If you’re like me, you probably began your bass career by carting around your axe in a hardshell case. You remember those—large, awkward, hard-edge, ergonomically challenged rectangles that often left unsightly marks on your car’s interior and made sharing cab rides pretty much impossible. Years ago, a hardshell case was about the only way to properly protect your bass en route to gigs, and back in the day, only a few companies made respectable alternatives. Not anymore: In the past 20 years, we’ve seen a marked uptick in sophisticated, heavy-duty gig bags designed to protect our basses in a variety of transport situations. As a result, most players opt for gig bags over hardshell cases; I personally resigned at least ten of those old cases to my attic for some yet-unknown use. In their place sit a number of high-quality bags that I swap out depending on the bass and travel circumstances.
Given the proliferation of gig bags these days, we thought it was about time to do a large-scale review of some of them. To be clear, few gig bags are alike, and there’s always some tradeoff depending on what the company emphasized in their design. Some are meant to be super-easy on the back, while others are created to optimize storage space. For this roundup, we reached out to a variety of companies and asked them to send us a bag light enough for daily use, small enough to fit in most airplane overhead compartments, but heavy-duty enough to handle being gate-checked if needed. They delivered. What follows is a short, practical assessment of gig bags ranging in street price from $100–$250.
To be clear, none of the bags reviewed here is meant to be checked as luggage, although several of these companies do make cases for just that purpose. I can say with confidence, however, that I would comfortably gate-check any of the bags mentioned here; over the past few months I’ve done just that, as have several of my fellow bass players in Nashville. So, a shout out to a few people who aided in our review process: Pro players Mike Brignardello, Matt Coen, and Rob Byus provided valuable feedback, as did two of my university students, Dawson Lowe and Piper Smith. Due to space constraints, we can’t speak to every feature of all these bags. For more details, check them out via the companies’ websites.
Weight 5 lbs
Pros Super-light, slim, rigid structure, sleek look
Well known for building quality cases for a variety of gear, Gator has introduced the Transit, a snazzy, lightweight, and durable addition to its line of gig bags. I carried around a 5-string in this bag for a few weeks, and my back much appreciated its weight. I dug the G-hook and seatbelt connections on the main pocket, as it let me overstuff the pocket if I needed to, while still securing it tightly. The lightest of the bags we reviewed, the Transit is nonetheless appropriately sturdy and, at just a hundred bucks, a no-brainer for the player on a tight budget.
Weight 6.2 lbs
Pros Super-sturdy outer shell
Cons Formed interior can present problems for small-body basses
This bag is about as close as you can get to schlepping around a hardshell case. While not the most comfortable on the back, the SKB will protect your bass well. The form inside the case is pointedly “Fender-friendly,” which presented local player Matt Coen with a small problem when toting his custom, small-body bass. It fit just a bit too loosely and slid around a bit, but he appreciated how rugged the bag was overall. The storage space is adequate, although I’m not a fan of mesh pockets, due to how easily they tear. Basically, if you have a Fender-style bass and want a hardshell-type case that you can cart around on your back, this bag is for you.
Warwick Rockbag Starline
Weight 7.3 lbs
Pros Nice-looking bag, plenty of storage, good price
Cons Doesn’t fit Fender-style basses well
Warwick offers a variety of gear for the general bass market, and the Starline gig bag line here provides one such example. The bag offers an impressive amount of protective padding, pockets, and handles in all the right places, but it’s also about four inches shorter than most bags. While I can appreciate the attempt here to be compact, the length presents a problem for basses with long headstocks. For example, a standard Fender 4-string only fits if you forcefully squeeze it in at the top, which may detune the G-string peg. Adding just an inch to the bag’s length would solve the problem, and it would still be compact. For short-scale basses, though, this bag is where it’s at.
Gruv Gear GigBlade Sliver
Weight 6 lbs
Pros Lightweight, slim, low center of gravity, easy to carry
Cons Thin gear pocket makes for tight packing
The Gruv Gear GigBlade Sliver takes the gold in the race for the slimmest bag out there. Seriously, it’s crazy-thin. At first glance, I thought, How will something this skinny protect my bass if it gets gate-checked? Not a problem: The bag boasts a fairly rigid support system. The firm sides are covered in rugged material, and there’s a brace sewn into the bag that protects the bass neck. I dug the various ways you could carry this bag comfortably. Whether you opt to side-carry, backpack it, or go “quiver”-style, toting around the GigBlade is a cinch. However, loading your bass widens the bag a bit, which then puts the outside pockets under increased tension. Due to the squeeze, I found it a bit difficult to pack large items into the pockets after the bass was already loaded.
