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The practice of characters concealing ordnance in musical instrument cases.
For criminals there come times when a pistol just isn't big enough for the job. However transporting heavier firepower in a manner that doesn't attract the attention of civilians or the police can be a problem. Enter the musical instrument case. The wide range of shapes and sizes of musical instruments means you can readily find a case for transporting any weapon you might want to conceal.
This one goes back at least as far as the Roaring Twenties when gangsters used violin and viola cases to transport Thompson submachine guns and sawed-off shotguns. With time more varied weapons have been concealed in this manner up to heavy machine guns and rocket launchers. Even today specialized cases for transporting rifles and pistols can look like musical instrument cases.
This has been done so much that nowadays when some people see a violin case, they assume it contains firearms. Ironically, though, this trope is Truth in Television, as nobody raised an eyebrow when Steven P. Kazmierczak smuggled a pair of shotguns inside the Northern Illinois University with a guitar case (see below)
Not to be confused with the Musical Assassin, who actually uses an instrument to kill instead of hiding a gun - unless, of course, he pulls the instrument out of the case and proceeds to kick ass like a maestro. Alternatively, you could have an Instrument of Murder, where the instrument doubles as a weapon.
Verges on Dead Horse territory these days, as it's subverted as often as it's played straight.
Also not to be confused with Psycho Strings.
See also Briefcase Blaster when the weapon is concealed in a briefcase.
Anime and Manga
- In Gunslinger Girl Henrietta uses a violin case to transport her signature weapon, the FN P90. Unlike many examples sometimes it does contain her violin.
- Likewise, in Blue Seed, Kome uses a cello case to transport her rocket launcher.
- In Baccano, a terrorist group called the Lemures boards a train disguised as a professional orchestra, with many stringed instrument cases to house their weapons. This may be a point of historical accuracy, seeing as the story takes place during the American Prohibition Era. There is Lampshade Hanging: Ladd and his gang know immediately that they are killers, and the Lemures act so overtly threatening to the railroad staff, that it isn't much of a disguise.
- Subverted in Tantei Gakuen Q. A murdering musician is actually confirmed to be a serial killer after the DDS people see that his violin case is empty; he only brought the case to pose as innocent, not wanting the violin to get damaged under the rainy weather.
- Samurai Champloo In the first part 'Hellhounds for Hire' Jin is disguised as a woman carrying a biwa (a traditional Japanese instrument similar to a guitar). When asked to play a song on it, he pulls his katana from the neck, and reveals that he is actually a samurai. He also happened to have smoke bombs hidden in the body of the instrument.
- Blood Plus: Hagi carries around Saya's sword in his cello case (along with an actual cello). He gets it out, throws it to her... then proceeds to teleport over to some random enemy and beat the living hell out of them with a cello case as tall as he is. It also makes a nifty shield and a remarkable projectile.
- Devil May Cry: Dante keeps his sword in a guitar case in the anime.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima, Mana brings along a guitar case for her Big Damn Heroes moment. True to form, she whips a pair of Desert Eagles out in a Shout-Out to Desperado, mentioned below.
- Ikki Tousen's Ten'i carries a composite bow in a full-blown cello case--with a large blade that springs out the bottom, to boot.
- Asobi Ni Iku Yo: Tyke Bomb Aoi keeps her arsenal in a cello case.
- Madlax once stored a sniper rifle in a cello case.
- Gotham City has become a No Man's Land, divided into territories controlled by gangs. Someone always seen with a "violin" case, rumored to have killed four dozen rival mobsters, walks through alone. Subverted surprisingly touchingly.
- Parodied many, many times in the Spirou and Fantasio adventure "Luna Fatale" which mostly takes place in New York City and plays on the Little Italia mafia/Chinatown triads stereotypes. All the mafiosi carry a violin case at one point or another, leading to many incomfortable situations.
- The story opens with a shoot-out between mafiosi: all of them have violin cases full of guns... except one, who opens his case to find a mandolin, as he had been off serenading a woman before meeting the others.
- At one point, Spirou find himself in a restaurant owned by the American-Italian Mafia: in the background, a violin player opens his case, only to find a machine gun inside. In the end, he has to make do with a makeshift harmonica.
- A dying elderly mafioso explains that he had been cheating on his wife with another woman. Cut to the elderly wife who heard his confession taking a rolling pin out of her violin case.
- Neil Gaiman's and Dave McKean's Violent Cases.
- Nextwave: Elsa Bloodstone keeps two Uzi's and two shotguns in her guitar case she carries around.
- Inverted in an issue of The Simpsons comic book. Lisa goes with Bart and his friends to the mall with her saxophone, and one of Bart's friends nonchalantly asks why she's carrying a machine gun. Bart replies that she's just weird.
- There was an old Mad Magazine or Cracked joke that inverted this, where a violin player took it out of what looked like a Tommy gun case.
- There was an old caricature inspired by the Kennedy assassination. An (obvious) assassin with a guitar case enters a building. The police guarding check his case and make sure that he is carrying a real guitar (he is). So they let him through. He reaches the top of the building which overlooks the road where the president (in an open-topped car) is parading through the streets. The assassin picks up the guitar and, when the president's car is close enough, throws it at the president. He gets a hit.
- Robert Rodriguez's Desperado and Once Upon a Time In Mexico feature an ex-musician turned deadly vigilante who carries a guitar case full of guns. The prequel to these two movies, El Mariachi, features a hitman who had a case much like this that ended up in the hands of the eponymous mariachi about halfway through the movie.
