Is it a good idea to disaasemble my electric guitar for air travel?
August 16, 2007 6:15 PM   Subscribe

Is it a good idea (or even practical) to disassemble an electric guitar for air travel?

I flying from Vancouver to Edmonton. I have a cheap electric guitar (part of an old 'Squier Strat' Pack without the amp) and I would like to take it with me. Problem is that I am already carrying a Setar, so I can't take the guitar as carry-on. Also, since it is a cheap guitar, I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a hard case. I am thinking of detaching the neck and putting the disassembled guitar in my suitcase, and then reassemble it in Edmonton.

Is this a good idea, or even practical? I have heard stories that guitar necks are designed to take hundreds of pounds of pressure from the strings, so I really don't know what to expect. Would disassembling th guitar be as easy as just opening the screws, or would the neck suddenly bend and pieces of metal start flying around? Is it easy to reassemble again, or would I end up putting the separated neck and body in the trash?
posted by lenny70 to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a hard case.

I bought a hard case on sale at guitar center for like 50-60 bucks on sale once. Just browsing guitar centers site shows more than a couple sub 100 hard cases. Its probably worth the purchase, especially if you consider the time spent putting the thing back together and when you move up to a nicer axe you'll have a decent case for it.

If youre comfortable adjusting necks/truss then go for it. If not expect to pay a pro 20+ dollars to do it for you.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:36 PM on August 16, 2007

You will fuck up the guitar. Period. DO NOT DO THIS.
posted by notsnot at 6:36 PM on August 16, 2007

Don't do it! Especially if you like the way your guitar is set up now.
posted by zackola at 6:49 PM on August 16, 2007

it's worth repeating: YOU WILL FUCK UP THE GUITAR.
posted by knowles at 6:51 PM on August 16, 2007

Can someone explain how exactly this will FUCK UP YOUR GUITAR?

The original questioner seems concerned that the guitar will explode into a million fragments of metal and wood, and that the neck will suddenly permanently bend out of shape. This is of course nuts -- the only thing that causes mechanical stress is the tension of the strings, and once you remove that, it's pretty much inert.

So what's left after that? I know you'll have to fiddle with the neck and action a bit in order to get it back to playing the same as it did before, but is it really that impossible? Somebody had to do it when they originally built the guitar, right? If a 'pro' can do it for 20 bucks, it can't be that tricky, can it?
posted by xil at 6:58 PM on August 16, 2007

The *slightest* change in the neck angle - like the thickness of a couple layers of paint at one end of the mating surface - can make all the difference in a guitar sounding tinny or muddy.
posted by notsnot at 7:25 PM on August 16, 2007

Could you squeeze both instruments into some sort of case and carry them on together?
posted by davey_darling at 7:27 PM on August 16, 2007

I'm sure that the people saying "don't do it" won't be persuaded otherwise, but I say go for it. Solid body electric guitars - despite what people would have you believe - are really pretty sturdy. The Squier will have a bolt-on neck, and be very easy to remove. Just remove, or completely slacken the strings and unscrew the neck. (Keep an eye open in case there are any tiny shims where the neck meets the body.) Put it back together at the other end, screw it up nice and firm but don't go nuts and strip anything. It will be fine. You don't want to make a habit of this sort of thing, for sure, but it's definitely not going to explode, and the chances are, it will be just fine when you put it back together. Really. At least, it won't be so different that it will matter. I mean - with no disrespect intende - it's only a Squier. :-)
posted by buxtonbluecat at 7:46 PM on August 16, 2007

Its still a squire without buzzing frets and a neck that stays in tune. The way I see it the worst case scenario falls into two categories:

1. He screws it up and has to pay a pro to fix it.

2. He buys a case and never uses it again.

Well, number one is pretty unappealing. Spending as much as fifty dollars to fix a 100 dollar guitar is goofy. If he buys a cheap case and doesnt need it, he can get 50% of his investment back by selling it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:21 PM on August 16, 2007

If he buys a secondhand case and doesn't need it, he can probably get 100% back.
posted by mendel at 8:24 PM on August 16, 2007

I must be missing something from the DO NOT DO THIS crowd as well. I'd be hesitant to do this with a vintage or high priced guitar but we're talking about a Squier; not exactly the apex of fine guitars (I'm not belittling your instrument - Squiers are fine little guitars. It's just the difference between losing a $100 instrument and a $1500-$3000 instrument). I've been backstage at a lot of rock and country shows and the guitar techs are known for swapping out and repairing guitars on the spot. I've seen beautiful Strats and Teles in various states (no necks, no hardware, etc) so I guess if it's good enough for those guys, I'd feel comfortable doing that.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:30 PM on August 16, 2007