Music Area WIND30-EB-GRN
Weight 7.8 lbs
Pros Beautiful look, lots of storage, heavy-duty construction
A relative newcomer to the retail market, Music Area offers an ensemble of heavy-duty bags for reasonable prices. The model we tested came in an attractive green cloth, and it provides plenty of thoughtful pockets and compartments for an iPad, cables, strings, tools, and more. I took this one with me on a couple of short flights, and more than one stranger commented on its beauty. The bag is basically weatherproof, and I much appreciate the placement of the discrete handles along the sides of the neck area—they come in handy when you’re standing in a security line and having to scoot your bass along bit by bit. In short, it provides everything I want in a flight-friendly gig bag: It’s sturdy but lightweight, provides adequate storage, and looks great.
Reunion Blues Continental Voyager
Weight 7.5 lbs
Pros Sleek look, rugged build, high-end materials
You couldn’t have a gig-bag roundup without including a Reunion Blues product. This company’s stellar reputation goes all the way back to the ’70s, and I’ve run into players who are still using bags from that era. The Continental Voyager is Reunion Blues’ no-nonsense bag for the musician who wants to travel with minimum hassle. The sleek, hideaway backstrap system ensures you’ll take up minimum space, and the reinforced, plush, blue velvet interior guarantees that your bass will ride safely, but in style. I loaned this one out to Nashville bass veteran Mike Brignardello for his short tour with Amy Grant, and he later commented, “I can’t imagine flying with another bag now.” That’s quite an endorsement.
Weight 6 lbs
Pros Serious storage space, convenient over-the-shoulder carry option
If you’re looking for a gig bag that allows you to leave your suitcase at home, this is the one for you. It has tons of storage space and amazing additional features. For example, it offers four exterior pockets (with additional interior pockets), a hideaway rain cape, interior string and bridge protectors, and hideaway backstraps. It even has a secret hidden pocket, but of course I can’t tell you where that is. Another nice feature of Levy’s backpack strap system is that if you attach just one strap and sling the bag over your shoulder, the bass drops down and rides behind you level with your head. That feature might seem minor, but I’ve hit my bag on several airport-bathroom doorways and other low-clearance areas when backpacking my bass around. That won’t happen here. I used this bag on several occasions and really enjoyed having all the space for gear and (in one case) my clothes.
Weight 10.5 lbs
Pros Superior protection, adjustable neck-support system, plenty of storage
It’s not surprising that Roger Sadowsky—well known for his bass-building prowess—offers a bag worthy of carting around one of his coveted axes. But you don’t have to own a Sadowksy bass to get the benefit of a Sadowsky gig bag. And this is one hell of a bag. While the Portabag is the heaviest of the ones we reviewed, it’s likely the sturdiest. It boasts plenty of exterior storage, and it has well-placed handles on the side, front, and back that balance the weight well. The heavy-duty adjustable shoulder straps offer two connection heights, and the neck-support system is adjustable, too, specifically allowing for angled-headstock protection. While the bag’s weight is noticeable, so is the protection it offers; I felt completely comfortable putting my high-end custom basses in this bag, knowing that not much could harm them while in transit.
Weight 6.2 lbs
Pros Top-loading, rugged boot, incredible neck support
Mono is another one of those companies that enjoys a well-established reputation in the world of gig bag manufacturers. The Vertigo is the only top-loading bag of those reviewed here, and at first I didn’t think that would matter much to me, but I have grown to appreciate it. It’s surprising how many times I find myself in places where laying out a gig bag flat becomes problematic. With the Vertigo’s top-loading design, that’s a non-issue. I also appreciated the way the bass neck rides in this bag, as you don’t need to strap it in—it slips into place on its own due to a raised neck-support system. The boot protection at the bottom put me at ease in case of a drop, and I also loved its attachment options: You can easily attach a small pedalboard so that you aren’t carrying two separate items onto the plane.