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Thoughts On Cases for the TAE

I had my Tube Amp Expander for over a year before I bought a case for it. With the pandemic going on, it wasn't like the TAE was going to be leaving my studio anytime soon. So it sat safely on my amps for a year. That actually gave me some time to investigate options and think about what I wanted and needed. 


Notwithstanding pandemic-driven lifestyle changes, I'm usually in a band. Not always, but usually. Years ago, I was what you'd call a "semi-pro" musician, but nowadays I'm strictly a weekend warrior. I gig only a few times a month and almost never out of town. And I always transport my own gear. So I know my stuff is always in caring and mindful hands. And because of all that, I don't want ATA road cases anymore. They're more hassle than they're worth for me. I want just enough protection, while keeping the size and weight down because I have to carry all this stuff myself and I'm not getting any younger.

A really important consideration to me is the number of trips I have to make between my vehicle and the venue. That’s a big deal when you’re playing in a city where parking is limited and you have cops hassling you when you’re loading and unloading your gear at the curbside. And it’s an even bigger deal when you live in a metropolis and use public transportation to get to your gigs (I can only imagine...). Ideally, I'd be able to carry all my gear between my car and the venue in a single trip, and there have been blissful periods of my life where I've been able to do that. Unfortunately, my rig currently isn't that svelte – I'm at 2 trips right now. But wherever I can combine multiple items in a single case, without making that case too big or heavy, I consider that a huge win. So for example, my pedalboard case contains not only my pedalboard, but also guitar stands, cables, straps, tools, and other accessories. I even have a double gig bag that will carry two guitars. While the TAE has allowed me to shed some pedals off my board, overall it has added another another thing to carry. That's a real shame, but I now consider it one of the most vital parts of my rig, so I suck it up.

The last consideration is of course, cost. Going for the cheapest solution usually doesn't pay off in the long run. On the other hand, I'm not eager to waste money on something that grossly exceeds my needs either. In most things, I'm not a big believer in overengineering and I try to right-size everything to the actual requirements of the job. I'm not sending people to the moon, I'm just trying to get my shit to the gig.

As I see it, you have 3 choices in how to transport the TAE.

1. No Protection

The easiest and cheapest option is to just take your chances and forego any sort of case. If your TAE isn’t going into battle, there’s no sense in making it wear a suit of armor. One  positive is that the TAE's rear panel connections always remain accessible, which is very handy if you switch between amps, or between live and recording a lot. But if you gig, even casually, this option is not a good idea. The TAE  is expensive and has a lot of knobs that are just ripe for being sheared off the box, kinda like this. Better to put it in something to protect it. Heck, just wrapping it in a beach towel and putting it in a suitcase would be a big improvement.

2. Case or Gig Bag

The TAE is pretty reasonably sized: 15" wide, 11 11/16" deep (with knobs), and 4 3/8" high. That makes it viable to put it in something like a briefcase. It could be hard- or soft-sided, depending on how much protection you need. You can select your case so that it's no bulkier or heavier than needed to hold and protect your TAE to your needs. This is a good option for occasional gigging because it allows you to use your TAE unencumbered by a case in your home and only put it in the case when you actually need to travel. It's also a pretty cost-effective option. Something like a Pelican iM2400 is water-tight and crush-proof, yet considerably cheaper than most heavy-duty racks. It would be an excellent way to get something bomb-proof, yet lightweight, easy to carry, and reasonably priced. On the other side of the protection curve, a DJ controller bag or a photography accessory bag, if sized well, could work for around-town gigs. On the downside with a case or bag, you have a little bit extra setup/tear-down to deal with at the gig, but that doesn't seem like a very big burden in my opinion. 

3. Rack

A rack is the most obvious answer and the one Boss assumes people will use since they include rack mounts with the TAE. If rack gear is already part of your gigging rig, then rack-mounting the TAE is a no-brainer. And if you use stompboxes in your TAE's effects loop, a rack is also really nice because you can mount the stompboxes on a shelf in your rack, which lets you keep them wired up, saving setup and tear-down time at the gig. Another nice thing about racks is that you can get them with as much or as little protection as you want.

On the surface it seems like a bomb-proof rack would be ideal, but in reality those kind of racks have a very large cost in both money and hassle. They're heavy, bulky, and wearisome to deal with. An 8-space or larger ATA rack case won't even fit into some cars! You have to be careful just carrying one through the hallway in your house because it will cause an amazing amount of damage just bumping into walls, doors, furniture, etc. And it will put a hell of a dent in your brand new car too, not that I would know anything about that. Finally, you need a lot of space to store them. I should mention that a plastic rotomolded rack case (ala SKB) isn't nearly as heavy. And don't be fooled by the fact that it's plastic. A rotomolded case can be made uber rugged – the military takes them to war, afterall. But all the other downsides apply. They're still bulky, clumsy, surprisingly expense, and a storage hassle.

If you don't actually require the kind of protection an ATA case provides, it's not worth it in my opinion. People tend to overpay for optionality. Many weekend warrior musicians will buy an ATA rack just in case they ever need it, spending a bunch more money and effort to be prepared for a hypothetical scenario that has little chance of occuring. I'd rather prepare for the actual and probable scenarios, and occasionally have to spend more if an unlikely scenario actually plays out. In the long haul, you'll win a lot more often than you'll lose with that strategy.

Another consideration is that racks make it more of a pain to get to the rear panel connections on the TAE. The TAE is relatively shallow, so if you have it in a rack with other gear that's deeper, accessing the TAE's rear panel will be a nuisance, I guarantee it. Also consider that a rack can impede the TAE’s ventilation. Remember that the TAE's load box works by dissipating your amp’s power in the form of heat. That heat needs to vent for the good health of everything in the rack, including the TAE. So it would be a wise idea to leave one space open above the TAE if you're going to rack it. Alternatively, you could install a computer fan in your rack, which is even better.

What I Use

Like I said, I value low weight and small size over heavy-duty protection. If I were touring, I'd feel differently. I could have done nicely with a Pelican case, but I ended up with a light-duty rack.
I wanted to get a rack that could accommodate both the TAE and a sliding shelf that I already had. But the racks I found that could fit the sliding shelf were way deeper than necessary, making their exterior dimensions just too big and bulky. I never found one that was "just big enough" and no more. So I ended up eliminating the shelf as a requirement and looking for a rack to fit the TAE by itself, which opened the door to much more compact racks.

I ended up getting a 3-space Gator Retro Rack, which is a shallow rack designed to look a bit like a guitar amp with tolex covering, a front lid covered with salt-and-pepper grillcloth, and a very amp-like leather top handle. It definitely has a nice look. It's decently built too with 3/4" plywood sides and recessed, metal side handles. But I definitely would not recommended it for heavy gigging. The front lid doesn't latch (it's held in with velcro and friction) and there is no back lid at all. So you'd never want to check it in on an airline flight, or let somebody else load it. But for around-town gigging where I'm doing my own loading, it's fine. In fact, it protects the TAE better than the padded covers that protect my amps.