Oblong violin cases... why?

February 2, 2013 at 08:18 PM · I'm a Violin Case maker working in England. Recently I made a shaped case (really just to see if I could), a "one-off" "just for fun" kind of an experiment. I used as my model, and old (1934) Hill Case given to me some years ago by J & A Beare in London.

As I worked on the Case, I began to realise just what a wonderful design these shaped cases were. Very light, and because of their very shape - strong also. No wasted space anywhere.

I have to say that I've become a complete convert! A strange thing for a man who makes his living from making oblong cases to say no doubt, but never-the-less, I can't see for the life of me why on earth we're all carrying oblong cases around? Surely it's not just for the sake of carrying a few sheets of music?

I understand that in modern times almost everyone uses a shoulder-rest, but with a little work these too could probably be housed.

Can somebody explain why and how the oblong case developed? and why everyone uses them these days?

E.G Why do you use an oblong case, as opposed to a shaped one?

Replies (50)

February 2, 2013 at 09:02 PM · I've been toting around a case since I was ten (of one kind or another). I prefer the oblong. I don't use a rest, but it has enough interior storage for my paraphenalia. I DO use the music holder unless I have too much music for it. I also store it in my office if I need to take my case with me...and it stores better (I can also put my purse or whatever, on top, even when it's

on it's side [vs. flat].

My one oblong case is lighter than an old shaped violin case I have. So I don't see weight as a factor. I have newer mandolin and banjo-mandolin cases that are also much heavier than my light-weight oblong violin case.

February 2, 2013 at 09:09 PM · I use an oblong case to fit four bows, and to carry music, and a large metronome..

February 2, 2013 at 11:35 PM · Yes, the music, 4 bows, and more interior space for various odds and ends. And some oblong case are lighter than some shaped ones, depending on the materials.

February 3, 2013 at 12:47 AM · Ditto here. Strings, rosin, shoulder rest, up to 4 bows, music, even the music stand!

I also think that it is easier to insulate it, because there are more pockets of air in between.

Last, but not the least, better protection, more cushioning.

Sometimes I regret the heaviness and bulkiness of all the above when I enter public transit and I wish I had an oblong case.

Can't have your pie and eat it too.

February 3, 2013 at 01:49 AM · I recently acquired a shaped case and regret it heartily...no room for music, paraphernalia, or anything useful.

The OP talks of 'wasted space,' but there is never wasted space in a case in use.

February 3, 2013 at 02:39 AM · I agree with OP on this one-- years of teaching, carrying violins and music books on subway trains and crowded streets, I definitely prefer the smaller and lighter shaped case, and a backpack for the extra "stuff". Why on earth would any musician want to cram gadgets their violin case anyway?

February 3, 2013 at 02:55 AM · Why on earth would any musician carrying a case that's already heavy enough want to carry an extra bag if he can fit everything he needs into his case?

February 3, 2013 at 03:11 AM · It's a bit like buying eggs at the grocery, and throwing your keys, phone and MP3 player in the carton so you only need to carry one item :-)

February 3, 2013 at 07:41 PM · I am curious how many string players feel the need to carry four bows.

February 3, 2013 at 09:23 PM · Hi Mark, every bow has its own individual sound and playing characteristics, and I have acquired four of them over the years. I have two violins and two cases, one shaped. I aways have two bows in each case, one as a spare, and if I know I'll being playing Baroque or 18th century music the 3rd bow in the oblong case will be my Late Baroque bow (a 1750 French design) because that works best with music of the 18th century.

February 3, 2013 at 09:42 PM · I assume most people buy an oblong case so they can carry extra bows, music, etc.

I went back to a shaped case because I am a klutz and I kept bumping into things while carrying an oblong case. As a woman, I normally carry a handbag anyway for my wallet, keys, etc. so when I am taking my violin someplace, I just take a bigger bag that has room for my music as well as my usual handbag stuff.

February 12, 2013 at 09:59 AM · Desmond, could you post a picture of your shaped case? I use both shaped and oblong cases depending on what I need to carry. Both have their place.

Cheers Carlo

February 12, 2013 at 10:00 AM · Sorry, double post.

February 13, 2013 at 02:21 AM · Why do most people.drive sedans and not 2-seaters or small Smart-twos? For the extra space and use. I have an oblong to hold my a shoulder rest, resin, 3 bows, tuner, extra strings, music sheets, and cleaning cloths. Its convenient and i dont have to carry an extra bat.

