Making a Gig Bag for the Ophicleide

The bag is a simple sheath made from appropriate cloth, such as canvas or rip-stop nylon. A cloth handle is sewn at the point where the case balances with the horn inside. An optional shoulder strap extends from one end to the other, and allows the case to be carried either over the shoulder or behind the back (semi-backpack style). The Author's sheath was made by Donna Altieri of Altieri Brass Pacs, 1 Galapago Street, Denver CO 80223, phone 303-291-0658 (the tube was sent to her by UPS for fitting.)

To give the bag shape and protect the instrument from banging into obstructions (and to resist crushing), the bag is sized to slip over a tube rolled from 1/8" thick high density polyethylene plastic sheet. This is inexpensive and may be obtained from local plastic supply companies or online from suppliers such as GE Polymershapes (formerly Cadillac Plastics).

The diameter of the tube is made to be slightly less than the overall diameter of the bell. The length of the tube is about one inch more than the overall length of the instrument, to accomodate the bow pad assembly (see below).

To roll the tube, cut the sheet to size, allowing about 3" of overlap as shown in the photo. Use two or three cloth belts with continuous- adjust type buckles; the inexpensive belts used by the scouting organizations or the military for their unforms work well. Otherwise, any strap or rope method that allows the tube to start wide and loose, then be slowly drawn up smaller and tighter will work.

Once the tube is drawn up to the correct diameter (double check this!), drill appropriate holes in two rows, approximately 3/8" from each edge of the plastic. The holes should be just large enough to clear the pop-rivets or other hardware. 

Using two people, one reaching inside and other other working outside the tube, secure the hardware in the holes (NOTE: you must use hardware, since there is no glue or adhesive that will work with polyethylene plastic.) The photo shows aluminum pop-rivets (inserted from the outside, with washers used on the inside), but simple bolts, washers and locknuts will also work.

This photo shows the inside of the tube with all but one of the fasteners installed. The washers are clearly visible. Whether using bolts or rivets, select them to be as short as possible to avoid leaving objects that will catch on the instrument when taking it in and out of the tube.
The bottom bow of the instrument will be held in a centered position in the bottom of the tube. To provide a firm base for the bow to rest on, and to provide a glue-friendly surface to attach foam padding to, cut a circle of plywood to fit inside the tube. 90-degree metal brackets are used with rivets and/or bolts to secure the wood just inside the end of the tube. The wood should be no more than 1/4" thickness to save weight.
A pad made from a firm grade of foam is cut to fit snugly inside the tube, then cut to fit the contours of the bottom bow of the instrument; make allowances for any keys down there! There are a great number of suitable foam products which will hold the bow in place on the board; use at least a 2" thickness, and select a foam that is stiff enough to keep the bow from slipping out of its cutout. A resilient foam formulation is also desirable, so that it recovers from abuse and will not crumble or tear. Plastics suppliers or foam cutting firms can often supply scraps of suitable material. The prototype used 2-pound closed-cell crosslinked polyethylene in a 2" thickness. Use RTV silicon adhesive (NOT caulk) or 'liquid nails' type adhesive to glue the foam to the plywood.
This photo shows the tube inserted into the bag, with the instrument inside. Notice how the bell self-centers in the tube. If the tube is the correct length, the bottom bow of the instrument will be just touching the plywood board when the bell rests lightly on the rim of the tube.

The original design does not have any padding for the bell, but this can be added by sewing foam rubber to the cloth sheath just where it touches the bell rim. Another solution would be to make a short tube slightly larger in diameter than the main tube, sized to fit just around the bell, and fasten it to the main tube, providing a lip that the bell would rest inside.

This photo shows the correct cut of the cloth sheath. With the tube snugly inside the sheath, there should be just enough extra cloth to draw almost to the center of the bell with a drawstring. Provide a slit in the sheath starting about an inch below the top of the tube, to allow the end to be opened wide when taking the instrument in and out. The drawstring and slip fastener are available at fabric stores and suppliers of camping equipment. The tightly drawn string holds the bell firmly inside the tube, so the instrument cannot move sideways or lengthwise inside the tube.
This photo shows the completed gig bag with the ophicleide inside. If the optional outer ring is added to the bell end of the tube (see above), the instrument will be very well protected from abuse in transit. Since most ophicleides are narrower than their detachable bocals (some players refer to these as 'crooks'), it is not possible to size the tube to also fit the bocal inside. The bocal can be easily carried separately in whatever other bag or case the player might take along (the author puts it inside an attache case that primarily holds sheet music.)

The descriptions given here and the photos reflect a gig bag in use for almost 10 years, including about 20 trips by airplane (the gig bag was placed inside a custom made cardboard box, fabricated by the local packaging store.) However, no guarantee is made for suitability for a given instrument or travel situation, or for variations on examples made from these descriptions.

All photos made using a Kodak DC240 digital camera.


The Serpent Website: Return to Index

Copyright Paul Schmidt 2000
revised February 2005