By JazzBariSax.com curator, Andrew Hadro (August 21st, 2019)
The most asked question I receive about the baritone saxophone is usually “What case do you recommend?” I don’t think there is a perfect option especially given everyone’s different needs and budgets, but here you will find some advice on cases as well as the best comparison as I could collect to hopefully make the decision easier. Contact us if you have another option you’d like to recommend, or comment below to let us know which one you use (include your horn’s make/model!)
Choosing A Case
The first step in choosing a case should be deciding whether you need a hard case or soft. This is a personal choice – obviously soft cases are much lighter and easier to carry but don’t provide nearly as much protection.
The second step is usually deciding how you want to travel with the case. If you plan to walk and carry the case I would suggest making sure it has back pack straps, or perhaps a shoulder strap. If not, you’ll probably need a case with wheels – but keep in mind you’ll still probably need to navigate stairs at some point, so good handles or alternate straps are a must.
To Wheel or not to Wheel
Baritones are heavy and not everyone can carry them everywhere. Wheels seem like a good solution, but keep in mind that when you wheel a case, especially a hard case, every bump and vibration gets transmitted to the horn. You are basically vibrating your horn down the street as you walk. The pad cups on a baritone, especially the low end are heavy, they will be flapping open and closed and the rods between the posts will be constantly vibrated and jiggled. This will lead to leaks and possible permanent damage as the parts wear from friction.
I prefer not to use wheels to avoid this, and I use a soft case that is carry-able. But for those that need or want wheels I would strongly recommend clamping shut at least the lower notes of the horn – A (if present), Bb, B and C. Some repairmen recommend clamping all the keys whenever the horn is is in the case. I have mixed feelings about this as non rolled tone holes can easily bite into pads more quickly when clamped, especially if the clamps aren’t put on just right, or are set up too tight. I prefer to simply lightly wedge the lowest and largest keys shut. You can cut a wine cork so that it sits between the key and the key guard – firm enough to keep the key closed and stay in place but not so firm as to mash the key into the tone hole. Key Leaves is a new product that can be used for this as well – more on that in an upcoming article.
Cases don’t require as much maintenance as horns, but they should be looked after. You should frequently check the latches and/or zipper and do not use the case if they are in danger of breaking soon. On nicer cases latches or zippers are almost always repairable or replaceable! Everyone knows a saxophonist that has picked up their horn without properly zipping or closing the latches – the horn goes flying and an expensive visit is paid to the repairman. This seems less likely to happen with a zipper than latches for what its worth. If you are very worried about forgetting the latches or having them come open get into the habit of locking them shut – assuming the case offers a lockable latch.
Additional spots to routinely check for damage or wear are the shoulder straps, backpack straps, and handles. Make sure they are not loose or worn down. All hardware that is weight bearing should be metal not plastic. Keep an eye out though, even metal hardware will wear down and at some point break causing a nasty fall. BAM case straps put a plastic sleeve over their carabiner to prevent the friction and erosion. I also always add a zip tie or steel security cable as a back up to any connection (see picture). Should the clip/hook break, this can hold just long enough to get the horn on the ground without falling.
Leather is an amazingly resilient material and surprising strong and long lasting, A leather case can last decades if taken care of. The leather should be conditioned at least yearly (this is different than polish or leather cleaner). Also, any high end luggage or leather worker can often do amazing repairs and improvements on quality leather cases. Zipper’s replaced, holes mended, straps replaced etc. On my leather case I’ve had for 15 years, I’ve had the zippers replaced and all velcro replaced with nice brass snaps over the years, case is still going strong.
You should keep in mind that purchasing more expensive cases from reputable brands like BAM, Wiseman, or custom made cases means that the cases often come with warranties and are usually very repairable, thereby somewhat justifying a higher price.
Make sure the horn fits well
You obviously want to make sure that your horn can fit into your case. But what not everyone takes into account is that every horn may be slightly different and therefore leave small gaps in a case. Your horn should fit absolutely snugly in the case, no movement at all. Not so tight as to cause damage, but no wiggle room. You can always buy extra foam padding and add as needed to areas of the case that don’t exactly conform to your horn. Older cases too can often ‘loosen up’ and should be shored up to maintain a snug fit.
