I’d like to start this article with a friendly and important tip:
Every instrument you own should have a case.
I’ll get into the many reasons in just a bit, but trust me on this. So how do you know which one is the best for your ukulele and your purposes?
If you’ve done any internet searching for cases, you may have noticed a lot of options in a lot of price points. You figure you need a case, and you might be tempted to go for that cheap one.
Is that really the best option though? If it’s not, then what is?
Before we get to the what, it’s helpful to understand the why.
Why Should You Have A Case For A Ukulele?
So the obvious answer here is protection. Whilst ukuleles are made out of quality woods, the wood is very thin. Even if it has a thicker finish on it, it’s still highly susceptible to scratches, dings, and holes.
It only takes bumping it just the right way into the corner of something to ruin your day. Kind of like stubbing your toe. A case naturally protects it from that and more. Every type of case is a little different and provides different levels of protection. I’ll go into more detail on that in a minute.
An added benefit of any case is keeping your instrument clean. Here’s a good example: go to the nearest shelf in your house that you haven’t cleaned for a couple weeks. Do the “white glove test” (gloves not required for this one). How much dust do you have on your finger?
Now imagine that all over your uke. Dust on the strings, dust on the body, dust in the body.
I put a big emphasis on cleaning your ukulele every time you change your strings. Keeping it clean will keep it lasting a long time. All of the oils, acids, dirt, and sweat we naturally leave on our instruments can cause damage in the long run. If you add dust onto that you could be in some real trouble.
Especially if you have electronics built in or open tuners (gears exposed). The dust will cause both to have issues over time. And plus, no one wants a dirty instrument. So for that alone it’s worth getting something to store your uke in.
Example of open tuners. The dust gets in between the gears. Overtime it can form a gunk layer, making it harder to tune.
In addition to keeping your uke looking good, all cases will provide some level of protection. Even the thinnest of gig bags will prevent scratches and dings (from light impacts). This is going to be especially useful if you transport your ukulele anywhere. Like lessons, school, rehearsals, or gigs.
The chips, dings, and scratches are going to be 90% of what you’ll need to protect your ukulele from. So you can get away with something lightweight and inexpensive. The other 10% will be major damage caused by heavy travel (like schlepping a bunch of gear from gig to gig, everything strewn about in your car with a bunch of other gear), flying with your instrument, and if you’re generally rough with everything you own (like me...).
Lastly, cases simply make your uke easier to carry. At the very least you’ll have a comfortable handle, and most even have shoulder or back pack style straps. The ability to carry your case hands free leaves your other hands open to either carry more gear, or give high fives on your way in.
The One Exception
OK, with all of that said, I do like the convenience of having one (and only one) instrument left out on a stand. I find that if you have a ukulele out, preferably not an expensive uke or one with electronics, you have less barriers to keep you from playing.
I know, it sounds lazy, but hear me out. When you say that all you have to do is grab your case, open it, and strum away, it sounds simple. And in theory it is. But when life gets busy, the dog keeps chasing the cat, and you’re neck deep in chores, literally one small barrier can keep you from playing or practicing.
This is why so many instructors emphasize the importance of routine. Developing a routine of setting aside x amount of time, x amount of days per week. What that is depends on each individual.
I have found personally that I can walk by my cases all day and not think about playing. But if there’s one on a stand, it’s easy to grab it and strum a couple chords. Those couple of chords turn into 5 minutes. Those 5 minutes can easily turn into an hour. The fewer barriers there are, the more likely you are to practice.
BUT, there are some guidelines I have that will make sure your instrument stays nice and healthy. So if you’re going to do this, please please please follow these guidelines.
- Don’t keep it in a high traffic area. The last thing you want is to bump your uke or knock it off its stand. Keep it somewhere out of the way, but where you’ll see it and ideally play it.
- Change the strings regularly. When you leave your uke out of a case, the strings are going to go dead much quicker. So to keep the uke in tune, and yourself inspired, change the strings often. How long “often” is depends on a lot of variables. But evaluating after 4 weeks is a good start.
- Clean your uke when you change the strings. Since it’s going to be collecting a lot more dust, be sure to polish the body and condition the fretboard. It will look better and last longer.
- Keep it away from pets. We love our furry companions, but they don’t have the intelligent thought of a grown human. They’re impulsive and can easily knock your uke off a stand when they’re running around the house. Same goes for tiny humans (the toddlers and young kids).
- Keep it away from windows and heaters. Ideally you’d keep it in a place that doesn’t get direct sunlight, and in a spot with consistent temperatures. The area around or under windows have greater temperature and humidity fluctuations. That’s typically where the heaters are too.
- Use air spray on electronics and open gears. This really only applies to ukes that have a pickup, and/or have open gears. Neither like dust very much, so get some air spray to clear them of dust. Do this every time you change your strings.
