There has always been this running school of thought about the absolute need to de-tune guitars before flying, especially when having to check them in. The fear of anything happening to the artists guitars or your own because one didn’t de-tune them has kept this idea from the past firmly ingrained in the present. De-tuning is not necessary nor is it advantageous to the over all health and safety of the guitar when in transport.
There are no factually based reasons to do this with modern guitars that have adjustable truss rods.
-There! we said it! It needed to be done. The idea that de-tuning guitars before they fly can prevent the neck breaking is a falsehood. The mere physics of it are not possible.
Let’s examine the facts.
Firstly, the plane’s cabin and cargo hold are both pressurized and climate controlled. Pets are placed safely under there. This means that there is no excessive stress on the guitar due to air pressure or extreme climate.
Secondly, the truss rod is what keeps the neck in place and balances the natural forward-pulling tension of the strings. If you have ever over-wound a string you will know that the string will break- not the neck.
Thirdly, unless there is a serious crack or flaw in the neck already, the strings are not capable of generating enough tension to snap the neck. If anything the string will slightly de-tune themselves during the trip mostly from handling and the temperature adjusting from indoors, out to in again. They will not suddenly get tight let alone so tight they damage the guitar.
Fourthly, guitars are built and function through the use of the counter-tension of the strings, wood and truss rod. When there is lack of proper counter-tension for long periods of time it can create back-bow.
Manufacturers ship guitars all over the world, leaving the factory tuned to E.
The truth, handling is what usually causes damage or stress on the guitar. Any flaws or cracks etc in the infrastructure of the guitar can be exacerbated by how the guitars are handled in transport. De-tuning a guitar WILL NOT help protect the guitar if it sustains an impact. Most guitar manufactures do extensive “drop” testing and the results corroborate this.
The best things you can do for guitars when flying is to have properly fitted flight cases built for them, keeping them clean and free from sweat and body oils, check to make sure the integrity of the guitar is intact -look out for hairline fractures or thin cracks at jointed points.
→→→These things need to be addressed before flight. Loosening strings will not save the neck if there is a structural flaw in the wood!
Incase you are still skeptical
and cling on to your belief that de-tuning serves a necessary purpose, check this out- Direct from Taylor’s (major acoustic guitar manufacturer) website-
” The idea that you should slacken the strings before flying (or extended periods of non-use) is a leftover notion from a bygone era, when guitars were built without adjustable truss rods, which made it more difficult to counteract the tension of the strings on the neck. Modern guitars have adjustable truss rods, which are factory-calibrated to balance the natural forward-pulling tension of the of the strings.”
In other words, there are other factors in why a guitar breaks when being transported and none of them are because of the strings.The neck of the guitar is mainly under compression while the strings and the truss rod are under tension. There is some tension on the back side of the neck due to neck relief (forward bow of neck) but not much. Necks are made from the most compressed part of the tree-the trunk which is able to handle this compressed state. So if you believe de-tuning relieves you of the responsibility of damage sustained in flight, you may want to also check to see any signs of cracks or damage previous to flying. When all is said and done it really comes down to the care taken by the baggage handlers of the instrument. It is literally in their hands.
In short, guitar necks are super strong and only fail due to impact (see Gibsons broken headstock syndrome) or warp due to poorly seasoned wood or extreme humidity or temperature changes.