Flying with a baritone
The hardest part of flying with a baritone is getting it onto the plane. On most large airplanes all but the largest baritone cases will fit in an overhead or a closet. I always see people take pictures of themselves with their case in the overhead, and its never a small gig-bag, usually a large hard case. The hardest part is getting it to the inside of the plane – through security, the gate agent, and onto the flight attendants.
For that reason I don’t think any one case is necessarily better or worse for flying in terms of carrying on. If you have a soft case you force yourself to carry it on the plane or to have to get off the plane. If you have a hard case it probably will fit into standard plane sized overheads but you are at the mercy of the flight crew. No case will prevent all damage, every time, from being dropped or tossed if checked – though some will work better than others.
If you absolutely cannot get the horn onto the plane as a carry-on you may be forced to check it. ALWAYS gate check (at the plane) instead of at the ticket counter – far fewer people will handle it and have a chance to damage it. Always make sure the case is snug and clamp as many keys as possible when gate checking.
When I say Gate check I mean leaving your horn just before entering the plane and retreiving it immediately at the end of the flight just outside the airplane. Keep in mind however, that some airlines and airports don’t offer “valet” gate checking – your horn will end up in the standard baggage carousel (Southwest Airlines, and the Minneapolis airport for example). This is what is techinally meant by ‘Gate Checking’. Receiving a gate checked bag directly upon exiting the air craft is can be referred to as ‘Valet Gate Check’, ‘Stair Check’, or ‘Planeside Check’. Airline personnel may sometimes interchange the terms so its best to confirm exactly what they are referring to.
If you plan to check a baritone at the ticket counter to avoid the drama, I’d recommend a serious flight case that will probably require over-size fees (something like Battle Cases). These cases have many inches of padding are usually rectangular and weigh a ton. Some are even ‘anvil’ style cases – meaning you put your entire regular case inside them.
Torpedo bags has some excellent guidelines for flying with instrument cases. Check it out here.
Case Comparisons – Hard Cases
The cases below are in no particular order, other than hard cases first, soft cases next. I have not included cases that aren’t purchasable, or that come with horns (like a Rampone) or the standard big wood box (aka coffin case).
Prices are approximate based on internet searches as of August 2019. Local music stores will often meet or beat these prices. You should when possible, shop local! All specifications and measurements taken directly from manufacturer’s website when possible.
BAM Hightech Saxophone Case
Bottom Line: This is a very common case. Its expensive and big. Some people love it some people hate it. Not for me, due to its weight, size and reported breakages in the handle and wheels, but others swear by it. BAM is a highly respected company and you can take advantage of their warranty.
Manning Custom Woodwind Saxophone Case – California
Bottom Line: Mike Manning was the first to really do custom baritone saxophone cases. If you want the absolute top of the line, lightest and most custom case and are willing to get your horn to California and pay for it, this is perhaps the best possible option.
Wiseman Carbon Fiber Case
Bottom Line: I haven’t seen this case in person, but all the Wiseman cases I have ever seen have been phenomenal. This might be the most expensive case here, but such a protective well made case at this weight is going to be pricey.
Protec Low A & Bb Saxophone Contoured PRO PAC Case (Bullet Case)
Case type: Hard Case
Low A or Bb? Both
Strap types: Shoulder Strap (Backpack straps available separately)
Shell Material: Nylon (on top of wood frame)
Lockable: No (Zipper)
Weight: 13.8 lbs (6.15 kgs)
Exterior dimensions: Length 44.8 in (108.59 cm) | Width 16.5 in (34.3 cm) | Depth 11.5 in (14.6 cm)
2 external pouches for storage
Fits most horns
Wood frame somewhat heavy and prone to damage
Wasted space/larger footprint since it fits both Bb and A horns
Notes: Includes pouch for storing mouthpiece and neck in bell. Protec’s newest cases are far superior to their older cases. 10 years ago I would have strongly recommended against protec, now they are a viable option. Fitting Low Bb as well as Low A horns means either way you have wasted space to accommodate the unused bell type. This makes the overall case size and profile larger. Additional padding to make sure horn has no wiggle room or movement suggested.
