The Violin Case Buyer’s Guide

Learn the features you can expect to find on a case priced under $500
by Greg Olwell

Violins have never been safer than they are right now. Manufacturers employ an abundance of luxurious materials to swaddle your beloved violin, while shaping rugged shells to shield your delicate instrument from a destructive world.

And now, more than ever, case makers are doing it with style. There’s a long history of protective and flashy violin cases, but never before has there been such a harvest of color, contours, texture, and features for violinists of any budget who want a secure case that also makes a fashion statement.

Finding the right case for your violin can be a big decision and the number of options buyers face is enough to make your head spin. But, there’s hope! You’re always going to be your violin’s first line of protection, and taking a moment to understand a few basic elements (keep reading!) can help to prioritize your needs and find the best case for your taste and spending ability. More than just a guide to the considerations and features important to violins cases, this feature is the result of conversations with many violinists, dealers, luthiers, and makers. Here you’ll find descriptions of the types of cases and the features in which violinists are willing to invest, and at what cost, for the peace of mind that a case can bring.

This survey set a retail price ceiling of $500 for a full-size violin case and invited several manufacturers to submit cases for review. In most instances, you’ll be able to find these cases for less, which is called the “street price.” And, in one instance, one case reviewed for this article exceeded the $500 limit—by $6. All of the test cases share a few features, including suspension and a minimum of two bow holders (except the Bam Overhead, which intentionally eliminates bow holders altogether).

We invited a panel of local violinists—Brynn Monteith, Alice Chen, and Richard Ward, who also works in sales at Ifshin Violins—to poke, prod, and comment on the more than two dozen cases the manufacturers sent in. We had a bow and a few differently proportioned full-size violins handy to check the cases for fit, and the panel tried stowing such common case contents as a nonfolding shoulder rest and sheet music. This clutch of cases shows that whether  you’re a traditionalist or a futurist, audacious or discreet, there are many good options for you in our group of 26 moderately priced violin cases.

Here’s a look at some of the characteristics of cases that you might want to consider when shopping for your own violin case.

Balancing Priorities

The number and variety of cases is a clue that one case definitely does not fit all, but you will need to balance your priorities between weight, security, and features.

But, not always.

As their use in automobiles show, lighter, high-tech composite materials continue to challenge the old idea of weight equaling protection. Violin cases increasingly rely on ABS plastic (which is used in such applications as car bumpers, laptop covers, and bulletproof vests), fiberglass, and foam shells to reduce weight without sacrificing protection, though plywood remains a favorite for many case makers and players thanks to its proven durability and protection.

A Variety of Shapes

Different shapes affect the case’s weight and storage ability in different ways, and manufacturers constantly develop new variations on the classic three silhouettes for violin cases (shaped, half-moon, and oblong), striking a balance between weight and storage without reducing protection. Oblong cases offer players the most amount of storage, inside and outside the case, and some feel, the most security. Given their size, they also tend to be heavier, which is why smaller half-moon and shaped cases are an option for players willing to give up some storage capacity for something lighter.

Suspension & Protection

Though still relatively new to violin cases, suspension is one feature that now seems so obviously necessary that most take it for granted, like automobile seatbelts. You can credit case maker LeRoy Weber for coming up with the idea to use interior padding, usually injected foam, to lift and cradle a violin, so that the violin’s body seems to float inside the shell, with the scroll safely away from the bottom of the case where a bump could break it or pop the neck off.

There’s no reason to not have suspension and every reason imaginable to have it. It’s available on almost every case, from the most inexpensive cases on up.

Suspension also brings up another issue: fit. Since even full-size violins are made in different sizes, try to have your fiddle with you when looking at a case. Some cases use a suspension system that has more wiggle room for a violin, while others can be snug, or even a little tight, for violins with a slightly longer body.

Weatherproofing is another way that your case protects a violin.

Many hard shell cases, such as the Bam Hightech or Bobelock 1047, rely on a tight-fitting rubber grommet to seal the shell’s two composite halves, while the foam- and plywood-core cases typically utilize a zippered abrasion-resistant nylon cover with rain flaps to protect against rain and snow. This weather sealing also helps to maintain a constant humidity inside your case.

Humidity Control

Much like most people, every violin is at its happiest around a constant temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 35 to 50 percent. Part of your case’s function is to help maintain this ideal climate when storing and transporting your violin through dry winters and soupy summers. That’s why every case needs a device to measure relative humidity: a hygrometer.

The mechanical hygrometers available as a feature in many cases are not valued for their accuracy, so you might want to invest in a digital hygrometer. You can purchase affordable and reliable digital hygrometers from Planet Waves orRadio Shack.

