Recommendations for Selecting a Viola Case
Traditional wooden cases offer several advantages over more modern composite materials. High-quality 5-layer plywood case shells give the best overall protection against falls and accidents. If my valued, personal instrument were to be run over by a car (something that happens more often that you would think), I'd want it to be in a wooden case! Wooden cases also allow easy and consistent control of humidity (wood acts as a buffer or
sink for moisture), helping your viola stay happy and in tune, and helping to prevent open seams and cracks caused by dry air. What's more, wood is easy to work with and available in abundance, so wooden cases tend to be reasonably priced.
Our Favorite Wooden Viola Cases
Ultra-Lightweight Composite Viola Cases for Professionals
However, compared to more modern composite materials, wood is somewhat heavy. For professionals seeking an ultra-lightweight case, it
is possible to combine both excellent protection and lightness in the same case. These high-end viola cases tend not to be as rugged as traditional wooden designs, i.e. the glossy finish may become scratched, or the shell may dent or crack if dropped from a height onto a hard surface; which is why we recommend them for professionals, rather than high-school students. But, 4.2 pounds is a lot easier to carry than an 10 pound oblong, wooden case. Watch out! Cheap lightweight cases are made so by use of styrofoam, thin wooden laminate, or other shoddy materials, and are not suitable for professional instruments.
Our Favorite Ultra-Light Viola Cases for Professionals
Composite Viola Cases
And, then there is everything in between. For those seeking a reasonably priced case, of a moderate weight, a canvas-covered composite case may be a good choice. A canvas exterior is more rugged than a glossy finish, which can easily get scratched or dented. And, a composite shell is lighter than wood, while still offering professional-grade protection for your instrument.
Our Favorite Composite Viola Cases
Ten Questions to Ask Before Buying a Viola Case
1. How is the case constructed? (i.e. How much protection does it offer?)
- Plywood & Wood Laminate Cases - Very strong, but heavy. If you plan to run over your case with your car, or to drop it off the top bleacher at the football game, this is the
kind of case you want. Wooden cases also maintain more consistent humidity levels than any other kind of case. Our favorite maker is
- Fiberglass Cases - Attractive and colorful, glossy exteriors. The kids love these. Fairly heavy. Strong and resistant to crushing, but not particularly durable. Fiberglass will crack or break if
dropped on a hard surface or banged about. All cases get banged about over time, so fiberglass cases don't tend to last as long as wood. Also fiberglass finish tends to get scratched up.
Bobelock Fiberglass Viola Cases
- Composite Cases - Attractive and colorful exteriors. Extremely lightweight. Depending on the composite used, these cases can be quite strong, though not as resistant to crushing as
wood. Composite cases are typically heat-molded, so you'll want to avoid leaving it in the hot car on a hot summer day, or the case could warp.
(Of course, you wouldn't do that to your instrument anyway!) High-end composite cases tend to be the best choice for those seeking to combine lightness/ease-of-travel with professinal-level
Bam Hightech Viola Cases
- Injected Foam / Polyurethane Cases - Injected polyurethane foam (not to be confused with cheap polystyrene foam) is a fantastic material for viola cases. It is soft enough to absorb shocks and bumps, preventing those shocks from reaching
the instrument; and yet firm enough to provide good structural support to the shell of the case. It is lightweight. And, it is an excellent thermal insulator, helping to keep out the cold.
Some cases are made entirely of polyurethane, with a simple canvas cover over the outside. Other cases use
a layer of polyurethane, combined with a composite shell. See:
Bam Hightech Viola Cases
- Steel Reinforced Cases - Steel, as you might think, adds considerably to the crush protection of the case. Because it is so heavy, steel bands are typically combined with a lighter material
like aluminum. See:
Pedi Viola Cases
- Polystyrene Foam Cases - These cases, often called featherlite, featherweight, ultralight, etc., are cheap and lightweight, but offer little protection. These are
appropriate for student instruments, but not for anything of value.
A note about protectiveness . . . The strength of the shell, i.e.
crush strength, is an important consideration. But, be sure to ask also about:
Shock Protection - How well the case absorbs and dissipates bangs and bumps, preventing the shock of such impacts from damaging the instrument.
Thermal Protection - How well the case keeps out heat and, especially, cold.
Case Suspension - Cushions that lift and suspend the instrument within the case. Be sure your fine instrument isn't going to be sitting flat on the bottom of the case.
2. How heavy is the case?
Modern viola cases range in weight from about 10 lb. down to just a few lb. Most of the lightest cases are constructed of polystyrene foam and are not recommended except for inexpensive,
student instrument. However, some high-end composite cases combine lightness with professional protection. Still,
if weight is not a particular issue for you, a slightly heavier wooden case is often the best overall choice. See:
Bam Hightech Viola Cases
3. How durable is the case?
Many cases look wonderful in a picture, but are made with cheap parts that don't last. We recommend asking your dealer what complaints they've had from other customers, and how often they receive
warranty claims. Regardless of how nice it looks, a case isn't much use if the zipper breaks or the handle falls off. (Note: We refuse to stock lines of cases that don't hold up over time, which is why
you won't see certain manufacturers listed in our pages.) Also important to consider . . . How fragile is the shell and finish of the case? Does it scratch or dent easily? Note: Case covers are
available for many cases, and go a long way toward keeping the finish looking new.
4. Is the case comfortable to carry?
If you plan to carry your case backpack-style, be sure to ask about what straps come with the case and how comfortable they are. The size and shape of the case will also affect how it sits
on your back and how top-heavy it may feel. If you commute with your case, you may also find a subway strap useful (strap/handle on the end of the case that allows the player to hold it upright while standing).
5. Does it have the pockets / internal space that I need?
If you plan to carry music in your case, ask if it has a music pocket, and whether the pocket is half or full-length. If you usually keep your shoulder rest in your case, be sure that it has a shoulder rest strap or pocket.
6. How easily/securely does the case open and close?
Avoid cheap or difficult-to-operate latches. And, consider what zippers, snaps, and flaps you'll have to move out of the way every time you wish to open the case. Ask your dealer if
they have ever had complaints or returns due to defective latches on the case in question. Also, take note of whether or not the case has a latch at all - some rely entirely on the zipper to keep the case closed.
7. How is humidity measured and controlled in this case?
Does the case come with a hygrometer? Is the hygrometer analog or digital. (Digital is more accurate, but requires batteries and isn't as classy looking.) Does the case come with a humidifier? If not, does
the case have a clip where a humidifier can be mounted, if purchased separately? Note: Wooden cases maintain a more stable humidity level than composite cases, since the wood absorbs excess moisture and releases it when needed.
8. How difficult is this case going to be to get past the check counter at the airport?
Airlines are now required to allow violists to bring their instruments with them onto the plane, as long as there is room in the overhead compartment or under the seat. But, a smaller case is more likely to get through without a hassle, and is more likely to fit in the required space.
9. What is the warranty?
Even the best manufacturers make mistakes, from time to time. Does this case come with a manufacturer's warranty? How long is the coverage period? What does it cover? In the event of
a warranty claim, will the dealer assist you personally in getting the problem resolved? If not, you'll most likely need to mail the case to the manufacturer for repair.
If the case comes with no
warranty, there is probably a reason for that; some cases are just not built to last.
10. How is this case going to make me feel?
Ok, so this is really a question for you, not for the dealer. But it's an important one. Before making the investment in a high-end case, think about what you want this case to say about you
when you walk down the street, into rehearsal, or to the jam session at the local pub. Are you a classy professional? A stylishly-modern fiddler?
With such a wide variety of colors and styles to choose from, be sure to choose one that says something positive
about who you are, and what makes you - you.