Bottom Line: Protecs are very common and have gotten much better recently. This may not be the best or lightest case, but its price is very reasonable for the quality and its widely available. Biggest concern with this case is making sure there is no wiggle room inside and the horn is snug.
Protec Low A & Bb Saxophone Contoured ZIP Case
More affordable than some other hard cases
May require additional padding to perfectly fit your horn (Modular fit blocks sold separately)
Wasted space/larger footprint since it fits both Bb and A horns
Notes: Also sometimes called “Bullet contoured case”. Includes pouch for storing mouthpiece and neck in bell. Fitting Low Bb as well as Low A horns means either way you have wasted space to accommodate the unused bell type. This makes the overall case size and profile larger. Additional padding to make sure horn has no wiggle room or movement suggested.
Bottom Line: A true hard case without a wood shell from Protec. This case looks great and while it may not be as amazing as some of the other hard cases, the price is excellent for a hard shelled case with wheels. Not as widely available as other Protecs, although I believe Virtuosity Music in Boston has them.
SKB Contoured Pro Saxophone Case
Bottom Line: SKB has also been around a while, this is another budget friendly hard case option. The main concern here is the lack of straps for carrying.
Jacob Winter Cases
Bottom Line: These cases don’t seem to be as prevelant or available in the US. There seem to be different models and types but its hard to discern. The price on these seems good but I’d look for a model with wheels since they only seem to offer a single handle and no straps.
Bags Case Evolution
Wasted space/larger footprint since it fits both Bb and A horns
Bottom Line: This looks like another lighter weight hard case option. Unfortunately they seem to be hard to come by especially in the US. Could not find a current price for this one.
Selmer (Paris) Baritone Saxophone “Flight” Case
Bottom Line: This case seems great if you have a Selmer (Paris) horn, and maybe you can get it with your new Selmer baritone. Without exact weight and dimensions its hard to recommend purchasing this pricey case on its own over some of the other hard case options.
JL Woodwind Custom Saxophone Case – New York City – Coming Soon
Walt Johnson Saxophone Case – No longer made
Bottom Line: Heavy and expensive but incredibly protective, and tried and true. If you can find a used one for a good price it shouldn’t be passed up.
Case Comparisons – Soft Cases
Gard Gig Bag Saxophone Case (American models)
Bottom Line: This might be the most affordable Gig bag here. It offers almost no protection but is also incredibly cheap. With some extra padding added and delicate handling this could certainly cover the needs of an occasional baritonist.
Gard Wheelie Saxophone Case (American models)
Bottom Line: One of the cheapest and lightest options to include wheels. Not much protection but the low cost and wheels make this attractive. The design isn’t flawless but the price is right. The kick stand is my favorite feature, but the backpack straps are next to useless.
Protec Low A & Bb Saxophone Bag – Platinum Series
Bottom Line: I haven’t seen this case in person, but Protec has offered basically a gig bag with wheels. Again, additional padding is a good idea and of course careful handling. The price here is perhaps the most attractive part of this case.
Glenn Cronkite Custom Saxophone Case
Bottom Line: Many professionals over the years have trusted their horns in Glenn Cronkite’s designed bags. They are gig bags so you must be careful, but they are beautifully well made and can last years. I personally much prefer leather to Cordura, and with care it can last decades. Extra padding inside is recommended. Excellent option for the baritonist that has to walk a lot and doesn’t want wheels.
SOUNDWEAR Professional Baritone Saxophone Case
Bottom Line: Having a shell inside a soft case is a brilliant idea. Not too much weight, but some protections. The price here is excellent and everything else seems good. I don’t care for the aesthetics at all but this could get the job done for a reasonable price.
SOUNDWEAR Performer Baritone Saxophone Case
Bottom Line: Seems like if you’re looking into the Soundwear brand you’d be crazy not to just go with the Professional model. That one seems much easier to find and offers more protection for a reasonable price.