It's hard to hurt a strat. I know I guy who travels regularly to Europe and he does exactly what you're talking about - unbolts the neck and stows the two pieces in his luggage. He screws them back together at the destination and is up and running with a couple of minor tweaks.
posted by wsg at 9:58 PM on August 16, 2007

look, the problem is not that you are going to junk the instrument. it will be fine in the long run, unless you overadjust the truss rod or blah blah blah i am a guitar dork.

anyway, the problem is that a qualified person will have to set it back up. the truss rod is inside the neck, it is a resistant force against the force of the strings, together they keep the guitar neck 'straight.' this keeps the strings from buzzing against the frets, and a host of other things. if you take them away from each other, on an airplane in a cold cold suitcase, the force of the unloosened truss in the neck will force the neck to bow, because the string force isn't there to counter it.

when you screw it back together again, it won't be like it was because the wood in the neck has expanded and contracted. plus you will probably screw the neck in at a slightly different angle, maybe not the same torque on the screws, etc.

so, where does this leave you? it leaves you with a perfectly functional guitar in need of a setup. if you've never done truss rod adjustments before, don't start with a guitar in this state. you'll need to leave it with someone you knows what they're doing, who can perform the adjustments over a period of hours. when you get it back, hopefully good as new.

if you like the way its set up now, i'd probably go to a used music store and buy a junky case for 50 bucks. you can always sell it, like someone else pointed out, for 50 bucks again.
posted by uaudio at 10:10 PM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What is with all these ridiculous comments? This will not fuck up the guitar at all. You'll need a new set of strings, though.

Take the strings off. Unscrew these four screws while holding the neck in place against the body. I usually wrap one hand around the neck and body, thumb on the neck plate; lay the guitar face down on a bed, still grasping the neck joint; and remove the screws with another hand holding a screwdriver.

When you get to where you're going, just reverse the process and restring and tune the guitar.

If you do this a lot - like a hundred times - you need to get a luthier to set metal bushings into the wood of the neck and get matching screws to screw into these bushings. (If you're crafty you can do it yourself pretty easily.) The original screws are wood screws and if you screw them in and out hundreds of times they will enlarge their holes and become loose. This trick is mentioned in Dan Erlewine's How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great as something that someone did to their old 54 Tele; maybe Roy Buchanan (I'm too lazy to get up and look).
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:01 PM on August 16, 2007

I have done this several times myself with no ill effects, by the way. The truss rod never needed to be adjusted afterwards, unless it had already needed adjusting beforehand. It is true that this is a handy time to adjust the truss rod if it was something you were thinking about doing anyway.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:03 PM on August 16, 2007

the problem isn't spending the $100 or so on a decent hard case, it's the 300+ on a decent FLIGHT case. most standard guitar cases are not really safe to fly with, only the really hard core Anvil ones or those white fiberglass shaped ones are, we're talking triple the cost of the guitar itself, if not even higher.

there is absolutely no harm in taking off the strings and removing the neck of the guitar for travel. even with vintage guitars most people do this when they sell them on ebay to show the markings on the butt end of the neck- and the usually do this still strung up.

it will likely need a truss rod adjustment along the line after you reassemble the neck, but i have never seen any sort of neck problem develop immediately, and furthermore, the neck getting out of whack and needing the occasional adjustment is a fact of life and something you just get used to having a tech look at every once in a while.

worst case scenario would be the tension in the truss rod causes a permanent bow in the neck, and it never goes back into shape. this is unlikely to happen if you dont leave it off the instrument for more than a day or two, but it's possible. but even if that happens you can get a replacement neck for probably under 50 bucks if you're content with another squier model.
posted by tremspeed at 11:51 PM on August 16, 2007

From page 113 of Erlewine's book:
Bill Kirchen also uses Vintique's machine-thread neck mount inserts that screw onto the neck and accept machine screws. These inserts make for great coupling, keep the screw holes from wearing out, and enable Kirchen to take his Tele apart for overseas gigs.
So, not Roy Buchanan, but another Tele picker. Seems to me, though, that for the price of that neck kit you could buy another Squier Strat.

Just unscrew the screws and don't worry about it; I did it to a $1500 guitar without a second thought. I did wrap the neck and body in bubble wrap, though; the real risk is not you, but the damn fools of the TSA.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:42 PM on August 17, 2007

Oh, wait, you're in Canada, you don't deal with the TSA. Pardon me, and lucky you!
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:42 PM on August 17, 2007

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