If you follow these steps, you can enjoy picking up your ukulele every time you pass by, without having to worry (much) about its health and safety.
The Different Types of Ukulele Cases
Most of the time you can conveniently fit gig bags into three categories: Covers, Padded Gig Bags/Soft Shell Cases, and Hard Shell Cases. There can be many different styles inside each category, but these are the big three.
Covers can technically fall into the gig bag category. But since they’re not padded, I wouldn’t bother bringing a uke to a gig in them. These should really only be used if your uke doesn’t leave the house. Think of them as dust covers with zippers.
They’ll protect your ukulele from dust and dirt, and minor bumps and scratches. That’s about all they do though, so if you use one of these be sure to store your uke on a shelf or in a safe spot.
I’m not going to link any examples here, since I don’t value these too much. I’ve seen and heard too many horror stories to put any stock in them.
Gig Bags/Soft Shell Cases
Bondi Tribal Tenor Ukulele Gig Bag. Available in Soprano and Concert sizes as well.
I’m a huge fan of gig bags, and I think they can get a bad rap. Sure, I might not tour with these (though you could), but taking them to gigs or rehearsals is totally fine.
Gig bags are formed padded cases. Them come in all ukulele sizes, and your uke fits snugly inside. You’ll typically find them with a durable canvas type material on the outside, and compression foam for the padding. As with everything, there are good, better, and best versions.
The higher quality versions will provide the best fit, use better stitching, and upgraded zippers. Extra benefits can come in the way of padded (and comfortable) straps, bumpers on the bottom (to protect your uke even more when you set the case down), and a more luxurious interior. After all, your uke works hard for you!
This gig bag has all of those things, with a velvet interior for maximum comfort and finish protection. Your uke will thank you.
One benefit you get from gig bags and soft shell cases are extra storage options. The outside typically has at least one large pocket. This can save you from needing to carry an extra bag.
Hard Shell Cases
Bondi Tenor Ukulele Hard Shell Case. Also available in Soprano and Concert sizes.
Hard shell cases in general range from about $50 to upwards of several hundreds of dollars. The upper end are basically everything proof (including water proof), and are similar to the type used for transporting military equipment. Those are called road cases and are really a category on their own.
For most of us, hard shell cases like that are a little excessive. What you’re more likely to see in the $50-$150 range are hard shell cases made from wood, plastic, or a high density hard foam (the latter is kind of in its own category, also called foam core cases).
The interiors are typically the same, some sort of molded foam cushion with a velvety soft interior. Your uke should fit snugly inside with little wiggle.
The outer shell is much harder than gig bags, and comes in two common styles. The first is a wood shell with a Tolex style vinyl material as a wrap. The wood is obviously hard and durable. The Tolex style vinyl material is an added layer of protection. For both the instrument and the wood shell.
The second is a molded plastic. It’s much lighter than the wood cases, and just as durable. It’s also cheaper to make so you’ll typically pay less for them.
In either case you’ll see buckles instead of zippers. As far as longevity, I've had both zippers and buckles fail. The higher the quality, the longer they’ll last. I don’t think I'd rate either one above the other. OK, maybe slight advantage to the buckle, as long as it’s halfway decent.
Because of their durability, they’re better suited for gigging and traveling than the other options. They handle the road much better and are an all-around great option. I also happen to love the look of these. Sleek and classic! And they take stickers well...
What Ukulele Case Works Best For You?
It depends. To make things easy, I've broken down my recommendations into different “personality” types.
The Couch Musician
If you don’t take you uke out much, and play mostly at home, you can get away with using covers. Of course I’ll caution you to be extra cautious. And for that reason, I still think you’re better off with a gig bag or soft shell case. The extra padding gives me much less anxiety.
You gig on the weekends, go on trips the weekends you don’t have gigs, and generally take your ukulele(s) with you on those trips. You’re not flying with them, so you don’t need to get too crazy. But you need a case that’s going to be able to take a little abuse.
I’d recommend the gig bag or soft shell case. It’s light weight, easy to carry and transport, and provides more than adequate protection for your ukulele. Just make sure it’s never on the bottom of a pile. Top is best.
You’re flying with your uke, you’re an international superstar, and you need to be able to throw your cases in a trailer and move onto the next city. You need ultra protection that only the hardest of hard shell cases will provide. Anything less protective than tank armor won’t work.
(or you’re like me and are paranoid/overly protective of your instruments, and really need peace of mind that your babies are safe and sound at all times. Or you’re also like me and like to put stickers on things.)
You don’t need to spend a fortune though. Just get a hard shell case that your uke fits snugly in.
What is your favorite style of case, and why? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check out our UkuleleMate Club online community to chat with other players.