February 13, 2013 at 03:34 AM · I've carried an oblong for quite a while, to accommodate my shoulder rest and music.

February 13, 2013 at 04:55 AM · You can add another question. Why black for a case? Off stage it is fairly dark where our Orchestra plays. There are so many black cases lying around that look alike it is difficult to find your case when you need it.

Actually there is a simple answer. Violin players are notoriously traditionalist to the point of not accepting logical advances.

There are a lot of myths out there. Many still believe the fine Italian violins made in the 1600s that survive to today and are still played are the same today as they were when built. Most that survive to today have had changes that improved them; longer necks, tilted back necks & bass bars have been changed.

But, when improvements are made today such as pegs that are internally geared that are the same size and look of the old ones there is an illogical fear. I love mine and have thrown away my fine tuners.

I also predict that in the future since color is easier to handle in producing music notation that there will be color coding used in music notation. I am already doing it with my Finale Music Program. I no longer have to circle the road signs with my erasable red pencil if it is an adaptation or arrangement that I have done. I make the road signs red.

Another possibility (when the programmers write the program) is making a crescendo begin in blue and move through the spectrum toward red.

Another idea is coloring the lines that are in the notes above the standard 5 black score. You know, those notes that you are using your finger and counting up to see what the note is.

You say color sounds crazy? Look at some of the Early Music Illuminated Manuscripts.

February 13, 2013 at 06:55 AM · "Shaped" violin cases were used by Chicago gangsters to carry machine-guns. Many of us feel the need to "distance ourselves" ......

Also, think of the "subway straps" that oblong cases usually bear. While strap-hanging on the subway the case can stand on end next to ones feet. That's not possible with a shaped case, which has a curved end.

Not everyone trusts the uncomfortable back-pack straps.

I agree that it seems crazy to be carrying 4 bows. That would make sense "on tour" in which instance (I nearly wrote "case") the case would need to be a double - for a spare violin.

I rest my case.

February 13, 2013 at 01:06 PM · Good analogy, Annabelle! I've long likened a case to a car, with the violin and bows as passengers! That being the - er, 'case', the neck restraint is like a seat belt, and the suspension cushions are like air bags!

With more than 15 bows, travelling with 4 doesn't seem like an indulgence to me, though I agree that on any one gig (as opposed to a tour) it's not likely that I'll need all 4. When I play as a soloist I do prefer to travel with 2 violins and 4 bows in a double case. It's reassuring to have backups, just in...'case'!

Actually, for my upcoming recital in March I'm planning to use both violins that I'll be taking with me - one for each half, on account of their respective characters best fitting the music I'm playing in each half. I'm still looking for the ideal double case that's lightweight, strong and made well. I may have found one in Europe, but it's not cheap.

I collect cases as well as violins and bows, and other instruments. These include several antique ones including 2 by Hill. Old or modern, I think that an aesthetic, well... 'case', can be made for this shape or that. Two of my modern oblong cases are rounded at each end, which I find appealling.

February 13, 2013 at 09:29 PM · Shoulder rest, rosin, tuning fork, metronome, soft cloths, pencils, springy-thingy music stand pencil holder, mute, chin rest tool, corkscrew ...

February 14, 2013 at 11:41 AM · Years ago I heard a rumour that Heifetz had a REFRIGERATED violin case. Can anyone confirm this ??

All the better for storing a bottle of hock wine. Corkscrew too.

BTW Raphael's cases with rounded ends are not strictly speaking oblong but ellipsoidal.

Sorry to quibble.

February 14, 2013 at 12:35 PM · #%@!! Now I'll have to get rid of them! :-)

February 15, 2013 at 05:59 AM · I had a shaped case when I was a kid. I got sick and tired of the machine gun jokes--NOTHING else is like a shaped violin case. Sometimes you just want to be anonymous--an oblong case does not scream violin to the uninitiated.

Plus, it hold my three bows, music fits conveniently in the cover, and there's plenty of room for extra strings, mutes, rosin, tuners, etc etc.

February 15, 2013 at 11:16 AM · The opposite of OBLONG is OBSHORT.

To get a violin into an obshort case it would need to be capable of being dismantled, like those sniper's weapons we see on TV (and which probably exist in real life too, though I have never owned one).

February 15, 2013 at 12:19 PM · Maybe "obshort" should refer to those case that you use to ship a violin on an airplane but they're too short to hold a bow.

