My requirements for cases have changed since the last time I bought my Stevenson Original when I was still a graduate student. Even then, I typically bought a second airline ticket for my cello when I was travelling, but I wanted a really something really sturdy in case I couldn’t afford to. Or if I had one of those nasty incidents in which you do buy a ticket but the airline staff won’t let your cello on the plane because of some ever-changing rule about bulkhead seats.*
I digress. I’m good at that. Cases.
My Stevenson case is sturdily made, and built to last. After ten years of use, its latches, hinges, and wheels are still in perfect condition. The “shell” of the case fits together beautifully. It’s super-protective: once, my daughter pushed it over on its nose from a standing position, and my cello not only emerged without a scratch, it didn’t even go out of tune. Nicholas Gold’s recent video of what Southwest Airlines did to his cello illustrates just how great Stevenson cases are at doing their job, even if we cannot say the same for airline employees.**
But there’s a reason I wanted a different kind of case this time around. Ten years ago, I couldn’t afford one of the lightweight models of the Stevenson case, so I got the fibreglass version, which weighs 8.7 kilograms, or 19.2 pounds. Add a cello, and that’s a lot of weight to be lugging around on planes and trains. If you’re a person with long, skinny, non-muscular arms, it’s murder to wheel around for more than ten minutes. Also, its bulk makes it hard to get into the backseat of my not-exactly-small Ford Fusion, which it has to share with a toddler car seat, and more often than not, an outraged toddler.
So I was in the market for a new case.
My new requirements:
- It must be lightweight, so that I can carry it on my back. No wheels necessary, although I would consider them.
- It mustn’t have junky hinges and latches that I may not be able to replace.
- Furthermore, it must have at least five latches, so that if one breaks, it doesn’t make the whole case unusable. I’ve seen a few cases with as few as one to three latches, which is just asking for trouble.
As always when purchasing new equipment, I asked over 20 cellist friends for reviews and recommendations. On the strength of their experiences, the cases I considered were:
- The Accord Standard case, 2.8 kg or 5.8 lbs (I didn’t consider the Ultralight, which is even lighter, after several reliable sources told me the shell was so thin that it became rather flimsy over time)
- The Brack cello case, 3.5 kg or 7.7 lbs
- The BAM Hightech, 2.9 kg or 6.4 lbs
- The Musilia S3, 2.5 kg or 5.5 lbs
All of them had various pluses and minuses. I dropped the BAM from consideration almost immediately, because I’d had BAM cases in the past and there was always some issue with the latches, and the shell on the model I had never fitted together properly without a lot of fiddling and coaxing. Unless BAM are making much better cases than they were five years ago when I last used one of their products, I wasn’t going there.
The Brack had the best appearance, in my opinion, and I heard that the latches are modular (i.e. if they break you can simply buy identical ones from the manufacturer and fit them yourself), but it was the heaviest of the cases I considered, which is why I dropped it from the list too.
The Musilia seemed to be most popular with young students, whether or not this is because of the dazzling range of colours it comes in. This ended up coming second with me: I bought the Accord Standard in 3-D Blue. After much shopping around, I was offered a brilliant deal by Meilin and Steve Koscica at String Emporium in Arizona, and they threw in free five-day shipping too. Big win!
This is a picture of my Accord Standard case next to my Stevenson, so you can see just how tiny it is. The first thing I noticed was that the Accord is a little wobbly on its bearings when standing upright on carpet, compared to the completely stable Stevenson. Of course, that’s partly because it’s smaller and lighter.
The Accord Standard is certainly lightweight, which is of course what I bought it for. The latches—there are seven—seem fine, as do the hinges.
However. Then there was this. The bows are held in with a strap that’s fastened with a sort of industrial-strength snap, the kind you’d find on a denim jacket. OK, they keep your bow in place, but they’re annoyingly hard to unfasten and refasten one-handed, and have caused me to reorder my usual ritual of getting my equipment in and out of the case. In my Stevenson case, the bows are held in with some high-grade velcro, which works extremely well when you take your bow out first and put it away first, as I do. After a certain amount of messing about trying to fasten the snap with one hand while pressing against the top shell of the case with my right leg, I eventually gave up my old methods and started getting my cello out first and putting it down before getting out the bow, then putting my cello away first after playing, and my bow second.
Which was just as well, because then there was this.
Now, all cello cases have a little bag for storing your rosin and a cloth. On my Stevenson case, it’s inside the top shell of the case, opposite where the scroll of the cello would go. There’s no fastener—it’s simply held together with strong, stretchy elastic under the fabric, so that you can reach in and out with one hand. The pocket of the Musilia S3, by contrast, is in the space next to where the C-bout of the cello would go—an ingenious location, I thought.
In the picture, you can see that the pocket in the Accord Standard is in the lower shell of the case, under where the scroll of the cello goes. It is held shut by a piece of velcro, and for reasons I do not understand, it opens upside down. This is lunacy. First off, you have to take your cello out if you want to get at your rosin, and that’s annoying, because rosining your bow is a two-handed activity, and you can’t do it if you’re holding a cello, so the cello has to go back in while you rosin up.
Secondly, if you take the cello out and fumble one-handed at the compartment, your rosin falls out because the compartment is upside down.
Thirdly, the compartment is barely usable anyway, because if you put too many things in it, you can’t fit the cello in the case properly because it’s in the way of the scroll. I figured out a way to get the rosin in comfortably by pushing it to one side, but I still can’t even get a cloth in there. I solved this problem by storing my cloth under the fingerboard of the cello, but it’s still irritating. Now, I don’t want to jam everything but the kitchen sink into my case’s compartment—I can deal with not being able to store spare strings or endpin solutions—but you do kind of expect that you can keep rosin and a cloth in a cello case, don’t you?
And there’s one more thing. Unlike other cases I’ve had, where the two halves of the shell fit together effortlessly, the Accord Standard needs quite a lot of wiggling to close it, unless you lay the case flat on its back to put the cello away, which is annoying, and requires that the surface you’re laying it on is clean.*** The carbon fiber seems oddly bendy for something that’s supposed to be so strong, and I’ve already managed to scratch the finish. (The Accord website informs me that I can fix this by applying car wax to it, so I shall try this.)
Am I going to send the case back and try something else? No. It does all the things I wanted it to do, and it’s certainly as light as a feather. But for over two thousand dollars, you kind of expect the makers to have solved a few problems that seem rather obvious to me. I might try a Brack or Musilia next time.
* I promise to write a tell-all memoir about airlines and cellos one day, naming names. United Airlines employee Melanie P., I’m talking about you. That thing you did, where you wouldn’t let my cello on the 10:29 a.m. flight, and made me spend my entire thirtieth birthday in Minneapolis-St. Paul airport waiting for the 11:39 p.m. aircraft that had what you considered the right kind of seat for my cello? I haven’t forgotten.
**I’m still talking about you, Melanie.
***Which is not a given, unless your gigs typically have much cleaner backstage venues than mine do.