There are few things more anxiety inducing to any guitarist than handing over a guitar at an airport check in desk (or any other mode of transportation for that matter). In doing so, you’re putting a whole lot of faith in a whole lot of people who don’t know you and don’t necessarily understand the damage they could do to your pride and joy with anything but the utmost care and attention.
One thing you can do to change how you feel after handing over your guitar at check in is to invest in a high end case. While it’s never a guarantee of safety for your guitar, opting for the best quality case you can is always a good idea.
One of the best quality cases on the market right now is the Gator TSA series – LED Edition. This is an absolute Beast of a guitar case, and our good friends at Sweetwater were kind enough to send us one for the purposes of this review. As always, Sweetwater requested no input into the content of this review, and all thoughts and opinions are our own.
If you’re in the market for a seriously durable guitar case, you won’t want to miss this one.
Who is This For?
The Gator TSA series LED Edition electric guitar case is primarily aimed at those who tend to travel a lot with their guitars – whether you’re touring internationally or gigging locally. The LED light feature also makes it a great choice for anybody who does their own adjustments and repairs on the road, as it doubles up as a makeshift work bench.
We also think it makes a great case for street performers. It’s incredibly tough, and unlike fabric gig bags, or hard side Tolex or tweed wrapped cases, there’s nothing to rip, so you can feel confident laying it down on even the roughest sidewalks and pavements.
Features / Specifications
Starting with the construction, this Gator case is made with military grade polyethylene, which is nigh on indestructible. It has a rectangular form factor, and has a really discrete, all black finish – this is always nice if you’re trying not to give away the fact that there’s something particularly valuable inside!
Like the body, the handle is also injection molded, and features an ergonomic design for excellent comfort, even when you need to carry it for extended periods. When empty, the case weighs in at 13.6 lb, which is admittedly quite a lot.
On the interior, it features EPS foam molding covered in a plush lining. The molding is pretty generic and leaves enough space for pretty much any style of guitar (perhaps barring some of the more extreme shapes). In addition to accommodating a wide range of guitar shapes, it also has plenty of storage for accessories.
One of the signature features is, of course, the LED light strip that automatically turns on when opening the case.
It has both mechanical hinges and nylon webbing stays to prevent overextension. The latches are impact resistant, and most importantly, feature TSA approved locks. If you aren’t aware, the TSA or Transport Security Administration are granted the authority to inspect inside your luggage at any airport in the United States, and as long as you use a TSA approved lock, they have master keys that will allow them access without the need to physically damage your case to gain entry.
Real World Performance
In theory, many of the features on this Gator case are exactly what any working guitarist would be looking for, and in general, they got a lot right with it. Starting with the overall durability – we have no doubt that this case is built to withstand real punishment. While we didn’t exactly take it on a world tour during our test, we did tool it around between venues, and in and out of the back of a couple of vans. We weren’t particularly abusive, but we were definitely satisfied that whatever was inside would survive a few knocks.
Not only was the military grade exterior a big factor in this, but the synergy between the outer shell and the inner foam lining is the real magic. It’s designed with a ton of neck support, so much so, that we’d even trust it with a Gibson or Epiphone – although even with the best case you’ll want to think twice about checking your ‘59 Standard.
It fit every guitar we had to hand, including an ES-339, a Strat, a Tele, a Les Paul, and an SG. Besides what we managed to test fit, we’ve also heard confirmed reports that it fits the EVH Wolfgang, and V style guitars, too, but you might want to check that it fits your guitar for sure before purchasing.
The lining was super plush and was extremely gentle on even the most delicate finishes. If you’ve got a particularly old guitar and you’re trying to avoid damage, this is a great option. There are no hard plastic parts or sharp edges anywhere on the interior of the case, and the latches are stowed safely out of the way on the upper half of the shell when it’s open.
It locked securely, and we had no worries that it would pop open without the use of a key. One slight irritation about this case was the nylon webbing used to prevent the case from opening fully. Unless we were careful to tuck it in before closing the case, it tended to get pitched between the 2 halves of the shell, which then meant reopening and tucking it away to prevent it from becoming a catch hazard – quite a pain if you don’t notice until it’s all latched and locked.
We also found the weight to be a little excessive. At almost 14lb, it got a little fatiguing to carry, especially when filled with a heavier guitar. Of course, it’s a small price to pay for the level of protection it affords. We understand it’s not pretending to be a gig bag, but if you do need to carry it by hand, you’ll want to be aware.
The interior light was actually quite handy. We thought it might be a little gimmicky at first, but it has a great automatic on/off feature and can even be turned off manually if necessary. The battery compartment was easily accessible, but we didn’t find ourselves needing to change out the batteries at all during our test. We found it to be especially useful for string changes during gigs. We used it like a mobile work bench and found that it worked really well, with plenty of light provided by the LEDs.
Final Thoughts on the Gator TSA Series Electric Guitar Case – LED Edition
We don’t think we’ve found a more protective travel case than the Gator TSA Series Electric Guitar Case at this price point. The use of TSA approved locks, and military grade materials is a huge confidence boost on those occasions when it might be necessary to check a guitar case at the airport, and even if you’re not planning to fly with it, you’ll find that it affords ample protection from even the heaviest handed roadies.
We found the LED lighting to be quite useful and also found that there was plenty of space for accessories, too. In all, it was an excellent case, and we’d have no issues in recommending it to anybody looking for a heavy duty electric guitar transport solution.