Frozen guitar on air travel

Started by pjwassermann, June 05, 2009, 05:16:40 PM

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Do you always manage to take your guitar into the cabin?

A friend just reminded me that a guitar would probably freeze when it's in the luggage compartment. Is that true and if yes how bad is it for the guitar?

Sorry, a bit off topic....
PJ Wassermann
Last album "Space Drone Salad":


Depends on the plane.

Most planes do have pressurized and climate controlled luggage compartments.

Each day, hundreds of dogs and cats fly in pet carriers in the luggage compartment.

Some planes and Airlines are more "Guitar Friendly"

Most airlines these days will charge you extra at check in for the guitar - some will let you carry on and put the guitar in the flight attendent closet - but its getting very rare.
I will have the guitar in a suitable hardshell case, but I always carry a lightweight gig bag too. I have had luck just showing up at the gate with a strat in a gig bag, and they are far more willing to let me stash it in the flight attendent closet.

Same guitar in a hardshell case gets automatically routed to the checked baggage area - where it gets bounced around.

Ironically - i have seen Guitars in Anvil Flight cases be the first to be destroyed and highest transit risk- as they fall off Fork lifts, and run over by fuel trucks. 

Also - get travel insurance for your instrument.

The local musicians union can hook you up.

Most airlines will never give you more than $500 for any damaged instrument.

Myself - I carry a Traveller Pro with mini studio and Roland Micro Cube  inside a rolling duffle SKI equipment type luggage case.



Interesting guitar...  I wonder if you could fit a gk3 on it.

In the past I had a string of gigs that required me flying and transporting a guitar.  I always just carried on a gig bag, figuring the more I could sneak by them the better.  Just send it through the baggage scan like any other bag, but don't forget to remove your tool kit!  I had to throw out some screwdrivers and wire cutters that apparently could have been used as weapons.  I was mad at the time, but I certainly have no beef with secure airlines.

You can easily fit a gig bag in an overhead compartment.  I've even fit a double bag with two guitars several times.  My approach was always "don't ask, just carry it on."  Asking questions about how to fly your guitar gives them an opportunity to say you need to do something else with it, like put it below with the rest of the luggage.  They probably don't want to hold up a plane over a carry on in the heat of the moment.  The majority of the time it worked for me.  There was one incident with a crabby gate person where I had to explain several times that I was carrying expensive instruments that could not go underneath.  After much discussion she came to the decision that it must be gate checked, where they put a tag on it and take it directly as you walk on the plane.  Then you get it back immediately after the flight without going to baggage claim.  My solution for this was to rip the tag off and walk on the plane with it anyway, promptly putting my gig bag in the overhead as planned with no hassle from any flight attendants. 

I love to hear more suggestions on this topic.  This is a serious topic to me and I wish airlines were better with this.  At least we don't play upright bass!  I'm wondering if I could get a guitar and a vg 99 and a laptop into say a double bag, and carry on and stow in an overhead.


Thanks for your infos!

That traveller guitar surely is interesting. Probably even better than the Yamaha silent guitar. How does it play? Do you have a GK-3 on it?
PJ Wassermann
Last album "Space Drone Salad":

Big Vern

I travel all the time with my job and often take my Steinberger and Boss MicroBR if I'm going to be away for a long time.

Its only 30" long and as yet (touch wood) have had no problems getting it as carry on luggage.

Best regards,

Its better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven't done.


In their gig bags -  The Traveller Pro is at least a foot shorter than the Yamaha Silent guitar, so it tends to go more places. i do wish it had more support for my right fore-arm to support the guitar while playing- it tends to flop down if you are not careful. I'm going to fabricate a duplicate "arm" for that side of the guitar - a reverse twin of the control assembly "arm".

The Yamaha Silent Guitar is a fine instrument, but its significantly longer item to carry - and tends to stay home, compared to the Traveller Pro.  I know a few session players in LA who keep one Traveller Pro in every trunk in every vehicle they own. They are really durable.  Neck feels like a '59 Les paul,  great fret job.

of course a GK-3 can be mounted too , though I have not done that.  

Traveller Pro works well for those seeking the absolute smallest acoustic / electric sounding full 24 3/4" scale guitar to carry in its gig bag

i love it because with zero power - I can play using its stethoscope type headphones.

It has a strong mono piezo PU under the saddle for acoustic tones and decent single coil at the bridge.  

I also have a Micro BR always in the side pocket of the Traveller Pro gig bag.

and at 28 " total length - its shorter than a steinberger

I reserve my laptop case with cameras for my carry on

I fit the traveller pro inside my checked luggage bag - with my clothes.


I've done a number of Trans-Continental flights always with my '96 Fly Deluxe, and occasionally a few other guitars, and have had mixed issues.  I've been allowed to take it into the cabin a few times, but it ends up being put somewhere way away from me on the plane, so I'm not a big fan.  You can't have anything small that could be ripped off in the front. Depending on how full the flight is, you can put it in the overhead locker, but there's no guarantee.  In the crunch, you're guitar will go before someone else's carry on.  If it's really full, they'll even sometimes make you leave the plane and check it (fairly rare, but not at all unheard of).  You also need to be sure your guitar can take someone cramming their overweight carry on into your guitar in it's gig bag.  I don't know many LP 3 ways that could take that.  I reckon you'd lose at least the plastic switch end.  Strats with vintage style tremolos tend to do ok, but Floyds take a beating.  I've seen fine tuning thumb screws bent. 

