Travelling With Instruments and Gear - Part 1

A pro muso's thoughts and tips after a recent tour to the Caribbean and South America

In this first part of a two part series, we'll look at how to best take care of your precious instruments and gear on long haul trips. Preparation and planning is critical to the success of any tour or trip you make - as I have discovered time and time again, prevention is better than the cure! On my recent tour of the Caribbean and South America, I've had just about all the major problems with gear occur except for my instruments and pedals actually breaking - so I thought it'd be a great idea to share some of my mistakes and tips that I've learned over the years in regards to gear.

Most of the musical instruments played by the Signal Chain community are made from wood or organic materials, so I'll only address the due care of stringed instruments in this blog. I don't have enough personal experience with percussion, brass and woodwind etc, and certainly not any that would be using pedals... But many of these tips apply in general to travel internationally, so read on my orchestral colleagues!

Here are 5 preparation tips before embarking on your trip; next week we'll look at another 7 to consider during the trip:

1. CHECK YOUR CARRIER’S BAGGAGE POLICY. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it's extremely important especially when using more than one airline. To get to Guadeloupe I flew QANTAS to Dallas/Fort Worth with a connection on American Airlines to Miami. In this first leg, even though there are two flights and two airlines a involved, as they are on the same ticket, my bags do not get reweighed. This is important when travelling through the States as their total quantity of bags is more generous than Australia, but their weight limits are often less. However, as my second leg to Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe was on American Airlines the next day, I had to expect to be also within the AA limits when I checked in.

2. GET INSURANCE. It's relatively inexpensive, about 50c for every $100 insured, so even your $10,000 LP will only cost around $50 to insure. Also, if you do manage to get compensation from your airline, it will be the depreciated value of the good, which unless it's a vintage, will be a bit of a price drop. Most airlines have a maximum compensation of around $3,000, which will cover most people, but insurance companies are easier to deal with than airlines in this matter. Of course, read the PDS to make sure it's right product for you, and be aware that business insurance is a totally different and much more complicated ball game than personal insurance.

3. LOST DAMAGED LUGGAGE LIABILITY STATEMENTS. Make sure you read the lost/damaged luggage liability statements of your chosen airline! Airlines win the gold medal at the Insurance Olympics for making sure they are responsible for absolutely nothing. There are horror stories all over the internet, the famous and very catchy, "United Breaks Guitars" song (and subsequent debacle) which topped the iTunes charts back in 2009:
They also have a list longer than your arm of exclusions which also includes "electronics" which from stories I've heard, pedals have been at times included under this category. One very important thing I should point out is that airlines will not cover damage of minor scratches and dints or damage to protruding objects from the luggage. Go and have a look at your instrument and or pedalboard case. Many of these cases have handles, wheels, feet, locks and aluminium corners on them that airlines would consider to be "protruding". Be careful with your case selection as this will be a major inconvenience if your feet are broken off (like mine were!) and the locks are not fully depressed into the case. Again, this where a custom case can prove invaluable, but make sure all handles and locks are fully depressed.

4. HAVE ENOUGH ACCESSORIES. Unless you are playing in the USA, it is essential to stock up on your needed accessories. For most that means two sets of strings, slides, picks, and anything else you will need that you can only get from a dedicated music store. Music gear anywhere outside the States internationally is expensive. I snapped two strings in Guadeloupe on one particular day, checked out the local music stores and they were all charging more than double Australian prices (which are naturally much higher than online).

5. YOU WANT THAT CASE AS STUFFED FULL AS POSSIBLE. You don't want your instrument shifting an inch inside your case. This especially applies to your pedalboard case. My board has about an inch clearance before it touches the acoustic foam and if your case falls from about two metres (the cargo door of the aircraft to the tarmac) I will personally guarantee that your favourite pedal will be broken. T-shirts, undies, socks make great case fillers if you don't have a custom case that hugs your instrument's body super tight. For violins, protection underneath the bridge if you choose not to remove it for travel, is vital.
Pro tip: musical instruments are often not weighed these days on international flights so putting extra stuff in your instrument case can help you lower your baggage weight. Yakking on about how valuable your instruments are to you while generally being nice will go a long way to making sure this happens. Also, simply refer to your pedal board as a musical instrument, you care about it in the same way, and to them they won't have a clue what you mean if you try and explain.

I hope you have learned something from this first part of my blog, and I look forward to concluding it next week with another 7 things to consider while actually on tour. Feel free to tell us about your own touring stories and/or tips in the comments below!


AJ Klomp
Electric Violinist

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.

Comments (1)

Commented by KiwiRamjet
March 12 2015

Fantastic blog!

One thing I’d add is if you can get a pedalboard down to a Pedaltrain PT-1 (briefcase version) or PT-Jnr (softcase) then most airlines will let you take it carry-on with minimal fuss. As long as it is under their prescribed weight restrictions of course, and some of the budget airlines have very low weight allowances for this. However, if you are OK with not having any other personal effects (pardon the pun) then this is a fantastic option and ensures your precious pedals will transit in safe hands! I’ve done it twice to Japan and once to New Zealand, and no problems at all – just once I got pulled up to look inside, but as you mentioned, as long as you’re completely open, honest and friendly about it, they have no issues at all.