“I’m a professional guitarist and from time to time I have to travel to the ‘other’ coast or even overseas with three or four guitars, an amp, and a small rack of gear. I’ve been using a variety of cases for this equipment, but they take a beating and all seem to deteriorate fairly quickly. What’s the best way to transport this type of gear without it getting damaged?”
Based on the way your question is worded I will assume that you truly want the ‘best’ regardless of the cost (within reason).
First, some players prefer to ship via UPS or Federal Express as opposed to trusting their gear to an airline. The vote is still out on that one, but these days the airlines are usually pretty decent with handling gear. A good case is designed to take a beating such that it will deteriorate over time. The better case you buy the longer it takes for this to happen, but eventually they all give up. Just put it in your budget and make it part of your fee. It is unavoidable; however, a top of the line case should last for years, or many hundreds of trips.
There are ATA standards for cases used in airline transport. Most of the major case manufacturers can build cases that conform to some or all of these standards, and a few build cases that well exceed the standards. As a general rule we’ve found that you get what you pay for here. Buying your case from a reputable company that truly understands the airline industry and has experience building cases for this type of transport is worth the money if that’s how you will be traveling.
On to the cases themselves. The best way to protect your guitars is not to put them in individual cases at all. No matter how strong they are, if they can be lifted by a human they can be dropped by a human. I’ve had much better luck using a modular case for several guitars. Let me explain. Take the heaviest duty ATA approved guitar flight case and lay it on its side as you would when you open it up. Put an extra 1/2″ piece of birch (or other strong wood) on the bottom and affix castors to that. Instead of a hinged lid go with a standard road case style lid – you know, the kind that lift off with the twist latches. That gives you the bottom and very top of the case. Then add one to five more pieces like this bottom piece, except have them made so they can attach to the top of the bottom piece instead of the lid. The lid goes on the one that ends up on top. Now you have a modular guitar case that can be as large or small as needed to transport the instruments you need for the particular session. Plus you have the peace of mind of knowing that some nut isn’t going to ‘throw’ your case in or out of the aircraft, and you know the orientation of your guitars as they travel (it’s very unlikely anyone would try to lay this case down on its side), which makes them travel better and puts less wear and tear on the case. There are other good case designs for multiple guitars, but this is the only one that has the advantage of being modular.
As for your rack effects, a good shock mounted rack is about the best you can do. If your amp is small enough it may make sense to incorporate your effects rack into the same outer case as your amp. There are a hundred different possibilities here. Ultimately you will be best served by talking over your specific needs and concerns with someone who knows case design. Sweetwater is of course able and happy to accommodate you in this area.