We all love basses. Some of us take that gear love one step further and love amps, or cabinets, or effects pedals. I love fine leather gig bags. I trace this odd passion to my deep appreciation of finely crafted mountain boots. The fine leather, craftmanship, and simple yet elegant design of these boots make them supremely comfortable (once broken in) and incredibly durable. They conjure romatic images of a lone cobbler working by candle light in a stone hut at the base of the Alps while climbers yodel from the soaring buttresses above. This Italian pair will probably outlast my hiking legs.
The gig bag equivalent of the finest European mountain boots is the original Reunion Blues. For years, Reunion Blues was THE leather gig bag whether you played bass, guitar, horn, or were one of those drummer types looking for a place to cram your sticks and cymbals. Bomb proof and elegant. I paid a paltry $369 (by today's standard) for my tan double bag in 1993. Today, the same bag will set you back about $650. It served flawlessly as my sole case for nearly 15 years. It protected my basses extremely well, carried superbly, and never suffered a single hardware failure. It's developed a beatiful patina and has actually improved with age. Eventually, I tired of schlepping two basses around regardless of whether or not I actually needed two went shopping for a new single gig bag,
Some quick Googling revealed that a new Reunion Blues single bag would run me close to $500. I also learned that manufacturing had been shifted offshore from San Francisco. Regardless, I wasn't willing to shell out $500 for a gig bag and settled on a fabric Guitar Research bag with detachable backpack. I liked the low price, the internal plastic sheeting that offered more protection than my double bag, and the backpack seemed like a neat idea. In reality, none of the handles or straps really worked without the weight of the backpack and when you did attach the backpack, it carried like a burlap sack, half-filled with kittens. In short time, the swivel strap attachment failed, causing me to drop the bag
...good thing it protected well.
I relegated it to at-home storage duties and began using a a cheap, pleather Modulus gig bag that came with a recent Ebay score. I own three Moduli and loved that it was a factory bag but it was decidedly "light duty" and like the last gig bag, was made of cheap materials and began falling apart. I should also mention that during the same time frame, the strap on the factory gig bag for my NS EUB failed, causing me to drop the bag.
The upper strap mount was getting ready to rip out and a failure would surely be catastrophic.
It was time to shop for a new gig bag...but what to buy? I still wasn't willing to cough up $500 and cheap gig bags were definitely out. The new crop of hybrid, thermoformed bags are impressive in their weight and protective capabilities and even though they were a bit pricey, the practical side of me knew that one of them would be the "prudent" choice. However, my inner mountaineer still lusted for a fine leather bag. I toyed with the idea of a Levy's but I'd never actually touched one and I wasn't willing to shell out out $350 for the honor. In the end, providence smiled upon me and presented a used, newer Reunion Blues bag on Ebay. I sniped and got it for about the same price as a newer style hybrid case. The bag arrived today and these are my preliminary observations regarding the differences between the older, domestic bags and the newer, imported bags:
OLD: Reunion Blues, San Francisco
NEW: Reunion Blues, origin unknown (...actually, China)
I heard the faint sound of yodelers as I pulled my new gig bag out of its shipping carton. The new bag was black, a nice contrast to my old tan bag, with very attractive black chrome hardware. Absolutely beatiful! The main zipper, perhaps the single most important component on a gig bag, appeared to be the same industrial strength YKK coil zipper as on the old bag. I couldn't verify since the generic YKK zipper pulls on the old bag had been replaced with wider, ergonomic, contoured and hinged, RB-stamped pulls that were actually quite nice. Also nice were the swivelling quick-release hooks on the new straps, a step up from the simple clip ends of the old straps. The backpack strap attachment also differed between the two. On the older bags, the straps were sewn into the bag and were non removable. The new backpack straps are removable at both ends and mount onto rings secured in the same gusseted and riveted fashion as the suitcase handles. The new bag lacked the exterior side strap of the old bag, which I never "got" o used. Finally, the new bag sports a velcro neck strap to secure the bass inside the instrument compartment. My old bag lacked that feature so I'm not sure whether it's a good addition or not.
The main difference between the old and new Reunion Blues bags is that the front and rear "body" portions of the new bag are constructed using two pieces of leather per side with a seam down the middle rather than the single piece per side of the old bags. In addition, the zipper-side gusset of the new bag is constructed with four pieces of leather with a seam near the handle rather than the two pieces on the old bag. This allows Reunion Blues to use smaller (read: cheaper) pieces of leather to construct its bags. It also presents Murphy more possible points of failure. That's why mountain boots are constructed of a single piece of leather with a single seam down the back, to minimize seams which are subject to failure or water intrusion. Use too many seams and open yourself up to probelms and approach the tackiness of those cheesy 1970s patchwork leather jackets and hats!
Supringly, the weight difference between the old bag and the new bag was smaller than I expected. I fully expected the extra leather and foam of my double bag to account for at least an extra pound in weight compared to the single bag. In reality the double bag weighed 8lb 12oz while the single bag weighed in at 8lb 6oz. Sixes ounces, the same amount of beef in a big hamburger, separated the two bags. I'm not sure if I overestimated the weight difference or if the single bag had heavier materials.
Aside from those differences, the bags were very similar. The leather appeared to be of similar quality. Thick, heavy, and free of blemishes. The interior foam had similar density and rebound and the stitching appeared to be of similar quality. It should be noted that the leather inner was not visible in the new bag. Reunion Blues took time to conceal the leather inner in the exterior pocket by lining it with fabric. The inner leather of my old bag is exposed in the exterior pocket and along the interior sides of the gig bag. I'm don't know if that's significant.
So there you have it. The new imported Reunion Blues gig bags are not as bad as some would have you believe. Are they $500 nice? Not to me. Glenn Cronkhite, who founded Reunion Blues, still makes gig bags in California for reportedly less than what you'd pay for a Reunion Blues and is worth looking into if you want a new bag. If you can pick up a newer Reunion Blues cheap or used, they're well worth the money. Exactly how much money we're talking is subjective but I'm very glad to have scored my new Reunion Blues bag for the price I did,
Time will tell whether the new bag lasts as long as my old one has but based on what I've seen so far, I don't expect any issues. I just hope my kin appreciate it as much as I do!