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Modern hard and soft cases
A modern padded case for two qins
Left: open; Right: closed
On this page are illustrated several of my own cases.2
At right is a modern case with two qins inside. Each qin is wrapped in a silk bag of traditional appearance, but padded more than ones I had previously seen. When I purchase a qin it usually comes with a very thin bag of plain silk. The bags I use were tailor made in Hong Kong. They have two layers of silk, plain (perhaps sand-washed) silk inside, brocade (usually) outside. In between there is some thin padding either from silk or very thin foam rubber.
The case into which I put the qin in its bag is also padded. Mine were made by Betty Vornbrock, a fiddler with the Reed Island Rounders whose company in Virginia, Autumn Wind, does custom sewing, including gig bags for guitar. Her freehand "quilting" technique allows her to add a great variety of designs, including one such as my Toadall Sound logo. Her contact is (last checked June 2010):
The qin case I use most commonly is the Vornbrock single case, illustrated below right.
As for the aluminum and light wood case shown below the soft padded case below right, it was made in Hong Kong. It is quite sturdy, but it has little padding inside, so when I use it for travel I put the qin in one of the traditional silk bags and fill the rest of the case with clothing. It is 51" x 9.75" x 5.75", making it slightly too large according to airline regulations. Perhaps it would be even more secure if it were large enough to hold the black padded case.
Modern styrofoam cases
The case below left, approximately 51" x 9.5"-11.5" x 5"-6" and weighing about 4 pounds, is made using a foam polystyrene plastic (泡沫聚苯乙烯; Wiki) for convenience commonly called "styrofoam" (which is actually a brand name). It nearly form-fits a qin (tightly so if the qin is also first wrapped in a thin silk bag), with purple lining and a black canvas-type cover that zippers closed. To my knowledge this is the most secure type of case for travel (biggest dangers: the single long zipper breaking, or a sharp pointed object hitting it). For years these styrofoam cases all seemed to be one size, and it was my impression that factory qins were all made specifically to fit that case. A number of my own qins are somewhat larger and so do not to fit this standard size. Fortunately, in 2012 I found a somewhat larger version of the styrofoam case at Wang Peng's studio outside Beijing; unfortunately, I am not sure where else it might available.3
Modern styrofoam cases
|Unique: a case/box that also serves as a qin table (with other tables)||Table/case made at 蔡福記 Choi Fook Kee|
On the other hand, since the wood is quite heavy as well as sturdy, the case with qin inside is barely portable, even considering the convenient handle in front. In addition, the holes on the right side and top cannot be closed up. This means the whole box by itself, even if it had something like a protecting canvas layer, is not suitable for shipping with the instrument inside. In addition, it is quite difficult to assemble the frame so that the qin does not wobble when played - when I have done so I have usually leaned the box against a wall.
It is possible that the wobbling problem is due to the pins having shrunk or been worn out, and that new pins might solve this.
There are a number of ways a qin can be damaged during air travel: cracking the body, coming apart at the seams, strings breaking and more.4 The best way to avoid these problems is to carry the qin on board. Unfortunately, this often is not possible. Here are some suggestions to improve chances.
For years I used only the Vornbrock single cases when flying, its snug fit usually allowing me to carry it on board. (I have not yet tried to carry the Vornbrock double case onto an airplane.) For this the most important thing seems to be to avoid mentioning or showing the qin when checking in. On some international flights you might have trouble getting the case into the international area without a special permit from the airline, since the case officially is too big; in this case ask at the ticket counter if you can gate check it. I have never had trouble at security itself. On the other hand, international flights have recently become much more non-musician friendly.
Now, depending on the flight or the airline, I more often use the styrofoam cases and as yet have not had one damaged.
If I am changing planes I try especially hard to carry it on board. However, if know I will have to check the case, especially for flights where it is necessary to change planes, either the styrofoam or the aluminum/wood case (with inside padding) seem the most secure options.
However, it is necessary also to consider one other potential problem with checking cases on long distance flights. Originally I was often using the above aluminum and light wood case. Although oversize, I was always able to check it in without having to pay extra. However, I eventually had some qin start to come apart where the top board meets the bottom. I believe that this was caused by the sudden temperature change in the hold. Because the top board is supposed to be light wood and the bottom board heavy wood, the sudden temperature changes might cause them to expand or contract at different rates.
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)
For qin xia the earliest reference given is a couplet from the 100 couplet 代書詩一百韻寄微之(詩), by Bai Juyi; the eighth couplet says,
Not pictured here are any of the "hard cases" I have had: generally made of some composite material with an artificial leather cover, I have found them to be very unreliable: this is the reason I had the aluminum ones made.
Styrofoam cases (image)
If it is necessary to ship a qin by air, or to check one in during airplane travel, these cases seem to be the best option; however, although I have not seen them break as a result of being in the hold during a flight, I have experienced damage to the lacquer due to changes in temperature in the hold. A soft case increases the chance the qin can be carried on board, but also increases the chance the instrument will have to be checked in.
For these qin cases the molded styrofoam is covered on the outside with what seems an imitation canvas and lined on the inside with what feels like velvet. At the wide end of the interior there is usually a square pad designed to go between the two peg protectors but which then are an obstruction for most banana leaf qins. Although basically very strong, many (all?) have zippers that break too easily. Nevertheless, if they are like the ones I have described here then they are probably the best option - if the qin will fit. The two sizes I have seen so far are:
I do not know where one can find the larger versions of these cases. Cases that look like the one here are readily available online, but if they do not mention the size then almost certainly they are the standard size. As yet I have not found shops selling these cases outside of China; e.g., Hong Kong shops if they have qin cases seem only to have soft cover ones, lightly padded.
Damage to qin in transport
When I was traveling with a qin some years ago, before I had any styrofoam cases, I asked for special handling and I guess the airline thought they gave it to me: as far as I can tell my qin was carefully placed in the hold then all the other luggage was carefully placed on top. The case was crushed and the qin cracked. I have not had anything like this happen since traveling with a styrofoam case, but anyone can imagine scenarios where such damage can occur, particularly if one is traveling with a change of planes.
Unfortunately, some of my qin are too large for the existing styrophone cases. For these I have used the aluminum and wood case pictured above. Or I have taken a chance with the Vornbrock cases: I have had to check qin in them on several occasions; they survived, but I have not had to do this yet where I am changing planes.
With the styrofoam cases the most common problem I have had has been the qin coming apart at the seams on long distance flights. This happens because the qin top, which should be light wood, and the bottom, which should be hard wood, expand or contract differently when subjected to temperature change. Putting a disposable handwarmer inside the case may help with this but I have not yet tried that.
The temperature change could also cause a string to break, so it is a good idea to loosen them a bit - perhaps about a whole tone.
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