For some, a case humidifier can also be an important feature. Stability is the key to a happy fiddle, so consider the possibility that  transferring your violin from a perfectly humidified case to a dry performance space might be worse than a violin that’s been kept at a constant hydration level.

Built to Last

Those are the necessities—now consider the details of the case that can help make your decision feel like the right one. One characteristic of high-end cases that can sell for thousands of dollars is the vault-like fit of every piece. When you close the top, the different pieces—latches, locks, and so on—connect with the kind of effortless precision that distinguishes a good violinist from a great one. The higher-end case is closing, just like a lower-end case, but it does it better and makes it look easier.

Handles and the interior and exterior hardware can be a hallmark of quality and attention to detail. Pieces like latches, hinges, locks, and D-rings need to live up to the task. When examining a case, ask yourself if the zippers and latches feel like they’ll withstand thousands of case closings and openings. Are the handles securely attached to the case? Handles riveted into a foam case or a cloth cover can strip out, so look for a case with all handles screwed into the case’s core material for strength and peace of mind.

Inside the case, you’ll want to look beyond the soft materials and support system, to such parts as bow spinners and compartment covers that should feel sturdy and durable. Spinners that engage with a firm “click” when you twist them inspire confidence that your bow will be securely held. (Cases often come with extra spinners in case you break one.)

Even if you use a blanket, which many cases include, you don’t want it coming loose and dropping your bow on your violin’s top. And, nobody has ever regretted storage compartments that use long-lasting piano hinges in place of fabric and elastic.

Storage Issues

Beyond knowing what to look for in a secure, protective case, be honest with yourself about how you’re going to use your case. Some players fill their case with everything he or she might need (shoulder rest, every possible piece of sheet music, cell phone, and snacks), while others prefer a case with a stripped-down approach. Each has a benefit, so consider your preferences. Bring your shoulder rest along with your violin and bow when auditioning cases. It’s surprising how many cases won’t fit a standard, nonfolding shoulder rest.

Colors! Colors! Colors!

Though there are probably some cases that you wouldn’t be seen dead carrying, the case’s appearance is the last thing to worry about. Still, appearances are important, and many case models come in several finish options (the Tonareli Fiberglass, included in our roundup, is available in more than a dozen colors).

You can probably find the case that meets all the features you need and want, with a look that speaks to you.

American American-Eagle-Hill-Style-Case

Eagle Hill-Style

$169 (MSRP/street)

Construction Oblong, plywood shell with Cordura cover, solid velvet interior

Weight 6 3/4 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, analog hygrometer, two interior storage compartments, string tube, humidifier, violin bag, shoulder straps

Comments Nice exterior (including the testers’ favorite subway handle), snug fit for the violin, and lots of storage, though small storage box could brush neck and some of the cardboard interior parts do not feel durable.

American-Manhattan-ACV4

Manhattan ACV4

$199 (MSRP/street)

Construction Oblong, arched plywood shell covered in black nylon, velvet interior

Weight 7 1/4 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, analoghygrometer, three interior storage compartments, string tube, humidifier, violin bag, silk blanket

Comments Economical version of the Continental. Velcro closure holds neck securely. One of the heavier cases, but it feels secure. Singled out for its subway handles.

American-Continental

The Continental

$289 (MSRP/street)

Construction Oblong, arched plywood shell with Cordura cover, velvet interior with silk suspension points

Weight 8 1/4 lbs.

Features Digital hygrometer, four bow holders, three interior compartments, music pockets

Comments Has more padding and is more solid than the other American cases, but comes at a cost—it’s heavy and a snug fit for our larger violin. Shar says that the suspension’s silk-covered contact points protect the varnish. Testers dug the magnetic cover closures and digital hygrometer. Asked one player: “Could there be too much interior storage?”

Baker-StreetBaker-St.-BK-4000 BK-4000

$150 (MSRP), $105 (street)

Construction Half-moon, foam shell with cloth cover, velour-like interior

Weight 2 1/2 lbs.

Features Two bow holders, two interior storage compartments, analog hygrometer, blanket, backpack straps

Comments Roundly praised for its extreme light weight and small size, the BK-4000’s dramatic houndstooth exterior is well-suited for players wanting to make a fashion statement.

