Review: Access Bags and Cases - Stage 3, etc
Access Bags and Cases is located in Bainbridge Island, WA, and is headed by Herschel Blankenship. Through several email conversations with Mr. Blankenship, I learned about his background as a player and his personal design goals in creating these cases. His own experience and taste factor heavily into Access' offerings, which is an admirable thing - all too often in the course of business, revision upon revision are necessary and compromises must be made to satisfy all parties involved. If anything, I get the feeling that Access cases are getting closer to the "ideal" with every new model version.
I was given the current Stage 3 hard bag, the previous version of the Stage 3, and a now unavailable Stage DLX case with backpack to try out, to see which would work best for my needs.
First, a little about me: I currently use a Protec Contego, having used a Summit Bass Pack case prior to that, as my main gig bag. I play 5 and 6 string bases, and like to be well prepared - for me, among other things, that means having lots of storage and having it easily accessible. I like the Contego quite a bit and it is a very good case with ample storage, but the issue I have with it for my own purposes is that the pockets do not zip down far enough on the sides to be able to easily see and access the little items that tend to accumulate in there at the bottom. This is especially troublesome on a dark stage, or when you're in a hurry, and the problem is exacerbated by having the storage available filled to near capacity. I was searching for another viable option that offered the same benefits as this case with better/more accessible storage.
The other important element to me, that I began to realize was actually quite large at play, is that I am a backpack straps-user. Whenever I carry my bass in a gig bag, it's on my back, 100% of the time, so that I can carry a pedalboard over my shoulder and push a cab and head on wheels in front of me. I'm a huge fan of the 1 trip load in. So the backpack straps - their positioning, comfort, how high up or low they are on the case - make a world of difference to me. This was one of the interesting differences I discovered between myself and Mr. Blankenship, who himself doesn't particularly like backpack straps and never uses them, preferring to sling the bag over his shoulder. He also explained that it was very important for him to design the bags with easily removable straps for air travel, as this was one of the core use-cases behind this series and the Stage 5 bags.
L to R: Protec Contego, Access DLX, older Stage 3, new Stage 3
Since the DLX with backpack and the older version of the Stage 3 are not current models, I spent some good time with the current Stage 3 over the past 4 days, taking it to a couple of rehearsals and a studio session. The current Stage 3 is a fantastic bag. It is very rigid, but much lighter than the DLX. The single side handle is well positioned and much heavier duty and nice to hold onto than the two combo side handles on the previous Stage 3.
It features a good amount of storage capacity on the front; 2 large pockets down low and one smaller pocket up high at the headstock point.
The bag features backpack straps that are well padded and are completely removable, and can be configured for backpack use or for slinging around your shoulder, attaching to an anchor point higher up on the case.
The inside of the case features a neck pillow, which has seemed to become a standard feature on cases of this nature. I found it very nice and soft, and tall enough to get the job done, but I missed the velcro neck-securing strap that the Protec and iGig bags feature on this element.
I appreciated very much how the storage pockets on the front opened up so far that I could see everything I had stored in there without effort, and I was able to organize it all effectively. There's also a velcro cable tie point in the larger, back pocket. However, I found the smaller pocket at the head end to be a bit on the small side - it was not exactly effortless to get my well padded Comfort Strap in there, as I've grown accustomed to doing. To be fair, maybe it's strange to put your strap there, but that's what I've always done.
The backpack straps were actually much more comfortable than I expected them to be, being that they attach to a central lug on the case rather than to two points several inches apart, and that they have metal clips which I worried might be a tad uncomfortable on the neck/shoulders. Surprisingly, the straps do a very good job of distributing the weight of the fully loaded case across the shoulders, and I didn't find that they pinched my neck at all, as some configurations have done before. One area where I preferred the Contego is the bottom terminus of the straps - on the Contego, the straps are S shaped and attach to the back of the case in a way that pretty well leaves them out of the way of your swinging arms. The straight straps on the Stage 3 attach to lugs at the outside corners of the case, which for me, led me to carefully hold my arms out a bit from my body as I walked, so as not to continually rub the insides of my forearms and biceps against the straps.
