Once upon a time, travelling with a guitar was a relatively straightforward process.
Regardless of your mode of transport, your guitar would pass as carry-on luggage. You could cosset it and care for it in whatever way felt right for you; no need to worry about luggage wreckers handlers doing their thing, or adverse conditions in the hold.
Now, however, things aren’t quite so simple. The travel industry has a different dynamic. With security precautions, limited space and ever-increasing prices, we’ve all had to get used to a new world-order… Which for anyone who’s even remotely serious about their guitar can only mean one thing: palpitations.
As frustrating as all this can seem, it needn’t be a deterrent from travelling with your guitar. It’s just a case of doing things differently.
1. Pack it tight and loosen up
One of the major issues of travelling with your guitar is that it’s a delicate instrument. It doesn’t take much to crack the guitar body or break its elegant neck, so packing well is essential. Investing in a good, sturdy case is an obvious starting point, but you need to go further. Tuck it into bed with extra padding – t-shirts, socks and pants will do the job without taking you over your luggage allowance. In packing all the nooks you’re reducing movement, which means there’s less room for damage if it’s not handled with care. Equally important is loosening the strings, especially if you’re flying. Changes in air pressure can seriously tighten your strings, creating enough strain to snap the instrument’s neck.
2. Prepare for your destination
Wooden guitars hate humidity. But they also don’t like it when the air is too dry. Too wet and it will swell. Too dry and it will crack. Neither is good news. And that’s before you get to glue failure, warping, shrinking frets and tuning problems. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take your guitar anywhere with a climate different to your home country, but you do need to research and be prepared. Mini de/humidifiers and moisture packets can save a lot of heart ache. Strategic use of air-con can help. A travel hygro-thermometer will let you know when things are right and when you should take care. And following on…
3. Think of Goldilocks
Guitars like everything to be ‘just right’, so try to protect it from extremes. If you’re on the road, don’t leave it in a hot car. The glue can melt, leaving the taut strings to pull the bridge out of place. If it’s too cold, the components can expand and contract at different rates, leading to separation. Don’t leave it in direct sunlight or in a draught, to prevent the wood and strings from drying out. Aim for the middle ground and keep old Goldie happy.
4. Buy a travel guitar
Travel guitars used to be slightly laughable novelties. No self-respecting muso would own one, other than maybe as a joke. But then people started realising that having a guitar which could easily travel was actually quite a good idea.
We think of Snap Dragon guitars as artisan. A huge amount of craftsmanship has gone into producing instruments that sound as good as traditional full-size models. Pros use them without flinching. They provide an alternative to traditional instruments and can easily make it through as hand luggage in all but the smallest of aircraft, providing flexibility and practicality.
5. Be polite, stay calm and play dumb
Of course, the best way to make sure that your guitar stays safe while travelling is to keep it with you. And for that to happen, you need to turn on the charm. Some airlines simply have a no-go policy. Others rely on attendant discretion. So, research first. In the latter scenario, the nicer you are, the better your chances. Explain that you’re happy for the guitar to be stored anywhere in the cabin. Explain why you need it there – with a smile. Don’t lose your cool if someone says ‘no’. And fall back on ‘they said it was OK at the check-in desk’. Boarding early and hiding your guitar behind other passenger’s hand luggage can also help!