February 20, 2013 at 09:38 AM · I've never had a machine gun joke aimed at my shaped violin case in NZ, Italy, or the UK. Must be a cultural thing.

Cheers Carlo

February 20, 2013 at 12:04 PM · Actually, Desmond, or anyone else out there making cases, I really would like an 'obshort'. Even a small shaped case will do, for air travel. It's fine if nothing else fits in, most stuff can go below deck if it has to, including the bow/s which can go into a postal tube inside luggage or something. I have come across two different types of these flight cases, fairly modern and extremely pricey. I don't fly a lot, only a few times a year but I would really like to take my violin knowing I won't be in for a hard time with the flight crew over premium overhead luggage space. A very small, light, reasonably priced violin case just big enough to encase the instrument would be just perfect, thank you. :)

Oh, and please be sure to make them available in Australia.:D

February 21, 2013 at 08:27 AM · Millie, You can make your own overhead case for very little money should you wish to. Take an old shaped case, cut it off just past the scroll, then using gaffer tape re-attach the very end of the case. Job done.

Cheers Carlo

February 21, 2013 at 07:27 PM · Why oblong?

Because an oblong case COULD be a case for something cooler than a violin, such as a saxaphone, so people you meet will like you more better, shun you less, and maybe even want to be friends. ;-)

February 21, 2013 at 08:34 PM · If anyone makes machine gun jokes about my case, I can shut them up quickly by threatening to open it. It could be an unpleasant experience either way.

As for shape, I prefer oblong simply because that's the only way there's room for sheet music. Aside from that, there must be shaped cases with room for a shoulder rest and a few accessories - not to mention a bow or two. But in a crowded cloakroom they don't stack as well...

February 21, 2013 at 09:00 PM · My middle kid wants my old violin case for his air soft Tommy gun. So far I have said no.

Beyond the old plastic formed case, I have a form fitting for my old knilling and and an oblong for my UCWV (Unlabeled Chinese Workshop Instrument, love this one). If I get another violin I will go for the Hill Style. Because I can and if need be I can trade them around.

Between too many mutes, dark and light rosin, two cloths (rosin and post rosin), spare strings, ear protection, etc., I would love to separate some of that stuff. This is for home practice mainly since I keep the instruments in one room and practice in another. For lessons I can be more selective and go with the lighter case if I'm feeling weak, but so far so good.

February 21, 2013 at 11:30 PM · Thanks Carlo, I did actually consider your idea some time ago, but right when I was about to actually give it a go, I realised the zipper would no longer work. What then, I supposed I would have to mess around with some type of catch, but all the cases I now have are probably only stiff foam covered with cloth, and I'm not nearly practical enough to work out a solution to that problem. Maybe more gaffer tape but I'm sure as soon as airport security saw that they'd gleefully insist I open the ruddy thing for inspection. Oh, yes, I do still have an old 'coffin' case somewhere, but that's nearly ready for the tip it has so many splits in the timber.

So, yes, an Obshort would be great. I also think that oblong cases by and large are the way to go, they are tidier to pack in the back of a car or sit somwhere neatly without falling over all the time. I too like the mystery of what I might be carrying rather than everyone assume a bank job is on the way and try to follow me to get a part of the action! :)

February 22, 2013 at 03:04 AM · "Actually, Desmond, or anyone else out there making cases, I really would like an 'obshort'. Even a small shaped case will do, for air travel. It's fine if nothing else fits in, most stuff can go below deck if it has to, including the bow/s which can go into a postal tube inside luggage or something."

Millie, Bobelock case company makes your small shaped case, and may still make you"obshort" case, and they're not expensive.


February 22, 2013 at 06:34 AM · Hi David, thanks for that. I had a look at two retailers over here and the first one had them at a charming $695 AUD, and the second at a more respectable $550 AUD. I could probably do a little better if I shopped around more.

Really, I'm probably being unrealistic, but I figure I already have several cases that I've paid a lot less for (new) and was hoping for something more in the $250 dollar range, which is what they seem to retail for overseas. The aussie dollar being above parity at the moment with the US, I could probably have something shipped here a lot cheaper than I could buy it right now. Maybe I should try that!

February 22, 2013 at 07:36 AM ·

February 22, 2013 at 07:46 AM · David,

Maurizio Riboni makes obshorts and flight cases. You might want to check his production out. http://www.maurizioriboni.it/lang1/index.html

They are nice cases although I don't own one.

