We recently published a blog on traveling with your cello. SHAR has long been the go-to shop for violinists and violists, but we've often failed to provide useful content and products for our cellists and bassists. Here's our second blog to remedy that! In the blog below, you'll find all sorts of tips and advice on how to minimize travel stress if you're a bassist.
Cellists often complain about traveling with their instruments, but let me tell you: bassists have it worse. This is largely due to the bass size! If you're a bassist and you need to travel to a gig, avoid flying if at all possible. The ideal travel method for a bassist is simply in a car, where you can securely and safely fit your bass and control its temperature. Sometimes this isn’t possible, though, if you've got a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time. For those times, most bassists plan ahead and rent or borrow an instrument where they're performing.
If you are able to drive to your gig, here are some general tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure you have good shoulder straps (or backpack straps, if you prefer those).
- If you use a wheel, make sure that it will go through doors and other narrow(ish) openings easily. If not, the wheel might end up being more of a hassle than anything else.
- Consider a bass buggie. It might help when hauling your bass across long distances.
- Insure your instrument! There are companies that specifically insure instruments in case of damage or theft at very reasonable rates. While we do not specifically endorse or recommend one company over another, some of the players we’ve spoken to use Heritage, Clarion or Merz-Huber as instrument insurance providers.
If you do end up having to fly with your bass, you will definitely want to place your bass into a flight case, because airlines do not allow basses to be carried into the airplane cabin (unlike cellos, which you can sometimes buy a seat for, though this is becoming a risky method). Your bass probably won't fit in the cabin, and even if it did, it would be extremely difficult to maneuver. So, the airline will have you check your bass as baggage. (Please see our advice about flying with and checking in your cello, as all those same tips will apply.) The main difference between flying with a cello and flying with a bass is that you will have to buy a flight case for your bass, as we mentioned above. The cost is extremely high. Because flight cases are so expensive, flying with a bass is usually a last-resort option. Most bassists don’t fly with their basses for this reason. What's more, even if you do use a flight case for your bass, there is still no guarantee that it will be 100% protected. There are stories out there about cases and instruments sustaining damage after knocking around the plane's cargo hold.
If you absolutely must, against our very sane advice, travel with your bass, you should research the airline you’re flying. Make sure you know their rules and comply by them.
For the air brave travelers out there, we recommend the following precautionary stratagems:
- Like we said above, protect your investment the best way you can by buying a good case or flight case or case cover.
- Check rules and websites and airline policies carefully. Be sure the airline that you’re dealing with will accept your instrument. Even if you purchase your ticket through an American-based airline, if a subsidiary codesharing airline is operating your flight, they may not be obligated to follow their parent airline’s policies. If you are unsure, call the airline and speak to someone, rather than assume things when buying your flight on a website.
- Check the baggage rules carefully. Sometimes additional fees are necessary. Other times, they may not let you check a cello or bass with an external case cover. It just depends on the rules (which are sometimes changing, to make it more complicated).
- Be aware of the TSA and their policies and procedures. The TSA has opened up cases in the past for baggage checks and does not necessarily handle the instrument the way a player would. There are horror stories about broken bows and cracked instruments; there are also horror stories about checked instruments not making it to the connecting flight’s cargo and the airline losing the cello.
- Be aware that if you check your instrument as baggage, that it will go underneath the plane and be subjected to very cold temperatures. Your bass could sustain damage or have other issues due to the temperature change.
Of course we recommend driving with your bass or borrowing one, but each player will have to weigh the risks and benefits and make their own decision accordingly. Unless you switch to playing the flute, we hope you will benefit from this advice as you set off on your travels!