All in all, the Stage 3 is a very impressive case/bag/hybrid gig bag-case, or whatever term you choose to use for this class of axe-protectors! It is also priced very reasonably (instead of me listing here, please contact Access for pricing info). My interest in Access began after learning of the Stage 5 hard bag, currently out of stock and being revised for release in 2014. This case featured permanently attached, S-shaped backpack straps that stayed in place via magnets when not in use (cool), as well as ample pocket storage. The new Stage 5 will be fully revised, with removable straps and other improvements and tweaks.
Access makes some very cool, sturdy, and affordable gig bags and cases, and if you're considering looking into a Protec, iGig, Mono, Reunion Blues, or other similar style hybrid case, you'd do very well to check out Access first. Thanks go out to Herschel Blankenship for providing the gear and supporting spreading the word on the forums!
Inside the loaded, new Stage 3:
Older Stage 3:
Stage DLX (legacy model):
By the way, I'd love it if someone could do this for the iGig 515 and/or 525, the until recently current Access Stage 5, and other similar cases!
I bought a Gator GL bag for my Alembic Spoiler. The lower body, (lower bout, I believe) is a bit too wide for the case. I'd rather not spend $200 for a case, but if I have to spend more than I already have, I will. I looked at the Protec Contego on The Perfect Bass site, which is $123.49 with the TalkBass discount. The Protec site says the Lower Bout is 14". My Alembic is 14.75" by my measurement. The Access Stage 3 is 15.35". I can't find anyone who sells it besides Elderly Instruments for $139. Does anyone else sell this case? Thanks a lot! BTW, I only gig locally and transport in my car.
I looked again and the photo on Elderly Instruments site is of the older model Access Stage 3 bag. It might just be the wrong picture.
I wish I could combine the best features of all the different gig bags available to make the ultimate gig bag.
I think you may be able to order the newer Stage 3 directly from the Access site, but haven't checked before writing this. Not sure where else they're available though. And yeah, if you could only pick and choose elements from every bag you liked, it would be so great!
From what I can tell, you can't order it from the site. I emailed the site to see if my local music store can order it from him, as I must go through them at this point as I bought my Gator case from them, and they don't refund, only credit. Typical small music store policy. Great store. I try to support them as I can.
How is the Carvin bag: http://www.carvinguitars.com/products/GB45
I hope it works out for you through your local store! Herschel was very responsive in my experience, but does travel for business. I'm sure you'll hear back from him before too long. I've never tried the Carvin bag, but have been generally satisfied with most of the Carvin products I've tried. I don't think they make a rigid bag like these, though. But do let me know if I'm wrong!
I'm trying to get recommendations is all. How much did you pay for the Stage 3, if you don't mind my asking? Thanks.
I did like the new Stage 3 very much, and found it very comparable to the Contego. I didn't buy one; I was loaned those cases by the company and ended up returning all rather than purchasing any. I'm afraid I don't know what the street pricing is like on those, but maybe some previous classifieds posts may shed some light on what folks around here have sold them for, 2nd hand.
I'll be ordering a Stage 3 through my local music store early next week, which Access was only happy to help with. Great company (thanks Kevin) and I'm stoked to get this terrific bag! It goes for $149, by the way. The older Stage 3 is available through the site for $139.
Got the Stage 3 bag today through my local music store. Only spent a few minutes transferring my Alembic Spoiler, cables, Sling Strap and a few other things. More storage than my hard shell. Beautiful bag. It doesn't seem that much lighter than my old hard shell case when loaded, but the Alembic isn't light regardless. It gets out of the house on Nov. 22 for the next gig. More impressions then.
That's great to hear! Crowdsourced review - good deal. Let us know what your first gig impressions are with it!
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