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Touring: backline vs. flight cases


David R
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I have a few fly dates coming up, and I always backline my gear. My setup is not complicated: Nord Electro 5D on the bottom, Novation Launchkey running Mainstage on top. Any digital piano and MIDI controller can work. I was talking with one bandleader and there's a run where he thinks it might be complicated to backline a controller. On this particular gig, it's more Rhodes/B3 heavy – I really only use my laptop for a sample at the top of the show, and a couple of synth sounds that would not be dealbreakers if I didn't have them.

 

I don't have flight cases for my gear, so I'm thinking of two options here:

- a small mini-controller (like the Akai MPK or Korg nanowhatever) that I can shove in a backpack or carry-on, just to launch the sample, and backline the DP

- buy a single Gator slim 61 flight case – which will fit either one of my keyboards – as an investment for when I might need a flight case and I absolutely *have* to bring my gear

 

For those doing mostly fly dates, do you tour with your own gear, or you backline and hope for the best?

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Nord Electro 5D, Novation Launchkey 61, Logic Pro X, Mainstage 3, lots of plugins, fingers, pencil, paper.

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A small controller would certainly solve the "controller" issue. But your NE5D is smaller than my NS3C, and I routinely bring that on board. It's smaller than a guitar. I wrap the sh*t out of it with bubble wrap and stuff it back into its soft gig-bag (the custom one from Nord). Only once have they had to put it below, and even though I knew I could argue the matter, I said my 400 Hail Marys and let it go. (Though I wouldn't recommend this as a habit.)

 

You could also just save the sample as an audio file and play it from your phone or computer into the NE5D's monitor input or straight to FOH.

There is another option, depending on your comfort level: lots of people do the "Guitar Center rental," which really means buying the gear (controller in your case) when you land, using it that night, and then returning it the next day for a full refund. It "feels" wrong, which is why I've never done it, but it's perfectly within their guidelines and works like magic in a pinch. 

"Ghost of Christmas Present" released 12.2.22 * (Not the jolly kind of Christmas song.)

https://joshweinstein.hearnow.com/

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I've had a few hairy moments when the backline has been incorrect, and I'm thinking in the future, I'll take my Arturia 61 (in a soft Gator 49 bag) and carry it on - it's smaller and lighter than a bass guitar and the bassist has never been stopped).

Actually had a local gig last week - and the hotel is a nightmare about bringing stuff in, so we backlined everything. Nice Nord Stage3 on the bottom - but it seemed like all the Acoustic Piano samples had an octave missing in the middle! No splits or anything - checked and checked again. EPs and synth sounds were fine! They had a replacement Stage 2 there about 5 mins to doors so just had to hope 1) it worked, and 2) they'd plugged the pedals back in correctly! All ended well.

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13 hours ago, David R said:

On this particular gig, it's more Rhodes/B3 heavy – I really only use my laptop for a sample at the top of the show, and a couple of synth sounds that would not be dealbreakers if I didn't have them.

Why not Mainstage everything? Surely there's a decent-enough rhodes & b3 in MS, at least to get you through this gig. Then it doesn't matter what keyboard you get, or whether it even has sounds or is purely a controller. I carry a Korg NanoKontrol I can paste onto any midi keyboard and work my laptop setup with; it just has to transmit midi notes on channel 1 and have a sustain and expression pedal.


If you anticipate flying more and enjoy knowing you'll have the exact keyboard you're used to, then a flight case might be worth it. I do fly with my keyboard, but it's a 10 lb Roland A800 Pro in an old SKB injection-molded plastic flight case I had collecting dust; it was for my XP50. Before I had status on United and could fly my stuff for free, I got Motifs at the gigs, and I disliked them enough to volunteer my personal keyboard once we could fly it at no extra cost. No backline company we ever dealt with had my Roland controller, or any controller-only keyboard for that matter - it was almost always Motifs. My NanoKontrol is for emergencies now, but I think it's a great way to go for fly dates if you're able to roll with the feel of a "keyboard-du-jour."

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1 hour ago, Reezekeys said:

 

Why not Mainstage everything? Surely there's a decent-enough rhodes & b3 in MS, at least to get you through this gig.

