Gorilla Protection: Tips for Traveling With Your Banjo

by Carolina Bridges

Gorillas-suitcaseWe have all been there…wanting to travel with our banjo but unsure of what to do to make sure it gets there safely. What happens if the “gorillas” are working the day we ship it or hand it over to the airlines? You know, they love to throw and jump on things!

Here are a few tips that we hope can break the “gorilla blues.”


Traveling on a plane is a common occurrence these days. But, traveling with a musical instrument always carries with it some amount of concern on the part of the owner.

  • Thankfully, the U.S. Congress did do something positive in 2012 - they made the skies safer for our musical instruments.  Section 403 of the legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, provides:   “An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage ….”  But, there must be space in the overhead bins - so get to your flight early and board as early as possible.
  • Book your flight early so that you have a better chance of getting your choice of seats. If you try to get a seat near the back of the plane, you will board earlier when there is plenty of chance of overhead space availability.
  • Not all airline employees are familiar with their airline’s policy on musical instruments. If you have found one that will allow instruments as carry-ons, print out the policy and take it with you. Arrive at your gate early and approach the gate agent so you can clarify their understanding of the policy. If you arrive later, you may not have any opportunity for discussion and have no choice but to hand the instrument over to the agents.
  • You should remove any tools from your banjo case. We had the misfortune of taking our banjos to an event and left the truss rod wrenches in the cases. They made us take the truss rod wrenches out because they were considered “dangerous.” While they were not sharp, they were considered possible “weapons.” Save yourself the aggravation and loss of time and money. You may not be able to find a truss rod wrench when you arrive at your new location! Best leave all tools in your luggage.
  • You may be able to leave your banjo in the first class cabin closet if there is no room in the overhead. Just be sure to arrive early so you can ask about this.
  • You don’t have to drop the bridge or loosen the strings in transit. The banjo will be fine if it is inside the pressurized cabin.
  • Certified flight cases: These are valuable if you travel frequently by air with your banjo. Professional musicians invest in these because their musical instruments are their livelihood. Calton is the brand that most of them use and they are based in UK and can be found on the internet. While they are pricey, they are a good investment if you need them. Be sure if you are buying a case like this that is says “certified flight” case. There are many cases that have extra padding, etc. but if it doesn’t say “certified” it may might  not protect your banjo from the “dreaded gorilla” crew that may be working that day.
  • While it may be pricey, I have had customers tell me that they purchased an extra “ticket”/seat for their instruments. When you think about it, a $300-400 investment for a $4000 banjo is better than the alternative.
  • If your airline will not allow you to take the instrument, you can ship it to yourself and pick it up when you arrive at your new location.


While this may seem like a nuisance, it is often the easiest way to get the banjo safely to your final destination. Shipping services like UPS and FedEx are used to shipping big parcels and you can insure your banjo for full replacement cost in case the “dreaded gorillas” are working that day.

  • You can find a free or nearly free box for shipping by visiting your local music store. They get instruments like guitars and banjos in boxes sent to them. Many times they just throw them away. Call and ask to see if they have one they can give you.
  • Put the banjo in its hard shell case or gig bag. Cushion it all around, top, sides, bottom, with packing peanuts or crushed newspaper so that it does not jostle during shipping.
  • FedEx or USPS has the best pricing on shipments of oversized parcels. Be sure to insure it for full replacement value to be sure you are covered if there is damage in transit. We have very few damage claims and we ship thousands of banjos every year.
  • Ship the banjo to your relative’s house or to a location where you know there will be someone to receive. You don’t want the package to end up being shipped back home to you when you are gone because no one was there to receive it. Most banjo camps will keep them for you as long as you don’t send them too early.
  • Save the box…you will need it for return shipping.


While traveling by car is easier, it still has its own set of hurdles to contend with.The general rule of thumb is if you are not comfortable in an environment, then you banjo will not be either.

  • If you are traveling in a hot environment, please try and keep the banjo inside the car with you. Heat has deleterious effects on banjos. The glue can soften, the neck wood will dry out, and the banjo head will soften…just not a happy banjo when it is put into a hot environment. When the glue softens the banjo can literally “float” apart; resonator can delaminate, the fingerboard can slide off and/or crack, the rim can delaminate…it’s an “ugly” site for sure.  If you must put it in the trunk, be sure it is in the case, preferably a hard shell case, for the best protection against that environment. NEVER leave the banjo in a parked car in the heat, even for a few minutes. Take it with you!
  • Cold is bad too…the finish on a banjo is sensitive to cold. If you travel in cold weather and must put the banjo in the trunk, please leave it in the case and let it acclimate SLOWLY to the warmer inside conditions to prevent cracks from occurring in your finish. If your head is very tight, the cold can even cause it to break!


Kristin Scott Benson chooses the Deering Golden Series banjos
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