Baker-St.-BK-4020BK-4020

$230 (MSRP), $173 (street)

Construction Oblong, plywood shell with leatherette-accented nylon cover, faux-suede microfiber interior

Weight 7 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, three accessory compartments, analog hygrometer, thermometer, blanket, backpack straps

Comments The textured nylon cover is handsome and the hardware is nice, though one tester thought the 4020’s the interior’s piping, aiming for a high-end look, instead looked like an add-on

Baker-St.-BK-4030BK-4030

$250 (MSRP), $188 (street)

Construction Oblong, plywood shell with padded nylon cover, faux-suede microfiber interior

Weight 6 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, two accessory compartments, analog hygrometer, blanket, backpack straps

Comments With the dark-green exterior, solid hardware, and a wood-accented interior (wood bow spinners!), this solid-feeling case makes a good impression. One caveat: the subway handle broke off when one tester tried to slipped her fingers through it. [Saga couldn’t replace the otherwise well-made case in time to reevaluate, but it seems like an isolated problem.]

Bam Bam-StylusStylus 5001S

$264 (MAP)

Construction Oblong, ABS-plastic reinforced foam with Cordura cover, velvet interior

Weight 6 1/2 lbs.

Features Two bow holders, small exterior pocket, detachable accessory bag, sliding music folder, backpack straps

Comments A little heavy for a foam-core case, but the “nicely designed” Stylus’ foam shell is reinforced with tough ABS plastic for extra protection. Luxurious interior, but no humidity control and a few players wanted more interior storage. One player liked the TSA lock, while another (who is a flight attendant) thought it was unnecessary. None of the testers liked the self-closing top.

Bam-Hightech-OverheadHightech Overhead 2003XL

$476 (MAP)

Construction Teardrop, ABS plastic shell, suspension on velvet-covered injected foam

Weight 2 2/3 lbs.

Features Two combination locks, super-compact for air travel, weatherproof seal, backpack straps

Comments Extremely light and, aid one tester, “so small that no one is going to hassle you on a plane, but then you have to carry a bow case and accessories.”

Bam-Hightech-SlimHightech Slim 2000 XL

$493 (MAP)

Construction ABS plastic shell, suspension on velvet-covered injected foam

Weight 4 1/4 lbs.

Features Two combination locks, two bow holders, small detachable accessory bag, weatherproof seal, backpack straps

Comments Sleek, compact, and light, with two bow holders. Couldn’t hold our full-size shoulder rest.

Bam-Hightech-ContouredHightech Contoured 2002 XL

$506 (MAP)

Construction ABS plastic shell suspension on velvet-covered injected foam

Weight 3 1/2 lbs.

Features Two keyed locks, two bow holders, shoulder-rest strap, small removable pouch, weatherproof seal, backpack straps

Comments The panel of testers liked the shoulder-rest tie-down, light weight, and sophisticated design. The top lies flat when open.

Bobelock Bobelock-10071007 “Puffy”

$138 (MSRP), $109 (street)

Construction Shaped, plywood shell with nylon cover, velour interior

Weight 5 1/3 lbs.

Features Two bow holders, Velcro neck tie-down, fits most carry-on restrictions

Comments “A good basic case” with a nylon cover,” said one tester, though “the exterior pocket is too small.” The nylon cover is available in other colors. “Really good deal,” they concluded.

Bobelock-1047-Half-MoonFiberglass 1047 Half-Moon

$314 (MSRP), $219 (street)

Construction Half-moon, fiberglass shell, with padded velvet interior, padded nylon bag

Weight 6 1/2 lbs.

Features Two bow holders, humistat, hygrometer, shoulder-rest holder, one interior storage pocket, piano hinge, shoulder strap

Comments Removable nylon case is helpful for protecting the fiberglass case from scratches. Solid and reliable case with durable hinges and hardware.

Bobelock-1051-Corregidor1051 Corregidor

$433 (MSRP), $319 (street)

Construction Oblong, plywood shell with nylon canvas cover, velvet interior

Weight 8 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, two interior storage compartments, humistat, hygrometer, string tube, satin instrument bag, piano hinge, subway strap, shoulder strap, blanket, rain flap

Comments Hill-style oblong case with French-style interior. Testers described it as elegant, with their favorite shoulder-rest storage. “It’s heavy, but it’s very nice,” said one.

Concord Concord-PC2205EXPC2205EX Concert Oblong

$377 (MSRP), $264 (street)

Construction Oblong, plywood shell with arched top and Cordura cover, velvet lining

Weight 7 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, two accessory compartments, analog hygrometer, humidifier, music pocket, backpack straps

Comments The panel felt it was “an average case” with good storage, but a bit pricey. One noted, “[It] costs double what I’d pay for it.”

Concord-PC2451PC2451 Deluxe Oblong

$414 (MSRP), $290 (street)

Construction Oblong, plywood shell with arched top and Cordura cover, velvet lining

Weight 7 1/4 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, two accessory compartments, analog hygrometer, humidifier, blanket, music pocket, backpack straps

Comments Deluxe version of the PC2205EX features wider profile for more protection for the bouts and an overlapping seal for more moisture protection, but panel agreed it seemed pricey compared to other similar cases. Abundant storage.