Yeah, I do actually have the whole gig set up in Mainstage (with the Scarbee Rhodes and Vintage B3). I just need to get a Korg NanoKontrol with pads and sliders to launch the sample and tweak drawbars. Thanks for the reminder, Rob!

 

I have done the gig before straight off Motifs and Roland RDs where I play the sample off the thumb drive. It's a little finicky, but has saved me from lugging the laptop.

My Site

Nord Electro 5D, Novation Launchkey 61, Logic Pro X, Mainstage 3, lots of plugins, fingers, pencil, paper.

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I take with me my Mac/mainstage rig and untill before the covid I was also using my old XV2020 as an add on/backup. They all fit in my M Audio gig bag. Since, I sold the XV my fly in rig now is basically two Macs with their respective soundcards and my Korg Nanowhatever (😁 for obvious reasons) and all the rest is backline: a Nord Stage 88 and a 49 USB controller for the upper tier. Or a Nord Stage and a real piano whenever is provided

I always carry spare USB and midi cables and sometimes a small 2 octaves keyboard (now it will be an Arturia one) just in case something is missing.

For an upcoming three gigs in Israel I asked for a NE5d and I'll stick my sounds to the rental isntrument, along with the Macs 

I guess for a Rhodes/B3 heavy gig you can backline a NE5d (they have them everywhere) and have a mainstage concert as a backup. It's good to travel light and not have the fear of unrespectful loaders in airports 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be grateful for what you've got - a Nord, a laptop and two hands
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And at my very first gig with AWB they supplied me with a Motif that had a burned-out backlight on the LCD. Another reason I started bringing my own keyboard when I was able to.

 

Just an aside regarding flying. This past August when we started touring after a year & a half of nothing, all the experienced baggage handlers we knew at EWR (Newark NJ airport) were gone - the travel industry meltdown caused them to look for other jobs. Since then we've never had worse luck with our stuff getting lost, misdirected and damaged. The younger newbies working the check-in counters almost went out of their way to screw with us, even after we greased them nicely. They had no clue. We watched as one of our rack cases fell off the luggage cart and the baggage handler just kept going. Twice our luggage and some gear ended up in different airports than where we were going. Two racks of wireless gear and amps were lost, we filed claims, then two months later they found them in Texas and sent them back - all gear inside off the rack rails and smashed. That's another, separate set of claims. It's never been this bad, in my experience.

 

Bring a laptop with everything you need on it, and a NanoKontrol, then backline any working keyboard you can get!

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Which Electro 5D?  61, 73, HP?

 

If it's the 73 semi-weighted, I have been flying with 73 key semi-weighted action Nords for about 15 years now, always as checked baggage.  I put them in the standard Nord gig bag, and then I put that inside a Pelican 1750 rifle case (no foam).  Room for a Yamaha FC7 expression pedal at one end, and a couple random small blocks of foam thrown in there loose to fill up the couple inches of remaining space at either end.  Loaded weight, just under 50lbs.  Works great for Nord Electro 2, Nord Stage 2 Compact, Nord Stage 3 Compact.  Since it's a rifle case, they almost always ask you what's in the case at check-in, and they often make you go to oversize baggage to claim it and show ID (which is fine with me).  I don't lock them and I've never had anything walk away.

 

If you have a 5D 61, and you have the standard Nord gig bag for that, I think a Pelican 1720 would do the trick and still leave room at the ends for an FC7 and some extra foam.  Double-check before ordering though, I've never used that combo.

 

If you have the 5D HP, it won't fit in that case, and will probably be overweight in any other case.  The Nord Stage 2 HP76 is just barely under 50lbs in an SKB 3i-5014-TKBD, but the level of room left for padding does not inspire confidence.  The 5D HP is half an inch deeper than the HP76, so I'm pretty sure it wouldn't fit.  Also, I've had keys pop out of place and need minor surgery to reseat two out of the three times I tried it.  Since then I just stick with flying with the SW73 Nords, which seem a little hardier.


