Buying a new case can be a daunting task.
Many student or intermediate violins, violas, cellos, and basses can be purchased as part of an outfit that includes a case that is usually consistent with the quality of the instrument; these cases generally offer very adequate protection and durability at an economical price.
If, however, you’ve come by an instrument that doesn’t have a case, you’re looking to upgrade your case for something more protective or if your current case is simply failing apart, the following notes may be of assistance – It is, after all, one of the most important accessories you can purchase for your stringed instrument.
The Shape: Perhaps the first factor to consider is the case shape that’ll work best for you. Violin and to a lesser degree viola cases come in a few shapes: oblong, ‘violin’ shaped, ‘D’ shaped or dart-style and most manufacturers will vary even these to a certain degree such as the BAM slim violin case. Violin Shaped and dart cases are usually very lightweight; these are often the cases that beginners and students choose. They’re usually available in fractional sizes and are easy on the wallet. Most makers such as BAM and GEWA are, however, now making more and more top-quality cases in the shaped version as musicians become more space and weight conscious.
Oblong cases, or rectangular cases, afford more room for accessories and are usually preferred by intermediate and advanced players. Although shaped cases tend to be lighter and easier to carry, you do have more room for accessories with an oblong case and often provision for more bows. The extra space is particularly relevant when considering how important it is to carry a shoulder rest with you.
Exterior Materials and Features: Cases today are made from a variety of materials, some are covered with a heavy-duty cordura canvas material, others are made of plastic or Carbonfiber and don’t have a covering. The canvas covering is a lightweight material which is scratch and tear resistant and provides decent protection against the elements. Carbon fibre is extremely hard wearing and also adds to the lightness of the case but tends to also add to the price.
Most cases nowadays have decent straps. Back straps are an important consideration, especially if you are going to be walking or cycling for miles. Oblong cases quite often will have a full length music pocket which may include an accessory organizer. If you travel by tube or public transport a lot, a subway handle (on the end for vertical carrying) can be very useful.
Closure or latch mechanisms vary depending on the case and there are distinct likes and dislikes about the different options – best to try them. Cordura covered cases often have a flap over the central catch to give an extra shield against the elements. Consideration – am I likely to be caught in the rain?
An important note about cello cases – some cello cases come with built-in wheels and you should decide whether this is an important feature for you: they can be handy in big colleges or airports. On the other hand bumping a case long a gravel drive can cause the cello harm so consider your needs carefully. Most cello cases would have decent back straps or you can purchase an extra such as the BAM backpack to attach to the case.
Construction: The type (or types) of material used in the skeletal, or hidden, construction of the case directly affects the weight of the case as well as the durability and protection the case provides. Commonly used shell materials include foam, styrofoam, cellular foam, plywood, styrofoam reinforced plywood, laminated wood, injected/molded foam, foam/plywood combination, and in some cello cases an AIRTEX cellular skeleton. Gewa have an aluminium bar running the full length to protect the cello while BAM boast their ultra-strong triple ply structure. Pedi steel shield have a unique steel film in the lid making the case extremely protective.
Interior Materials and Features: Instrument case interiors can range from simple and functional to having all the bells and whistles. Whatever your selection may be, it’s important that your instrument fits securely in the case as ultimately its about protection! This is generally not a problem since most instruments and cases are standard sizes; however, if your violin, viola, cello or base has atypical dimensions eg a wider or narrower bottom bout, it does limit the choice and best to seek advice. If you have a small cello in a full size case the fractional size pads help in keeping it from moving about.
Most cases would have neck restraints; a properly secured neck strap will protect the neck of the instrument and reduce movement during transit.
Violin and viola cases are often described as being suspension or non-suspension cases. Suspension cushioned cases have a raised shelf (or shelves) that suspends the back of the instrument approximately an inch off the bottom of the case. This can provide added protection and is often recommended for violins and violas with delicate varnish. Non-suspension cases often feature an injected foam cushion molded to the shape of the instrument. These cases have a snug fit that holds the instrument securely in place. Most violin and viola cases would have an instrument blanket.
Additional case features may include between two and four bow spinners (or holders), accessory compartments, hygrometers for humidity level monitoring, string storage tubes, and vapor bottles for increasing case humidity. One we would highlight is the hygrometer – if you do travel widely and it is likely you will be going from warm to cold to damp to dry conditions, it is advisable to have a built in hygrometer to keep a watch on the humidity.
This is a whistle stop tour of cases and clearly doesn’t cover every possibility of every case. At Caswells we have in excess of 200 cases in stock and nothing beats bringing your instrument along and trying it in a selection until it finds the perfect companion! Failing that, give us a call and we’re glad to be of help.