Cello case survey 2009

CELLO CASES – RESULTS OF 2009 SURVEY

What would be your dream cello case?  In 2009 we sent out a detailed questionnaire with one of our newsletters, which provoked an outpouring from the 95 respondents were kind enough to complete the survey (a copy of the questionnaire can be found below this article): lightness and strength were at the top of everyone’s wish lists, followed by stability when standing. Most also longed for a small number of strong catches, a rigid, heat-reflective shell which opens and closes as easily as a front door, plenty of string/music pockets and handles, shock-absorbent internal supports, an integral adjustable padded rucksack system and an affordable price. Some went even further, saying that the ideal case would come with a Sherpa to carry it everywhere; one fantasised about using helium balloons to take the weight…

It’s clear that everyone dreams of a weightless cello case but there is a fundamental conflict between lightness and utility. Strength, solidity, handles, feet, good quality catches, stability when opening and closing – all can be compromised in the quest for minimum weight in a case.

Out of the 95 cellists who gave detailed feedback about their cases for our survey. 20 cellists used BAM cases, 17 Accord, 10 Alan Stevenson, 9 Gewa, 9 Hiscox, 8 Headcase, 8 Paxman and 5 Brack. The remainder used cases including Baccello, FEL, Deranleu, Hima, Winter and Jargar. We have decided not to include Paxman and the minority cases in this report as Paxman no longer make cello cases and the small response samples of the minority cases do not give sufficient data for useful comparison with the more popular brands.

Alan Stevenson cases are hand made in Norwich, UK: Original fibreglass 8.7kg; Original carbon composite 5.5kg; Original carbon composite 4.7kg; Small fibreglass 7kg; Small carbon composite 4.2kg; Small carbon/kevlar 3.3kg. Alan Stevenson cases were the undisputed favourites; their owners gave them the highest or very high marks on every single parameter in our questionnaire except the issue of the ease of opening and closing their cases when standing or lying down. We are particularly impressed by the internal support system of these cases, but full protection is only achieved when the padding is custom fitted to a particular cello.

Accord cases are hand made in Croatia. Flight carbon fibre/kevlar 5kg; Robust carbon fibre/kevlar, 3.5kg; Hybrid glassfibre/carbon fibre 3.4kg; Standard carbon fibre 2.8kg; Ultralight carbon fibre 2.3kg. Accord case owners clearly adore them for their lightness, but mark their cases down in other respects. Owners find it difficult to open and close their carbon fibre cases while standing up as they are very flexible. Cellists also regret the absence of a handle in the shoulder area and scored their cases rather low on the quality and durability of the internal padding. Accord cases came out worst on the durability of their catches – but please note that Accord have now changed the design of catches on new cases. Accord also scored low on stability while standing so it seems well worth paying to have feet fitted to Accord cases. Accord also appeared to be the most difficult cases to get repaired. The magnetic bow holder is very convenient to use but one player said their bow came loose from the magnetic holder when the cello was in the hold of an aeroplane.

Bam cases are made in France, the USA and Thailand and are built from a triple-ply shell which incorporates a layer of Airex, a light, high density foam, which gives the case great strength and rigidity: Classic 5.4kg; Newtech 5kg; Hightech 2.9-4.4kg. Bam cases are very popular with their owners. They were given the highest marks for the ease of opening and closing the case while standing or lying down and also scored highly for the ease of fitting the cello into the case. They scored second highest after Alan Stevenson on the quality of their internal padding. Most other scores were high, except that many find that the handles break all too easily and the quality of the bow holders was also poor. Owners often wish these cases were a little lighter.

Brack cases are hand made in Switzerland from composite materials and weigh 3.5kg. They scored high on lightness, stability when standing, ease of repair, quality of bow holders and ease of fitting the cello into the case, but scored low on internal padding, and the catches are clearly very difficult to use and tend to wear out quickly. As there are only four catches, opening and closing is quick and simple, but safety is soon compromised if one or two catches malfunction; one player’s case fell open when the catches failed.

Gewa are a German company making a variety of cases including Idea Futura fibreglass, 4.8kg; Idea X-Lite carbon fibre reinforced resin, 3.9kg and Original Carbon carbon fibre 2.9kg. These cases scored very well in all areas except the quality and durability of internal padding and lining. No respondent has found it necessary to have a Gewa case repaired, which is quite an accolade.

Headcase are based in Wales and make fibreglass (6.3kg) and carbon fibre (3.9kg) cases. They had the lowest scores of any carbon fibre case, scoring lowest on ease of opening and closing standing or lying down and also had the worst score on stability when standing. Owners also marked them very low for internal padding and bow holders and said that the catches are very tricky to use.