I've never had the misfortune of doing one of those slogs of a full tour of flying commercial to every gig – I would probably just go with backline rather than deal with that level of airport schlep multiple times a week – but I do quite a lot of one-offs or flying to and from short tours this way.  I've probably done this well on over a hundred legs over the years.  Maybe I've been lucky, but I never had a case fail to arrive at my destination airport, and never had any damage that I could notice, except a couple times when they closed the hard case over a zipper pull on the gig bag, destroying the zipper pull.  I bought a little bag of the simple field-installable paracord-and-plastic replacement zipper pulls and put it in the pouch on the gig bag, and of course they haven't broken one since.  (I also put a friendly note inside saying "please pull the zipper pulls to this side over here so they don't get closed in the lid - Thanks!!!")

 

Once one showed up on the belt with ZERO of the four latches closed.  I didn't notice, and picked it up and the keyboard promptly dumped out on the floor.  Fortunately the gig-bag-inside-the-case scenario meant it was still protected against that short fall.  I always check the latches before picking them up now.

 

I've never tried to carry a keyboard on.  I'm often flying with an accordion which takes that slot anyway.

 

I usually also check another Pelican case with a small pedalboard (Key Largo and Mini-Vent on a pedaltrain nano in its own soft bag), a lightweight backpack with cables and sustain pedals, and my stage clothes in a garment bag.  Currently using a Pelican Air 1637 for this.  I bought it with foam, and just left the top and bottom layers in the case.  I keep meaning to glue some foam onto the sidewalls but I haven't bothered and nothing's broken yet.  Right around 50lbs loaded.

 

If you're a laptop guy already though, a laptop and a 61 small enough to carry on is pretty tempting...

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I had a positive experience years ago - playing a multi-band festival. We had a brief slot, and as usual parking and load-in/out would be a challenge so I travelled light. I just brought my (I think) Ensoniq SQ1 to the gig - and when I got to the stage I saw a DP set up - could have been a Yamaha CP? I set up my Ensoniq on top, plugged into the DP's audio ins, and had a very nice two-board rig with minimal shlep.

 

That doesn't happen very often.

 

Cheers, Mike.

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On 3/17/2022 at 1:48 PM, David R said:

For those doing mostly fly dates, do you tour with your own gear, or you backline and hope for the best?


I do a combination of both.  Note - I am all hardware and no midi.

 

I have two 61-key keyboards I take on the plane (in very robust Gator cases) and I backline a stage piano.  I usually end up with a Roland RD of some kind which aren’t too bad to navigate, even for those of us whose first language is Korg.

 

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14 hours ago, mynameisdanno said:

If it's the 73 semi-weighted, I have been flying with 73 key semi-weighted action Nords for about 15 years now, always as checked baggage.  I put them in the standard Nord gig bag, and then I put that inside a Pelican 1750 rifle case (no foam).

 

I take it the Nord gig bag is padded decently – it must be, if 15 years later all is well! For USA-ians, Harbor Freight has it's version of that Pelican for a little less money: https://www.harborfreight.com/9800-weatherproof-protective-rifle-case-long-black-64520.html

 

We have several large, heavy-duty canvas bags for air travel. My keyboard and bass go into one, a guitar and bass go in another. This affords a small layer of extra protection, hides the visual of a possibly-tempting musical instrument, and most importantly, each bag counts as a single piece of checked baggage. I wonder if the rifle case would get flagged if it was in a bag.

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On 3/17/2022 at 3:54 AM, Adam Burgess said:

I'll take my Arturia 61 (in a soft Gator 49 bag) and carry it on - it's smaller and lighter than a bass guitar and the bassist has never been stopped).

Uh, how does a 61-key board fit into a 49 bag? 🙂 

 

I just measured my A800 Pro, which I consider pretty small for a 61 - maybe not the smallest, but small. It's about 39.5" long (1 meter). It might fit into the overhead bin of a large jet (certainly not a regional) - but I don't think I'd chance it. At the very least I would expect some pissed-off passengers in my row, and I'm pretty sure I would need priority boarding to get into the plane and claim the space asap. It seems to me that guitars & basses in soft bags would take up less space than a keyboard, and I've seen them put in the closets planes have for hanging suit bags. These days however, imo you're taking a big chance trying this route - you may have to gate-check your instrument and hope for the best.