I love shaped cases, but I prefer carrying a single oblong or dart case with music and accessories as opposed to a shaped case and backpack or messenger bag. Only if I had all of my music memorized!

February 22, 2013 at 12:15 PM · There's also cheap Chinese copies of the shorter (bow-less) Riboni double cases that sell on eBay for not very much - probably nowhere nearly as nice, though, seeing as how Riboni cases are well made enough that you can apparently stand on them. I'm not sure I would trust one of these Chinese cases to that extent.

February 22, 2013 at 12:17 PM · Millie, ouch on those prices!

In the US, the Bobelock wooden oblong shipping case "lists" for about $170, and the shaped fiberglass one at about $270, if I'm interpreting my price list correctly.

Perhaps the cases come into Australia in small quantities, rather than by the shipping container load, like they do in the US. And I have no idea what your import taxes and fees are.

February 22, 2013 at 01:28 PM · David, I believe those are Australian dollars..!

(Update: they're close to the same value... Ouch!)


February 22, 2013 at 11:27 PM · Clearly I am in the minority with my shaped case. I suppose other people must be buying them, though, since the makers still make them.

February 23, 2013 at 12:48 AM · Yes, Dimitri and David, ouch all right. It's probably the 'case' David, that our retailers aren't importing in large enough quantities. Import duty and gst would make them quite a bit more costly, but not enough to get to those prices. Retail markup over here is often over 50%, especially for anything imported because they know they have you by the shorts.

At the moment, if I am lucky enough to find an online supplier who will ship to me, I won't pay duty or tax on anything under 1000 dollars. But I'm sure that will change one day in the future, there's been a bit of a carry on about all the online import purchasing over here making retailers somewhat redundant. I can understand some of it, but then there's unfair competition and healthy competition and all the grey areas in between.

I might have to try the online shopping idea if I can't get anything more reasonable here.

February 23, 2013 at 05:36 AM · M.L., I can say that roughly 6% of my clients order shaped cases and that number is slowly increasing, primarily due to airline restrictions.

February 23, 2013 at 05:34 PM · When I was looking around on line before I bought my Bobelock shaped case, I saw a Concord shaped case that had a detachable music pocket. Maybe more makers of shaped cases could include something like that.

February 24, 2013 at 01:58 AM · I think the Bobelock half moon case is a nice compromise in terms of size and convenience. It only holds two bows, which is just right for me.

February 24, 2013 at 03:00 PM · ...this is somewhat off on a tangent...but I just purchased a bassoon...and thankfully it came with a well-designed gig bag. Good thing too...there is just not enough room in the case itself for some of the extra bits and pieces one tends to accumulate and want to have on hand...

It would have been nice though...to just have one case vs. mucking with two...and that could have been accomplished with just a little extra storage space inside the main case...and the addition of the very handy music pouch...

And yes, I realize there are 'newer' models of woodwind cases out there too...that I would consider if it ever got to the point where I needed to...

August 13, 2015 at 12:16 AM · Reading old threads...

When I was a teen I couldn't wait to get an oblong case. I had a shaped case. Why? In the 1960s "Heifetz" was still a household name, and sometimes was a way of calling a violin student nerdy. As in "Hey, Heifetz, play me a tune." Or "Hey, whaddaya got in there, a machine gun?" (Too many people watched "The Untouchables" on American TV.) That stuff gets old when you've heard it a hundred times. An oblong case was a godsend. Only other violinists know what they are.

Oh, and you can put more stuff in them that you need.

August 13, 2015 at 08:51 PM · Why do I use oblong cases? Because of the extra space, no other reason really! :)

August 13, 2015 at 10:38 PM · "Surely it's not just for the sake of carrying a few sheets of music?"

Yes, that's exactly what it's for! (Plus rosin, tuning fork, shoulder rest, bow...) One oblong case is easier to carry than two of anything.

And if anyone asks whether I have a machine gun inside, I threaten to open it...

August 14, 2015 at 02:28 AM · Are the shaped cases actually as strong and protective as the oblong cases?

August 14, 2015 at 10:38 AM · Oblong cases look more professional.

August 14, 2015 at 05:44 PM · I still use a very old oblong American case I bought from Shar 25 years ago. Like many other folks say it is great for carrying odds and ends with the extra storage space.

I also have a good, reliable, shaped case I use for air travel, as it is easier to fit in the overhead compartments.

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