Concord-PR2207-ElitePR2207 Elite

$423 (MSRP), $296 (street)

Construction Oblong, plywood shell with arched top and Cordura cover, faux-suede lining

Weight 6 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, two interior compartments, analog hygrometer, humidifier, blanket, shoulder strap, leather handle

Comments Panel liked the real wood bow holders and faux-suede interior quality and appearance, though the scant neck suspension left our violin necks resting on an unpadded divider between the smaller storage compartment and the body.

Concord-PR2208-DeLitePR2208 DeLite

$500 (MSRP), $368 (street)

Construction Oblong, plywood shell with arched top and Cordura cover, faux-suede lining

Weight 5 1/4 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, one large interior compartment, analog hygrometer, humidifier, blanket, shoulder straps, leather handle

Comments Good bow spinners, faux-suede interior, and decent hardware were pluses, but more expensive than other cases with similar construction and features.

Core Core-575575

$302 (MSRP), $229 (street)

Construction Oblong, plywood shell, velour interior

Weight 7 1/2 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, three interior storage compartments, digital hygrometer, humidifier, Velcro neck holder, subway handle, leather handle

Comments One of the few cases with a digital hygrometer. Two interior storage compartments flank the pegbox and bumped our violin’s pegs. Good value.

Pedi Pedi-1110011100

$230 (MSRP), $200 (street)

Construction Oblong, foam shell with aluminum reinforcement with waterproof nylon cover, faux-suede microfiber interior

Weight 5 3/4 lbs.

Features Two bow holders, three interior storage compartments, humidifier, blanket, subway handle, rain flap, music storage pouch, backpack straps

Comments A nicely finished, lightweight case with good hardware and a modern design. Pedi claims the aluminum-reinforced structure supports 175 pounds. Tidy, storable backpack straps are a great feature.

Protec Protec-Travel-Light-ProTravel Light Pro Pac

$179 (MSRP), $135 (street)

Construction Oblong, wood frame with nylon exterior, padded velboa lining

Weight 5 3/4 lbs.

Features Two bow holders, two storage compartments, blanket, sheet-music pocket, shoulder-rest strap

Comments Slim case that trades some size and interior and exterior storage for serious lightness. “Ultra-light, but the interior pockets are a little small,” one tester said.

Protec-ProfessionalProfessional Pro Pac

$269 (MSRP), $184 (street)

Construction Oblong, wood/foam frame with nylon exterior, velvet interior

Weight 6 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, string tube, analog hygrometer, humidifier, attached blanket, built-in rain jacket, sheet-music pocket, TSA lock, subway handle, shoulder strap

Comments A little heavy, but sturdy, the Protech Pro has secure handles on both sides and a TSA lock. Detachable blanket easy to keep organized. Lots of storage for players who want to stow accessories in their case.

Tonareli Tonareli-OblongOblong Hard

$160 (MSRP), $114 (street)

Construction Oblong, plywood with nylon cover, velvet interior

Weight 7 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, hygrometer, two interior compartments, string tube, sheet-music compartment

Comments Solid entry-level plywood case. Several panelists especially liked the magnetic cover flaps.

Tonareli-FiberglassFiberglass

$225 (MSRP), $170 (street)

Construction Cello-shaped fiberglass shell with weatherproof seal, velvet interior

Weight 4 3/4 lbs.

Features Two bow holders, blanket, backpack straps, leather handle

Comments Some liked the sleek, cello-shaped case, while others wondered, “why would anyone want to look like they’re carrying a mini-cello?” The smoked chrome hardware looks cool. Case smells strongly of glue when opened. A dozen other colors are available.

Tonareli-DeluxeDeluxe

$260 (MSRP), $220 (street)

Construction Oblong, plywood shell

Weight 7 lbs.

Features Four bow holders, analog hygrometer, humidifier, thermometer, three interior compartments, leather neck tie-down, string tube, blanket, sheet music compartment, backpack straps

Comments The Deluxe model has all of the bells and whistles, lots of storage, and seems like “a decent value.”

Tonareli-AficionadoAficionado

$299 (MSRP), $250 (street)

Construction Oblong, arched plywood shell with pinstriped Cordura exterior, velvet interior

Weight 6 lbs.

Features Two bow holders, analog hygrometer, string tube, blanket, shoulder straps, music compartment

Comments The Aficionado’s pinstriped exterior and flashy burgundy interior are not for the faint at heart—or easily frightened. Though well-appointed and spec’d with features, some felt the price is too high and couldn’t get over the bold interior.

 

Comments