Prepping Your Guitar for Tour with Larry Burnett
There’s nothing worse than a guitar that is out of tune. Even a guitar that is mostly reliable to be in tune, can be quickly affected by the elements if playing outside, and that just ruins the jam vibes. No one likes their jam vibes ruined. I play for a ministry that goes around the Midwest putting on local events that is family friendly and focused on just being loving and offering a message of hope to that community. The band itself just plays cover music from the decades of all forms of rock and even Motown hits, which creates the perfect setlist for a guitarist to test his skills with the variety.
What tested my skills this time around more than anything, was prepping my guitar for the tour – including taking it on a few flights.
This tour happened to be all outdoors in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, meaning I had to take into consideration proper handling of my guitar in the elements. But like I said, first I had to fly up there. Which brought up the question: Is it good to check your guitar in with regular luggage, or is there a way for me to bring it as a carry on?
Learning to Fly
Let’s tackle that first part first, because the answer is quick (but honestly subjective): No.
“No” meaning, unless you have a GREAT hard-shell case that you’re willing to risk the wonderful workers at the airport throwing around like a sack of potatoes, I don’t see that ending up well for anyone. Don’t get me wrong, you can purchase flight ready cases that are very durable – but also rather costly. So for the rest of us, choosing to put your basic hard-shell case in the hands of the airport luggage workers is a gamble from my perspective.
So, the solution, is looking into option 2 from my question: What is required to take a guitar on a plane? Well, before we answer that let’s make sure your guitar is ready to fly with the action and total setup that you prefer (or check this video out on our YouTube channel for more details: https://youtu.be/7tQGz40ZNog)
Once your guitar is setup how you like it, simply detune your mighty axe until those strings are good and loose. This will help the guitar resist any major stressing since it will be up in the air, and the altitude pressure changes back and forth during the flight.
Next, once your guitar is ready to go on the flight with you, you’ll need to determine if the place you’re boarding has the right space for it. This part can be tricky, and there’s no way to fully guarantee the space since not every plane on ABC Flights is the same, right? Some planes are older than others, even if the fleet is newer. So here’s what my plan was:
Purchase a luggage strap (I bought one with a TSA lock on it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3u7iGCs) so that if I approach the plane can’t find space on board, then at least I can have this strap on the guitar to wrap around the body (and through the handle) in case the airport workers have to take it and put it underneath. That would also have been the chance to speak directly to one of them, and simply request that they not throw this in there, but better yet leave it for last and place it on top of the luggage. The strap would be a fail-safe in case the plane causes any of the buckles/fasteners to pop open during flight. If I don’t have to put the guitar down below, oh well it’s just one more thing that protects my guitar case from opening regardless.
This is the main step, but purchasing that strap needs to be done ahead of time – what you want to do, because researching this online will give you mixed answers, is carry your guitar to the boarding gate with the intent to take it as a carry on.
Quick side tip: if you have active pickups in your guitar, and therefore a battery inside, TSA will flag you down and look at the guitar closer. They pulled mine aside and took this small strip with a chemical on it and lightly wiped it around the pickups and around the body. I think it checks for certain explosive chemicals or something? The TSA guy wasn’t much of a talker and just did his thing while I waited – don’t worry though, that chemical they put on the little strip isn’t corrosive or harmful to the guitar. Even so, when he handed it back to me, I opened the case up and wiped it once more with a dry cloth to ensure nothing remains.)
Ask the worker at the gate if the aircraft has a “utility closet” on board. Some planes do not have these, so finding this info out up front is helpful, because at that point if they say no then you know your only option is the overhead bins.
If they don’t know, then you’ll just have to take it on board and ask the flight attendant when you step inside if A. They have enough overhead bin space for your guitar or B. If they have a Flight attendant coat closet on that plane
If they don’t have a closet, and the overhead bin space doesn’t fit your guitar, then of course your only option at that point is to give the guitar to the luggage handler (don’t forget that strap!)
The other way you can potentially verify the plane space itself, is calling the airline and requesting info that way based on your flight number. I found this to be unhelpful, since the different airlines I was using gave me the same reply, “You’re welcome to pay for an additional seat or check it in as luggage”.
My overall experience was walking to my first flight (which unfortunately had to be with a certain yellow plane company…) and going right on board as quickly as possible, to give me first dibs at the overhead bin space. My Schecter has a full case that fit just fine up there on that flight. The other airlines were American and Delta, and unfortunately one of the American flights it was an older plane and there was no closet or large enough space in the overhead bins. Had to pass my guitar off to the luggage carrier, who put a tag on it and set it underneath last; I got it back first thing when I stepped off the plane, it was all good.
So, there you have it – yes you can take your guitar on the plane without paying for a seat. And just to clarify this too, some flights consider the case to be oversized carry-on, and others don’t. This was not the case on my flights, but I have been told other airlines do this and they charge you extra for it. I would recommend trying to look at the plane you’re boarding in advance if you can somehow, but also just prep the guitar for a flight – whether than be a rough one, or nicely in the overhead bin.
Take these tips and pass it all around on your epic world tours!!!