well. 

I’ve sold guitars on eBay and have always worried about them getting to the buyer in good condition, but evidentially they all have because no one has given me a bad review… not yet anyway… So shipping it might be a good solution, especially if you’re going to be there for an extended period of time.

Just call the airline ahead of time

It can never hurt to just call the airline yourself and ask them what your options are.  Make sure you have the weight and dimensions of your guitar available when you call.  Also give them some travel-size guitar scenarios just to see they think those might work.

I’ve primarily “dealt” with Delta and American Airlines and although I have yet to travel with my guitar myself, I have witnessed many others in the past having their (what appeared to be an) acoustic guitar (even what looked like a cello) stored in the coat storage closet.

I’m only investigating these travel options now because in the near future I may attempt traveling with my guitar (……… NOT one of my favorites ……….Not ready for that yet………).  Or, I may purchase a travel guitar of some sort.  Whatever I decide, I will be sure to update this article with my personal experiences and photos of where the guitar wound up (with me, or underneath)… It will be few months from the publishing of this article before I will be flying again – can’t promise anything, but I’m really going to consider it because I’m finding more-and-more that I wish I had my guitar (any guitar) with me when I’m traveling…

(The Law Says…) FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012

All of this being said… Thanks to GuitarWorld.com, I came across of bit useful information on the legalities of traveling by air with musical instruments.  Their article made me aware of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that states in Sec. 403 (perform a: ctrl f “guitar” – it’s a long document) that “An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage, if—“ and then in goes on to state the particulars.

Gibson-Acoustic-Going-Abroad

I left this bit for the end because I see a few potentials problems after reading the pertinent parts of this act. 

  • One, are all of the airlines even working under the guidelines of this act?  I.E. is everyone involved even fully aware of this act and its provisions?  Or are they unknowingly forcing people to give up certain items that do not have to be given up?
  • And Two, there are a couple of statements (read for yourself if you so desire) that still kind of leave the decision to allow for your guitar to come onboard in the cabin up to the attendant or administrator.   

In the end, you can either carry a copy of this act with you when you fly ready to refer to it if you are denied the ability to keep your guitar with you possibly having to argue your case with the attendant, or … show up for your flight prepared to check your guitar with the rest of the check baggage.

Just be as polite as possible.  Remember, those flight attendants are dealing with hundreds-to-thousands of people every day and (most) are just trying to get everyone safely onboard their flight in-time for take-off.  Some mutual respect could possibly go a long way.  You’re trying to get your guitar onboard, others are trying to get wheel chairs, and who knows what else onboard as well. 

Buy another one

Of course, if you have so much money that you don’t know what to do with it all… just buy another one when you get to where you’re going (and donate it to me afterwards – that would be awesome)… and ship it home before you leave.

Ok, I don’t have that kind of money (or anywhere close even), but I did “give away” a guitar to fellow Soldier in the United States Army while I was in Iraq in 2005.  Yes, believe it or not, there were times (depending upon your assignment and where you are in Iraq) that you could play a little guitar.  

This guitar was one that I had purchased from Musician’s Friend, a Fender Stratocaster Squire (reminded me of my first guitar that I wished I had kept) that had cost only $150 at the time.  I was leaving Iraq and this guy still had a few months left to go and had expressed an interest in learning the guitar.  So I gave it to him when I left.

This act served two different types of purposes to be honest – A charitable one and a selfish one.  On the one hand, it felt good giving him the guitar (which he appropriately tried not to accept it) and on the other hand, I didn’t have to worry about another piece of luggage (or gear) that I had to be accountable for.

I haven’t been in touch with him much since because both of us wound up transferring to other duty stations, but hopefully it served him well even it was just for a short while.

In conclusion

So, there are options for traveling by air with your guitar (acoustic or electric).  First, just ask yourself how important is it for you to have access to that particular guitar while traveling.  If you must have it available, then start doing a little planning by calling the airline, preparing your guitar for travel with a detailed inspection of your case, etc. … If you just need “some” kind of guitar with you, buy a travel-size, or mini, guitar…

I hope to soon try both, traveling with a regular size guitar, and buying and traveling with a smaller (meant for travel) guitar.  As with a anything else, I’ll need to view some more of the travel guitars on YouTube in-order-to make a better decision, but I am really interested in just owning one, just because…

Hope this helps,

Stephen Ruppe

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