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1 hour ago, Reezekeys said:

We have several large, heavy-duty canvas bags for air travel. My keyboard and bass go into one, a guitar and bass go in another. This affords a small layer of extra protection, hides the visual of a possibly-tempting musical instrument, and most importantly, each bag counts as a single piece of checked baggage. I wonder if the rifle case would get flagged if it was in a bag.

 

1 hour ago, Reezekeys said:

Uh, how does a 61-key board fit into a 49 bag? 🙂 

 

I just measured my A800 Pro, which I consider pretty small for a 61 - maybe not the smallest, but small. It's about 39.5" long (1 meter). It might fit into the overhead bin of a large jet (certainly not a regional) - but I don't think I'd chance it. At the very least I would expect some pissed-off passengers in my row, and I'm pretty sure I would need priority boarding to get into the plane and claim the space asap. It seems to me that guitars & basses in soft bags would take up less space than a keyboard, and I've seen them put in the closets planes have for hanging suit bags. These days however, imo you're taking a big chance trying this route - you may have to gate-check your instrument and hope for the best.

I don't know if you'd get 'flagged' per se but most likely the bag and case would be opened by TSA and searched and swabbed for residue and they'd drop their calling card in there.  I'm sure you've already had that happen many times.  

 

As far as carrying on your keyboard, I think not very sustainable.  Yeah, maybe it would work some percentage of the time.  If it was a soft case, I'd be worried about it in the overhead (if it fit) as people would just dump their stuff on top.  And carrying on a pelican case might worry some passengers.

 

If I were carrying on a 61 with regularity, I'd just gate check it every time.  Yeah the gate agents will hem and haw but it's part of their job.  The benefit of gate checking is that it will be handled a lot less.  Much less opportunity to be thrown around on the tarmac or while loading but certainly I'd use a flight case for regular baggage check-in.    The downside to a checking at the gate is the item being out of your control and increased opportunity for it to get lost.   They might forget to put it on the plane.   When my kids were babies, we'd gate check the carriage/stroller all time but invariably we had one that got lost for a few days.

 

If you've got some status on the airline, flight attendants may be willing to put it in a business class coat closet or something like that.  But in general unless you're a high roller on the airline, they won't help you out.

Mills Dude -- Lefty Hack
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Wow, my experience carrying on my NS3C could not be more different. In the Nord soft case it's smaller than a guitar. It takes up far less overhead space than you'd think, and even leaves room for stuff in front of it (which is often my own backpack). In all the years I've been carrying it or its big brother the NS (88) on board, they have only asked to put it underneath once, and that was the 88. 

I wouldn't roll the dice on this on a multi-city tour that involved flights between each, but for occasional fly-ins (what the OP was asking about)? Absolutely. 

"Ghost of Christmas Present" released 12.2.22 * (Not the jolly kind of Christmas song.)

https://joshweinstein.hearnow.com/

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What airline (and airplane) are you flying that would let you bring a NS88 on board? I'm not questioning your veracity, but genuinely curious because I could never see that happening for the gigs I fly to. We're on everything from Embraers and Bombardiers to 787s - all United. The overheads on the widebodies are probably long enough but I've never seen anyone try to put something that long (almost 51", I looked it up!) in one. Forget the smaller jets, maybe even a 737.

 

The previous keyboard player with AWB had a Nord that he brought with him. Several times he would find that it was partially disassembled by TSA (maybe there are panels on the back held with screws?); loose parts and screws floating around the case when he retrieved it after a flight. I think I've been lucky because my Roland is all plastic, so maybe easier to x-ray? There are screws on the bottom holding the case top on, but most are set deep into "wells", and TSA would need to spend a lot of time taking it apart. I have seen the TSA flyer in my keyboard case announcing that it was inspected.

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48 minutes ago, Reezekeys said:

What airline (and airplane) are you flying that would let you bring a NS88 on board? I'm not questioning your veracity, but genuinely curious because I could never see that happening for the gigs I fly to. We're on everything from Embraers and Bombardiers to 787s - all United. The overheads on the widebodies are probably long enough but I've never seen anyone try to put something that long (almost 51", I looked it up!) in one. Forget the smaller jets, maybe even a 737.

