Great carrying cases for stringed musical instruments from Ameritage, a company that truly understands the needs of luthiers, and a great company to do business with. This article originally appeared in American Lutherie.
Last updated: Tuesday, May 08, 2012
540 E. Centralia St.
Elkhorn, WI 53121
Copyright (C) 2002 R.M. Mottola
[This article originally appeared in American Lutherie #68, Winter 2001]
The item reviewed in the following paragraphs was purchased by the author at full price through normal sales channels. A draft of this review was sent to the manufacturer/seller prior to publication so that any factual errors could be corrected.
My friend and mentor Jim Mouradian of Mouradian Guitars is a clever guy. He builds a thoroughly modern electric bass called the Reality. With its trim upper horn and swoopy waist cut you would never confuse this instrument for a 50’s styled Fender Jazz bass. But if you were to take just the outline of the Fender and lay it over the outline of Jim’s bass, you’d notice an interesting thing. The outline of the Reality is identical to that of the Jazz in a few places, and in the places where it is different it is always smaller. Thus Jim’s instrument fits perfectly snug inside an off-the-shelf aftermarket Jazz bass case. This detail gives Jim a lot of options when it comes to cases. Like I said, he’s a clever guy.
Those of us that build instruments for which “standard” cases are not available have to have cases custom made. Some builders need custom cases simply because they don’t want their instruments seen in anything less. There are a number of custom case makers. I’d like to share my experiences with one of them. Ameritage Carrying Cases is the musical instrument division of GWW Inc., a manufacturer that makes cases for just about anything. I found them via their website and asked for quotes for four cases for acoustic electric basses I was building. I knew that custom cases would be needed for these, and I knew they would fit into standard Jazz bass cases but would rattle around inside. This last bit of information turns out to be kind of important. You can look at an instrument case as having two major components-- the outer hard shell, and the padding between the shell and the instrument. If a manufacturer has to custom build the shell then you are looking at one expensive case. But if they can use one of their existing shells then the only thing that is unique for your case is the padding, and that makes for a more reasonable price. My instruments would fit into the standard rectangular electric bass case shell.
Ameritage quoted a wholesale price of $210 each for the four cases, not a price you’d be able to mark up much, but not too bad considering the street price for an off-the-shelf SKB molded plastic bass case is about $90. Having never dealt with these folks before I wanted to see one before committing to the rest and so ordered one case, with order of the rest pending my approval. There are a lot of options available in a custom made case but to make things simple I stayed with the defaults, other than requesting that the case not have Ameritage’s name on it. There were forms to fill out (which you can print from their website) with dimensions of the instrument. They also needed an outline of the instrument-- I used the full size CAD drawing that I had built from. I was quoted delivery in 8 weeks.
Following placement of my order I received a couple of email messages from Ameritage with questions about dimensions. I’ve got to say how much I like to do this kind of business via email. Forms, pictures, and other info can be sent instantly, and you have documentation of what you have been promised (and what you have promised is also documented).
My first case showed up in 10 weeks, and I was impressed with both materials and workmanship. Heavy, dark tan tweed fabric is used for the covering, and the maroon vinyl trim material contrasts nicely and gives the case a very classy look. Heavy duty brass-plated steel hardware is used throughout. Inside, the case is heavily padded, with the exact outline of the body of my instrument, assuring a rattle-free fit. The fit of the instrument really is perfect. The napped cloth inside is the same color maroon as the outside trim. The accessory compartment has real hinges and nice snaps to keep the cover closed. The quality of materials and workmanship is even more pronounced when I compare this with one of my Fender tweed bass cases. Nothing wrong with the Fender case-- the Ameritage is simply better.
I can’t comment on either the materials used to build the shell of the case (although it is plywood of some kind) or assembly details. I can tell you that the basic form of the case is quite traditional. There are high end cases available from manufacturers like Calton that are made to survive earthquakes, floods, and germ warfare. The Ameritage case is not in that league or price range but does offer very high quality in a traditional wood case.
Satisfied with the first one, I ordered the remaining three cases. They were promised in 5 weeks, delivered in 6, and fit the remaining instruments like gloves.
Now, lest anyone get the idea that I am on Ameritage’s payroll, I do need to tell you about a few very minor things that made these cases less than perfect. In order they were: locks, feets, and lefties. The cases came by default with combination locks (although other types can be specified), and without feet on the bottom of the case. Maybe it’s just me, but locks on instrument cases seem a little foolish. At least with key locks you can throw the keys away and never have to worry about them after that. As for the feet, I like ‘em and wish the cases came with them by default (or that I had specified them). My final complaint: one of my cases was for a left-handed instrument, and that case cost me an extra $10. Not a big premium to pay, but as a left handed person I feel obligated to point out such sinister injustices wherever they turn up!
In response to my whining (I mean, feedback), Ameritage president Tim Flynn has informed me that they are now installing feet on the case bottoms by default and are no longer charging extra for lefty cases (my left fist is raised in a lefty power salute to him!). They are also reviewing their use of the combination locks. So much for all of my quibbles.
My overall impressions of the products and of doing business with the company are very favorable. Really nice product, decent price, reasonable delivery. The folks I dealt with at Ameritage, Jeanine Cowan and Duane Hainstock were knowledgeable, pleasant, and turned around my requests for information in a hurry. If you are in the market for custom cases Ameritage is certainly worth your consideration.
Ameritage seems to take customer feedback very seriously. Ameritage cases now come with feet installed by default. Cases for left handed instruments now offer left handed presentation, that is, when the case is opened up the instrument is presented to the player with the neck pointing the way he or she will point it while playing. This is a small detail but they got it just right! And, as mentioned in the article there is no additional charge for lefty cases. Wholesale customers can email CAD files of instrument drawings to Ameritage. It is no longer necessary to mail hard copy drawings. Service and support continue to be excellent.
6/06 – Since I do not produce instruments on a production basis and since the last few I made used soft cases rather than hard cases I had not placed an order with Ameritage is a number of months. A recent order made it abundantly clear that this company actually listens to their customers and continuously works hard to make the ordering process smoother and faster. I would hold this company up as a model of good service and support. There are a number of suppliers that would do themselves a big favor by attempting to emulate the way Ameritage does business.