Carbon Fiber Flight Case
Introductory price: $2795
Expected availability: Fall 2019
Flying with a harp can be one of the greatest challenges of a harp player's existence, especially since off-the-shelf flight cases aren't readily available for harps the way they are for many other instruments. Designing a flight case seemed like a relatively simple project at the beginning, but we had some very specific goals, and it ended up taking a few years longer than we anticipated. We wanted the case to be as lightweight as possible while still providing first-rate protection, to be easily maneuverable (including up and down stairs and in crowded airports), and to hold a variety of different harp models, not just Dusty Strings harps. We are very close now, and are excited about what we've come up with!
We took our first production case to the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in July and were able to try the fit with several different non-Dusty harp models, as well as getting some great feedback from harp players who travel a lot. That case is currently on tour with Sunita Staneslow (with her Camac Ulysse inside), and we've heard that after several flights, it's performing quite well.
We're now pulling together the details of the configurable padding and production methods, and we hope to begin filling orders in the fall, though we can't guarantee a time-frame at this point. We don't know exactly what the shipping cost will be, but we expect something around $250 for the contiguous US. If you're interested, give us a call and we'd be happy to discuss the details with you! For a $200 deposit, we'll take an order at this introductory price and put you on our waiting list. (If we run into a major setback and the timing doesn't work out for you, the deposit is refundable.)
While you wait for the definitive details, here are some of the questions we've been getting and the answers we know so far:
Will this case fit my harp? This is the first and most important question, and the one that is hardest to answer! We know for sure that it will fit Dusty Strings 34-string and smaller harps. In order to be as useful as possible, we designed it to fit a variety of other harps as well, and we are working on compiling a list of compatible makes and models. We are also organizing a way to determine for yourself if your harp will fit, and we'll have more information on that soon. Right now, we can tell you that if your harp is taller than about 49 inches at the back (from the floor to the top of the neck where it rests on the soundbox) or about 51½ inches at the top of the column, it is probably too big for this case.
Can one case be used for multiple harps? Yes, we hope so. The inner padding is designed to be custom-fit to your harp, but theoretically you could have multiple sets of padding that you swap out depending on which harp you're traveling with.
Will you be making a larger case? We designed this one around our 34-string harps, since those are more commonly traveled with than our 36s, and have a better chance of coming in under the airline over-weight limit. It's not out of the question that we might design a larger case at some point, but the development costs are quite high, and it's not on our immediate list. We will be happy to gauge the interest in a larger case, so let us know what you're hoping for.
How much does it weigh? We don't have an exact number yet, but it's around 20 pounds. Our goal is for the harp and case combined to come in under 50 pounds, which is where many airlines start charging over-weight baggage fees. Those fees can be in the $75 to $300 range, depending on the airline and the destination.
How does it work at the airport? You check the harp just like you would a suitcase. If it's under 50 pounds, you can expect to pay over-size baggage fees, but not over-weight fees. Generally with over-size baggage, there is an area near the ticket counter where you'll drop it off after it's paid for and tagged. Depending on where TSA inspections happen at that airport, you may be able to watch them open it, or you may not. We've tried to design the case to be as easy as possible to understand, so that TSA won't have trouble closing it back up securely. When your flight arrives, you'll pick up the harp at the oversize baggage claim, usually right near the regular baggage claim.
Does the soft case fit inside? It's possible, but it will depend on the size of the harp and the thickness of the case. Keep in mind that the under-50-pounds goal is much easier to achieve when the harp is caseless, or clothed in just a thin sheet or dust cover.
How easy is it to handle? The case can be towed along behind or beside you on four wheels, and it basically glides effortlessly. It's just like a four-wheeled suitcase. You can also tip it up on the two larger wheels and push or pull it like a harp cart or hand truck, which is useful for going up and down stairs or threading your way through a crowd. The compact size means it will fit almost anywhere your harp would fit, so you shouldn't need to specify a van when you're calling a taxi.
Why this price? We know the price is not going to be easy for some harp players to afford, and we want to acknowledge that fact frankly and sympathetically. We spent time and resources exploring lower cost avenues before ending up here. Our main purpose was to make it easier and more enjoyable for harp players to travel with their very own instrument, and to eliminate the hassles of getting a harp through the airport by oneself. It was difficult for us to finally acknowledge that we would need to sacrifice either our pricing goals or our usability goals.
After considering several different materials, we found that carbon fiber, though expensive, gave us the stiffness-to-weight ratio that would provide the best protection without pushing the whole package over 50 pounds. It also allowed us to make the case large enough to fit a range of different harps, and still give it a sleek and streamlined shape. This shape makes it possible to slip the case into the back seat of a taxi or load it on the bus, to easily handle both the harp case and a roller suitcase without needing a cart, and even to use the hard case as a substitute for a soft case when it isn’t practical to have both. We also put in some other important usability features like a temperature insulating coating, recessed safety latches, and removable front wheels, and we chose to work with a small carbon fiber shop right here in Seattle, WA, USA. All of these things, as well as extensive development costs, are factored into the price.
We hope it will be a worthwhile investment in security and stress-free travel, as well as a classy and professional travel companion, but we recognize it’s a stretch for many harp players. These are the times when we sincerely wish we were a larger company and could afford to make accommodations for touring artists, but that’s not something we can manage at this point. Instead, we’ve done everything we can to keep the price as low as possible. It’s been quite a big undertaking!
If I can’t afford this, what are my other options? In our experience, harp players and harp builders are an extraordinarily creative bunch, and people have found many different ways to approach harp travel. Here are a few ideas we’ve seen and heard:
- Arrange to borrow or rent a harp at your destination
- Make your own hard case (Sligo Harps has plans on their website)
- Use a cardboard shipping box with bubble wrap or foam padding inside, and replace the box when it gets too beat-up
- Join forces with another harpist in your area and buy a Dusty case to share, or rent it to others when you’re not using it
Do you guarantee that nothing will happen to my harp? We can't make any guarantees, but we can assure you that we have put all our structural engineering know-how and our 30-plus years of harp shipping experience into this project, and we feel confident that it's a very good choice for flying with your harp. There will always be factors that are out of our control, and we highly recommend insuring your harp before you travel with it!
What have you learned from the case that Sunita Staneslow is testing?
Sunita has been sending us regular updates on her real-life experiences with our first production case, and we've written up a summary that you can read on our blog. We are making some small usability improvements based on her excellent feedback, and are happy to report that her overall experience has been overwhelmingly positive!