 

The previous keyboard player with AWB had a Nord that he brought with him. Several times he would find that it was partially disassembled by TSA (maybe there are panels on the back held with screws?); loose parts and screws floating around the case when he retrieved it after a flight. I think I've been lucky because my Roland is all plastic, so maybe easier to x-ray? There are screws on the bottom holding the case top on, but most are set deep into "wells", and TSA would need to spend a lot of time taking it apart. I have seen the TSA flyer in my keyboard case announcing that it was inspected.

Airlines are instructed to allow leeway for musical instruments: "Musical instruments do not have to meet sizing requirements for carry-on items and will be accepted if they can be stowed safely under the seat or in an overhead bin at the time of boarding." They have tightened the screws on this a bit (so to speak) because some people were thinking that gave them free reign to bring their double-basses on board and plop them in seats, but they will still let you bring on almost any instrument that fits comfortable in the overheads--which shallow keyboards in tight cases do. (Mine's only 12" deep--that's half the depth of a carry-on bag, and those bags are specifically put in the long way.)

Any time I've been on a fly-in with other musicians, it's been our gear--guitars and my NS3C--in a neat little stack in the overhead, with lots of room to pack things around--to the extent that I'm surprised to hear others have it different.

I haven't had my 88 for some time, but the only time I've had to put a keyboard underneath is when I had that board with me and had to take a regional jet. In the past they had stowed it in the coat-and-luggage closet (did you know there was one? There is.), but on that flight the pilots' luggage was there already and they had to put it underneath. I had wrapped it with an infinite layer of bubble wrap thinking it could happen, and it was fine.

They do give my NS3C lots of extra passes with the wand in security, but that one has never gone underneath.

 

"Ghost of Christmas Present" released 12.2.22 * (Not the jolly kind of Christmas song.)

https://joshweinstein.hearnow.com/

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6 hours ago, Reezekeys said:

 

I take it the Nord gig bag is padded decently – it must be, if 15 years later all is well!

 

Honestly, I was a little dubious myself when I first put my old Electro 2 in the official Nord gig bag in the Pelican 1750 and headed off to the airport.  The Nord 73 gig bag is padded, but not super thickly.  However, I can't argue with results.  It seems that the rigidity of the Pelican plus the padding of the Nord gig bag is perfectly capable of keeping it safe.  If the padding was much thicker, the case wouldn't close.  It's a perfect fit as far as height and depth are concerned.

 

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6 hours ago, Reezekeys said:

For USA-ians, Harbor Freight has it's version of that Pelican for a little less money: https://www.harborfreight.com/9800-weatherproof-protective-rifle-case-long-black-64520.html

 

 

It's super close, but according to the Harbor Freight website that one is 5.125" high inside, whereas the Pelican 1750 is 5.3".  A quarter inch seems pretty tiny, but I would be dubious.  

 

Even in the Pelican 1750, the foam of the gig bag has to compress somewhat when closing the lid of the case, especially when the gig bag is new.  I find that by keeping the Nords mostly stored in the gig-bag-in-the-case combo, the gig bag's foam eventually takes the shape of the knobs on the top panel and stays somewhat compressed, so they get easier to close over time.  I've had three copies of this same gigbag-case setup over the years and I've never had a knob (or drawbar slider on the NS3C) act up from that compression, or any visible effect on the control panel, so I feel pretty confident recommending it with the Pelican 1750. 

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3 hours ago, MathOfInsects said:

Airlines are instructed to allow leeway for musical instruments: "Musical instruments do not have to meet sizing requirements for carry-on items and will be accepted if they can be stowed safely under the seat or in an overhead bin at the time of boarding."

 

I didn't know this was official policy now, although from what I gather individual airlines have some leeway in how this is implemented. It still seems a little risky to me since overhead space can fill up quickly (having or paying for priority boarding can probably solve that issue), but I'm glad to hear it's at least possible and "legal" to bring at least a 61-key controller on board. I'm glad (and lucky) to be in a band where I don't have to deal with this myself - but that might not always be the case, so this is great info.

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