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French horn cases come in a variety of shapes and sizes for different types of French horns, and for use in different situations. In general, cases are designed for either a fixed horn which does not disassemble, or a screw bell horn, which features a detachable bell that makes the horn easier to transport. French horn cases fall into two broad categories: hard cases that are molded to fit the shape of the horn, and soft cases, also known as gig bags. Regardless of the type, the purpose of all French horn cases is to protect the instrument from damage during transport and storage.
The type of horn will determine whether a fixed bell case or a screw bell case is needed. A fixed bell case is odd-shaped: narrow and square at one end, flared and round at the opposite end, following the shape of the instrument. Its larger size and odd shape makes it difficult to stack on a trailer, and this type of case generally will not fit in overhead luggage compartments. Screw bell cases are rectangular and can be transported easier because of their more compact size and uniform shape.
Hard or rigid French horn cases can be made to accommodate either a fixed bell or detachable bell French horn. They consist of a rigid outer shell, usually made of hard plastic, fiberglass, or wood, with a padded lining that keeps the horn from banging around inside the case. They are heavier and bulkier than soft cases, but provide better protection for the instrument. Soft cases, also known as gig bags, are generally made of padded leather or nylon with zipper closures. They are also designed to fit either the fixed bell or screw bell horn, but offer the added advantage of lightweight portability.
Nearly all French horn cases have compartments to hold mouthpieces and other accessories such as repair kits, mutes, sheet music and folding music stands. Some cases incorporate these compartments into their design, while others offer detachable accessory cases. This allows the horn player to customize the case to his or her particular needs. Many cases also offer an optional shoulder strap or backpack attachment to make carrying the horn easier.
Choosing which type of French horn case to use is highly individual to the hornist, the horn, and the type of transportation being utilized. A high school or college horn player may be traveling most often by bus and may prefer a sturdier hard-sided case, since the horn will most likely travel on a trailer or in the underneath luggage compartment of the bus. The professional player, on the other hand, may utilize air travel most often and opt for the smaller and lighter soft-sided case. This allows the horn to be transported as a carry-on item, which reduces the risk of damage, theft, or loss caused by airport baggage handling.