By Greg Olwell
Finding the right case or bag for your ukulele can help keep it safe and sounding great for many years—and many miles.
As someone who’s taken a ukulele along on nearly every trip for the past 20 years, I can say that it’s the easiest travel instrument you’ll ever find. Even dutiful TSA agents have often given me a look that says, “Go on, get out of here, you little scamp,” before waving me through airport security and sending me on my way.
Still, even with all of that worry-free traveling, it’s important that you have good protection for your instrument, at home or on the road. Thankfully, with this third wave of ukulele mania, players are blessed with more options for bags and cases than ever before, with something for every budget and need—in many patterns and colors, from retro to modern and mild to maniacal.
Even though Tiny Tim was known to carry his Martin soprano around in a shopping bag, that’s really not a good idea. No, wait, it’s worse than that; it’s an awful idea. Most important, your case is going to protect your ukulele from the dings and bangs it’s bound to receive when you leave the house. Along with a humidifier, a case or a bag can also help keep your uke safe from humidity changes when you’re at home. (Dry conditions can wreak havoc on solid wood instruments, especially during wintertime, when home heaters drastically reduce humidity.)
Let’s take a look at some of the things you might need to consider when buying a case or bag for your ukulele. And, for shoppers, the best part may be that you don’t have to spend much to get a great case for your treasured uke.
Know Your Options
Gig bags are small, lightly padded pouches with zipper closures and usually a pocket or two to stash necessities like a tuner, extra strings, or a cellphone. They often come with back or shoulder straps and are a great solution for many players staying somewhat close to home—like, say, going to a group class or a gig. However, since they’re soft bags that don’t offer much support, a gig bag might not offer enough protection for people who need to put them in an airplane’s overhead or have an expensive instrument that deserves primo protection.
Cases come in several styles and break down into two main groups, soft-shell and hard-shell. Like their names might lead you to believe, a hard-shell case is rigid, like a helmet for your ukulele, while a soft-shell case is somewhere in between a gig bag and a hard-shell case.
Hard-shell cases offer the most protection of all and can be made with traditional materials such as plywood, which offers excellent protection and climate stability, or more modern materials like carbon fiber, thermoplastic, or fiberglass. These synthetic materials have been very popular with the guitar and violin crowd, providing the protection level of plywood, but with a lighter weight and sleeker modern look. A good case should have an interior that’s soft and plush, and there should be support for the neck where it needs it most, at the heel. You’ll also want heavy-duty latches that fit together well and secure easily. Hard-shell cases also usually have a small accessory compartment.
Soft-shell cases cradle your uke in a foam core, with a nylon exterior that zips closed. This helps keep the case’s weight down, while still giving you abundant protection and storage space in the case’s exterior pockets.
Check the Fit
Of course, ukuleles comes in many, many shapes and sizes, so finding a case or bag that fits is essential. Your uke should fit snugly so that it’s not wiggling around. Even if you have an odd-shaped uke, like a pineapple, you should be able to find a case that suits your instrument and holds it securely—you don’t want it banging around inside the case.
Keep an Eye on Humidity
If you live in an area that has you cranking the heat in winter, a humidifier is going to be essential to your uke’s health. With very few exceptions, ukuleles are made of wood, a biological material, and solid-wood ukes are especially vulnerable to damage from lack of moisture. A dried-out uke might suffer a loss in tone, or it could get worse, with a collapsing top or even a crack—like you might see in a lot of old ukes that were stored in grandma’s attic. A small humidifier, like the D’Addario Small Instrument Humidifier or Oasis Ukulele Humidifier, can help keep your valuable uke safe and sounding its best for years.
Much like ukes themselves, cases and bags can be as wild and colorful, or as low-key and drab, as you’d like. Players can choose from an abundance of materials for the exteriors, including Tolex, burlap, faux alligator, and even rattan, helping you personalize your case and giving you a little panache.
I call it the “Goldilocks factor,” because no matter your needs or personal sense of style, there’s a case out there that’s “just right” for you.