The other issue, like you said, is the temperature.  One time upon arrival in DFW after 20 some odd hours in transit from Sydney, I got my Parker in it's flight case from the baggage claim, and found that the entire surface of the guitar had ice crystals on it.  Not a big deal with a Parker (it was still in almost perfect tune after a few rubs of the strings to warm them), but I would hate to see my old '45 Martin (unfortunately sold a few years still hurts) go through that kind of abuse. 

To alleviate that, one thing I've done in the past is take cardboard boxes and basically make a custom box a couple of layers thick.  I'll use anywhere from half to a full roll of box tape and cover every inch.  I then take the FRAGILE stickers that they give you at the gate and cover every angle with those.  I'm talking about using anywhere from 10-30 of those suckers.  You don't have to pay for them, so go for your life.  Lastly, I'll have it checked as oversized/fragile luggage where it doesn't get thrown around on conveyer belts quite so much.  It doesn't actually take that long to do all that...prob 10 mins.  The other great thing about doing it that way, is you can instantly tell from far off if someone has opened your guitar case.  It also has a higher chance of going in a temperature controlled compartment. 

Also forgot to mention...before the cardboard boxes, tape a full band a couple layers thick around the guitar case over each of the latches. 

When I'm flying international, I actually do this in the terminal with the luggage and security guys watching so that I don't have to undo it for a security check. 

It may sound like a bit much, but I reckon it's worth it for the peace of mind.  The cardboard is a great insulator.  When I go through this whole procedure, I've found my guitars come off the flight at a noticeably warmer temp.  With that wrap above and a high quality insulated flight case (most high quality ones are insulated), I would have few concerns putting a guitar under the plane.  It's well padded, well insulated, and highly visible.  If you're still concerned, loosen your machine heads half a turn or so before you pack it to compensate for the higher tension at the lower temperatures. 

By the guitars have always made it in one piece.  The only damage I've ever had is one of the end crumple zones on my Parker case got cracked open (the little air filled protrusions that are on all the corners) .  You can see the internal foam underneath.  The foam was undamaged.  The case is still in great working order and has done quite a few flights since then.  That was the one time I didn't wrap it as per above.  I was late for a flight and only wrapped the latches closed and put a couple FRGILE sticker on the outside.  Never again.  I'm through rambling, but I hope that helps.  You can get a travel guitar, but if you can safely take your #1, then why not. 


Actually it's two different topics:
1. is travelling to gigs with one of your favorite axes and then this whole packaging thing is certainly the best way to do it.
2. is longer term travelling and still being able to play and record and then this little guitar is certainly very nice to have.

Thanks a lot for your very valuable hints!

PJ Wassermann
Last album "Space Drone Salad":


Another option a mate of mine uses is a hard shell gig bag.  I haven't seen a lot of them, but the ones he has are really great.  same size as a gig bag, just with hard sides.  Still zips up with a really heavy duty zip and weighs jack all.  It only fits S and T type bodies, but it's only just bigger than that.  It's actually thinner than a high quality padded gig bag.  He tends to get away with taking it in the cabin a fair bit simply because it's actually less imposing than a regular gig bag.  If it does end up being thrown under the plane, it's an S or T type so generally fairly durable, and the case is actually quite protective despite it's diminutive size.  Still has straps that tighten right down to flush with the back so are out of the way if in the cargo hold, but quite usable if you're backpacking or such.  You could probably fit a 10' cable and a possibly a Micro BR around the horns of an S type. 

I just checked the Guitar Center and Sweetwater web sites and only found the Gator case hard foam bag.  The one I'm talking about is extremely thin plastic.  I might have to give my mate a call and find out who makes it.  He's used it hard for quite a few years (at least 10 and probably closer to 15 or 20) and it's still in great shape. 

If you were to put something like a one of those chambered Warmoth strats in it, it would be a full size, full featured guitar, without much weight (probably a couple pounds more than the traveler pro, depending on the wood),  no fore-arm rest issues, and pretty compact to boot.  It's definitely longer than a pro, but still pretty easily and safely crammed into an overhead locker.  It's really, size wise, not far off carrying the guitar with no case at all. 

Just another option. 


Wonderful "travel guitars" are made in Germany - GK-equipped (RMC to be exact) btw. Ulrich Teuffel makes the stunning Teuffeld tesla guitars of which I own 2 (one MIDI-model)

since they are headless they easily fit into most overhead compartments...

Acoustic-electric guitars of the highest quality are made by FRAMEWorks Guitars (nylon and steel-stringed), I own an RMC-equipped nylon fretless:

Don't get me wrong, those guitars are highly professional instruments to call them travel guitars will probably end me up in guitar-hell (sight-readings classes 24/7).