Hiscox are based in Staffordshire, UK and make double moulded fibreglass cases (5.2-5.5kg). They are perceived by their owners to be very safe (second after Alan Stevenson) and they do have a good safety record. We know of a lot of cellists who use them as flight cases provided they are given extra internal padding. The downside is that these cases are bulky to handle and are perceived as being heavier than their actual weight, due to their awkwardness to handle. The aluminium band around the edge of Hiscox cases can cause damage to the varnish when the cello is being put away. We have seen many examples of strained or malfunctioning catches on Hiscox cases.

Paxman cello cases are no longer available. They scored rather low in all parameters in our survey.

Shoulder straps. Metal carabiner hooks are currently in fashion with some case makers, but they are sprung internally and can come undone gradually. For complete peace of mind, carabiners should be tightened every time you use the case. The threaded section of the carabiner can cause wear on the exterior of cases – so the threaded section is best positioned away from the case.

Rucksack straps. The majority of survey respondents prefer to use some form of rucksack strap to carry their cello, but many encounter problems when using two simple shoulder straps rather than a backpack system such as Fiedler. Any case with just two straps will hit the back of your legs as you walk and the shorter you are, the worse it is. The Fiedler back pack system is very comfortable although it does hold the cello very high – beware of doorways – and adds 1kg to the weight of the case. Fitting a Fiedler back pack system is a major and not easily reversible process as it requires 16 holes to be drilled into the case,  eight for the four D-rings (two at the bottom of the back, two on the neck), four for the mounting plate, another four for the cushion snaps.

Flight cases. We did not include questions about flight cases in our survey, but here are some notes based on conversations with cellists and case makers. No case – whether a well made standard case or one marketed as a flight case – can guarantee the survival of cello checked into a baggage handling system; it is always safest to buy a seat for your cello. If you do have to put a cello into the hold, some cases have better safety records than others, including Alan Stevenson and Hiscox.

There are three possible levels of protection for a cello in the hold: firstly, the external padding (flight cover) to reduce the shock experienced by the hard shell; secondly, the strength of the hard shell itself and thirdly, the quality of the support of the instrument inside the hard shell. The support issue is where in our opinion, Alan Stevenson cases score exceptionally highly if the internal supports are custom-fitted to the cello. Soft flight over-covers definitely improve security but again they are no guarantee of safety and some players are concerned that baggage handlers take even less care of cellos if they see them swaddled in flight covers.

Repairs. Survey respondents whose cases had become worn or damaged reported good experiences with Brack and Alan Stevenson, followed by BAM and Headcase. We received no repair feedback regarding Gewa cases as none had needed repairing. Accord cases scored very low, along with Hiscox. We consulted some big case dealers, asking why some cases are harder to get repaired than others. One dealer said that it is easier to repair or replace spare parts on cases by major European makers such as Brack, Accord and Bam, as their accessories are easily available, but they would not be able to replace accessories on Chinese cases such as HIMA, as no accessories are supplied by these manufacturers.

No dealer we spoke to would consider repairing a case if it had not been bought from them. One said that they had decided not to attempt repairs on carbon fibre cases in future, due to the difficulty in spotting hair-line cracks in the shell. The conclusion seems to be that it is definitely best to buy your case from a reputable dealer (not just an on-line store) who is happy to carry out repairs on the case if necessary. It’s also worth checking the warranty period of your case and making a note of it at the time of purchase.

© Sarah Mnatzaganian 2010

Cello Case Survey

  • What is your current, most-used cello case (make, model and price when new)?

    • Was your case made especially for your cello?

    • Do you use a single shoulder strap or rucksack style straps to carry it, or do you prefer to use the handle?

    • Has any part of your case worn out?  If so, please give details.

    • When you take out/put in your cello, do you stand your case up or lie it down on the floor?

    • What would be your dream cello case?

    • Please give your current, most-used cello case marks out of 10 for each of the following features/functions, where
    1 is very bad and 10 is very good.

DETAILED CASE FEATURES Marks 1-10
Catches – do they open and close easily?
Catches – are they durable?
Bow holders – do they work well?
Internal straps for cello – work well?
Carrying handles – placed conveniently?
Does the padding or the internal design of the case protect your cello from shocks?
Is the case easy to open/close lying down?
Is the case easy to open/close standing?
Does your cello fit into the case easily?
Is the case easy to carry?
Is the case stable when standing up?
If it has been necessary, how easy has it been to get your case repaired?
How safe do you feel your cello is in your case?