Travelling With Instruments and Gear - Part 2
A PRO MUSO'S THOUGHTS AND TIPS AFTER A RECENT TOUR TO THE CARIBBEAN AND SOUTH AMERICA
This is the second part of a two part series, in which we're looking at how to best take care of your precious instruments and gear on long haul trips...
6. YOU DON’T NEED TO DETUNE YOUR INSTRUMENT. Detuning will help your instrument to expand and contract under reduced tension while flying, but this practice was only needed when cabins were not pressurised. Now if your cabin loses pressure then so be it, it's unlikely for too long, and if it is you'll have bigger issues to worry about than your instrument, like what on earth is going on with the plane. Particularly likely if you are using light gauge strings (10s or less) on your guitar or if you are travelling with a ukulele, violin or viola, detuning significantly will simply snap your strings when you tune back up.
7. CHANGES IN TEMPERATURE. Guitars, violins, basses and the like don't enjoy rapid changes in temperature. For checked baggage the temperature in the hold will usually be held between about 5°C to 10°C - depending on the location of your bag to the exterior or sides of the aeroplane. This is typical of most flights you'll ever take but for travelling musicians to Siberia may find that this temperature is lower in reality. For us in Australia, the most important thing to note is the difference between the external air temperature when you check in at an airport and the above range. So for example when I departed Sydney a week ago the difference was at least 20°C.
This can mean trouble for hollow and semi-hollow body instruments, such as my Romanian Giglia 1 'Maestro', which are not lacquered in 5-6+ layers of paint and gloss like solid body instruments are. While solid body guitars certainly don't appreciate the cold, they are better prepared due to their construction. Hollow body instruments that are largely in their natural state bar a few coats of lacquer expand and contract more easily with changes in temperature and so preparing for travel is vital.
8. CHANGES IN HUMIDITY. This may be news to a few, but the humidity in which your instrument primarily lives, and where it travels to, significantly affects your tone. Since being in the West Indies with humidity of about 85-95% my Giglia has the fattest, warmest tone I've ever heard from 10 years of playing. But this comes at a significant risk, as hollow bodies don't like humidity above 60%. Solid body is generally okay up to 70% for long periods of time but anything above this should require care by the owner to keep it in a dry place. In an aeroplane, you tend to have the opposite problem. Humidity is usually an eyeball-drying 10-12% inside the cabin so putting humidifiers inside your case is recommended especially if travelling long haul with your instrument in the main cabin.
The US Congress has recently legislated much more lenient laws for musicians and air travel so travelling with a single instrument is much easier. In many cases (no pun intended) airlines will permit any instrument in carry-on if it is able to be contained in either overhead lockers or under the seat in front of you. Domestic Australian travel still remains to be some of the most stubborn of all.
9. THE TSA WILL OPEN YOUR PEDALBOARD CASE. Those totems of tone inside look like carefully packed and wired plastic explosives so make sure you take a photo of your board before you hand it over at the airport as it is likely that they will pull velcro apart, dewire your board, and open up individual pedals to have a look inside. So be prepared to explain, or have evidence if your board comes back not nearly as neat and tidy as when you left it. While we're on the subject of the TSA, they will also break locks if they're not TSA approved so do yourself a favour and use TSA approved locks. Not worth risking them damaging the case trying to open it just because you bought a different type of lock.
10. KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS. This is something that you may need to learn to do better from now to avoid heartache in the future. That limited edition [pedal company “xyz”] pedal you bought is worth squat to an airline who says you can’t prove what you paid for it. You might not have a problem with your Strymon Timeline or Boss RV-5, but your cabling, pedalboard and boutique lesser know brand pedals may be harder to prove their value (see ‘Antiques’ as an exclusion for damage liability).
11. LODGE COMPLAINTS IMMEDIATELY. Most airlines impose ridiculously strict time allowances for lodging complaints. AA for example, imposes a four hour limit from the arrival of the flight. In a major airport, with queues for customs and quarantine, this is a very small window of time. Do not leave the airport until the whole process has been commenced. You can never ask too many questions. You are able to apply for any expenses that are incurred for the inconvenience they cause, but this doesn't mean they'll shout you a brand new Taylor just because they left your Yamaha in Dallas. I recommend booking your first gig for at least until a second flight arrives in your destination after the one you are on. This is as over 26 million bags go missing annually, but most are returned inside two days.
12. A FINAL WORD ON GROUND TRANSPORT. In Australia, Murray's and Greyhounds are fairly generous and not nearly as strict with baggage space. Often if you’re carrying luggage, instrument and pedalboard, you'll be asked to pay a modest fee ($10 at time of print for Murray's) for extra baggage. Of course having a car is best if applicable and that'll never change. Nothing like a good old road trip!
Thanks for reading everyone! As with last week, feel free to comment below and safe travelling with your loved ones!