Gig Bag vs. Hard Case for Guitar: Which is Better?

Updated on August 27, 2019
Guitar Gopher profile image

Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

My Les Paul, tucked safely in its case.
My Les Paul, tucked safely in its case.

Gig Bag or Hard Case?

Your shiny new guitar won’t stay shiny for long if you don’t protect it. You need some kind of case to lug it around, and to store it in when it is not in use. A good case not only saves it from damage, but helps you keep everything that belongs with the guitar organized in one place.

There are a few different options out there, and if you are wondering whether a gig bag or a hardshell case is the best choice this article will help clear things up. However, this is one of those questions where the right answer depends on your situation.

In this article we’ll take a look at the advantages of both the gig bag and hard case and where they are best used. From there, you ought to get a good picture of which is right for you.

In fact, some guitar players like to have one of each for their guitars: A hardshell case for long-term storage and transport, and a gig bag for shorter trips where they are reasonably certain nothing bad is going to happen.

It’s up to you to make the right choice to protect your beloved guitar! Here are some things to think about:

Advantages of a Gig Bag

I have most of my guitars and basses in gig bags these days. They are stacked neatly and safely in a closet when not in use. Barring a natural disaster where the whole house topples, there is no way anything bad is going to happen to them.

I made the choice to switch to gig bags for a few reasons. First, and most importantly, they provide the simplest way to protect my instruments, because my guitars are never put in a situation where they can be jarred about or banged up anymore. They sit in the closet peacefully, and a good padded gig bag provides all the protection they need to prevent scratches and dings.

The second important advantage of a gig bag is saving space. If all of my guitars were in cases they would take up the entire closet instead of one section of it. They would be heavy, and sorting through them to find the guitar I want would be a huge hassle.

When you choose a gig bag there are two major benefits: You have a light suit of armor for your guitar to prevent damage, and you have the ease of a lightweight, space-saving package.

If you are the kind of guitar player who rarely takes their instrument out of the house, or, when you do, you know you will be storing and transporting it in a safe way, a gig bag is perfect for your needs. For example, guitar players in small bands who load their own gear and can make sure their guitars are safely stowed might choose the ease of a gig bag over a hard case.

If you do choose a gig bag, do not go with a cheap model. Inexpensive gig bags often provide little more protection than hanging a t-shirt over your guitar. Get a good one with thick padding. Another added advantage is that gig bags generally have more storage space for your strap, picks, tools or whatever, so watch for some smart options there as well.

I've used Fender gig bags for a long while. All of my Strats are in Fender bags, plus my Talon. I've had the bass version as well and it was just as good as the guitar model. The style has changed a little from year to year and the current version has a few upgrades I really like, such as the rubberized bumpers on the bottom.

However, my Les Paul is not in a gig bag. I wanted a little more protection, but I also wanted something light weight. A soft case was the perfect solution.

Gig bags and soft cases offer light-weight protection for your guitar.
Gig bags and soft cases offer light-weight protection for your guitar.

Soft Cases

Some gig bags walk the line between a gig bag and hard case. Sometimes called soft cases, they have the rigid protection of a hardshell, with the hard outer layer replaced with the fabric material of a gig bag.

These cases are lighter than a traditional hard case, and provide much more protection than a typical gig bag. If you are on the fence between a gig bag and a hard case, this may be the right option for you.

For example: When I bought my new Les Paul last year it came with a very nice Gibson gig bag. However, I wasn't quite comfortable with it, because unlike a Strat the Les Paul headstock has a tilt to it. I figured if the bag ever fell backward the shock alone might be enough to snap the headstock. What a nightmare!

I opted to go with an SKB Soft Case. It's lighter and less bulky than a hard case, and I know it will take much more abuse than a gig bag. The inside is nice and plush like a hardshell case and my Les Paul fits perfectly. SKB is a brand I've used in the past for guitar and rack cases, and I've always been very happy with them.

When a Hard Case is Better

A gig bag is not always a good replacement for a hard case. It is a different case for different circumstances, and there are definitely some situations where a hard case is preferred. Back when I played in bands and needed to transport my gear in the backs of vans and trucks packed with 4x12 cabinets and PA gear, I chose hardshell cases for my guitars.

Even though we were careful to stow the instruments in a way that they wouldn’t be damaged, there is no way I would have put my guitars in that situation in gig bags. Accidents happen, and a shifting PA cabinet means curtains for your guitar or bass.

If you are playing in a band where you know your guitar has the chance of getting knocked around in transport, you need a quality hard case. There are no two ways about it. If you intend to fly with your guitar you may even wish to invest in a case made for airline use. They are expensive, but if your guitar is expensive too it may be worth it.

If you know you are going to need the extra protection for your guitar or bass, don’t skimp and go with a gig bag. Gig bags are useful, but they don’t provide nearly as much protection as a hard case.

Frankly, any expensive guitar is worthy of a hard case even if kept at home. You don’t want your Gibson Les Paul Custom stashed in a gig bag. The peace of mind that comes with extra protection is worth it.

You may want to have both for your guitar. Some players keep their guitars in hard cases and have gig bags available for when they are needed. For example, if you are headed to a friend’s house for jamming and you know your guitar will be safe, you may prefer to carry it in a gig bag.

My Martin acoustic lives in a hard case for a little added protection.
My Martin acoustic lives in a hard case for a little added protection.

Which Case to Choose?

I hope this advice helps you get a better idea of whether a gig bag or hardshell case is right for your guitar. The needs of hobby players are different from the needs of busy gigging musicians, and an expensive guitar may warrant more protection than a mid-level guitar.

Your takeaways are:

  • A gig bag is a great way to save space and protect a guitar from scratches and dings.
  • Gig bags are good in situations where you know your guitar will be reasonably safe.
  • Choose a hard case if you regularly put your guitar in situations where it could be bumped or jostled about.
  • Invest in a hard case for expensive guitars.
  • A soft case is a good light-weight alternative to a hard case.
  • If you intend to fly with your guitar, it is not a bad idea to invest in an appropriate case.

The most important thing is to make sure your guitar is protected for whatever situation it finds itself in. Good luck, have fun and keep your guitar safe!

Gig Bag or Hard Case?

Which will you choose to store and transport your guitar?

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    • Guitar Gopher profile imageAUTHOR

      Guitar Gopher 

      5 days ago

      @Isaque - I don't know, man. A gig bag would probably be easiest to manage or maybe a soft-shell case. Something with straps.

    • profile image

      Isaque Gomes de Souza 

      7 days ago

      What should be a good option to carry the guitar in a motorcycle? soft case seens to be perfect.

    • profile image

      Dale H Leichsenring 

      6 months ago

      My Everly Brothers Gibson, 1963 black came with a zipper bag outside the hard case.

    • Guitar Gopher profile imageAUTHOR

      Guitar Gopher 

      4 years ago

      Thanks Stella! I suppose it takes kids a while to learn proper handling of their new guitars. I always say a guitar should only be in one of three places: your hands, its stand or its case.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      4 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi, I think it depends if I want to put the guitar in a gig bag or hard cases. If it is a child taking lessons they will need a hard shell case. I have see too many broken guitars. GREAT HUB, Stella


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