- In addition, in Desperado, Mariachi's two allies, Quino and Campa, used guitar cases that were converted to fire full-auto machine guns as well as one that contained a rocket launcher. Once Upon a Time In Mexico took this further with new allies Lorenzo and Fideo, one of whom used a guitar case built as a flamethrower, and the other of whom had his guitar case turned into a radio controlled bomb on wheels.
- In Desperado, he went one better than just stuffing the guns in a guitar case, he had a mockup guitar with a false bottom that concealed a veritable arsenal. When he first showed up in the bar, everyone assumed he had a gun in the case and forced him to open it. He did and showed that "it's just a guitar"... unfortunately, the hidden catch wasn't very good, and the hidden lid opened and wackyness ensued.
- Not to be outdone in Once Upon A Time in Mexico, El hides a sawed off shotgun inside a guitar.
- However, doubly subverted when they're entering the whereabouts of the President and the guards ask them to play their instruments. The Reverse Mole that got them in trembles insecurely for a couple of moments, while the boys actually play well, and he admits he didn't think they could play. One of them asks "Are you serious?"
- Subverted in The Punisher. The assassin Harry Heck enters the diner where Frank Castle is eating, toting a guitar case, which he opens before an on-guard Castle to reveal... a guitar. He then plays a tune informing Castle that he's here to kill him.
- And it was AWESOME.
- In the James Bond film The Living Daylights, Kara conceals a sniper rifle inside a cello case.
- Obviously "Trigger" does the same in the short story -- with an AK-47.
- It also comes in handy as a makeshift sled.
- This is also the movie where Q creates the "Ghetto Blaster" - a rocket launcher that masquerades as a boom box. Q says "It's something we're making for the Americans."
- In Star Trek First Contact, Picard goes into a holodeck simulation of the 1920s specifically to borrow one character's Tommy gun. It's in a violin case, of course.
- At the beginning of Some Like It Hot, the struggling musicians look for work in a club run by gangsters. Seeing the instrument cases, the gangsters draw their guns and search the musicians -- being very surprised to find out that the instrument cases contain musical instruments -- and more surprised when real hitmen turn up moments later.
- This happens in, of all movies, Duck Soup, with Groucho Marx doing the shooting!
- Subverted in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 in the scene where the Bride and all other passengers on an aircraft carry full length katana in plain sight during the flight. There are even scabbards alongside the seats for this purpose.
- Played straight in Day Of The Jackal in which the eponymous assassin has a sniper's rifle disguised as a war veterans' crutch
- The James Bond story The Living Daylights, as noted in the item above about the film version.
- The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross has a Double Subversion: the protagonist's girlfriend Mo is established as a tough customer, and always carries a violin case with her. When she's forced to open it at customs, it actually contains a violin--and she thinks to herself that it's a good thing they don't ask her to play it.
- Sonic the Hedgehog: Another subversion from the British novel series: the rat mafia at one point has Sonic and Tails tied up against a wall while some of their members take out violin cases, "but they needn't have worried; the rats actually played their instruments quite well".
- Doc Sidhe: The thugs who attack Doc's office arrive at the building dressed as musicians and carrying instrument cases.
Live Action TV
- Subverted for laughs in The Monkees episode "Monkees A La Carte" when the band decide to see some gangsters. Mike is carrying a guitar case and the mobsters instantly think he has a gun in it. They grab it and discover it's only carrying the appropriate musical instrument, "Hey Boss! There's a guitar in this guitar case!"
- Subversion and Inversion in a Benny Hill classic. Mobsters put guns in instrument case, mix up case with a musician's, pull out violin in front of bank... and then proceed to play the instrument and dance for tips...
- In one episode of The Nanny, Fran's mobster boyfriend reacts with surprise when the case Max hands to Grace contains an actual violin.
- A subversion in a sketch on Welcome Freshman. The sketch, which parodies the Prohibition era with students making bathtub bubblegum, has the students drive away teachers who were onto their operation by pulling out violin cases, which they remove violins from... and then play very badly.
- Subverted by Amfisound Guitars, a Finnish company that once made a guitar that was shaped like an AK-47. Complete with a detailed paint job.
- The music video for The Black Keys' Howlin for You features Las Teclas De Negro concealing weapons inside their instruments.
- The Global Wrestling Federation (GWF) featured Sweet Daddy Falcone, a Mafia-type character who carried a mysterious violin case.
- The Card Game Munchkin has a card "Doppelgangsters", which has a bonus against Bard characters. "No, the violin cases don't have violins in them."
- Used in Anything Goes by Moonface.
- Stranglehold: Inspector Tequila uses two guitar cases full of guns in the Mega Restaurant mission of the John Woo game.
- Total Overdose has a Loco Move called "El Mariachi" where Ramiro guns down his enemies wielding a pair of guitar cases with automatic machine guns concealed inside.
- Eikichi from Persona 2: Innocent Sin uses machine guns disguised as guitar cases. Not hidden in, disguised as -- a hatch opens at the "front", and the barrel pops out.
- Grand Theft Auto San Andreas implies this in one mission, where you have to gun down a bunch of Mafia thugs who were going to carry out a hit disguised as a string quartet.
- Lyude from Baten Kaitos wields a weird musical instrument trumpet thing that -- according to the flavour text of all his brass wind instrument-related cards -- is a gun designed for use by assassins. It's odd that honourable, diplomatic Lyude would use a weapon made for such a purpose. Then again he comes from the Empire of Alfard, where the only ones without a lethal weapon are children still in their mother's womb. Probably.
- The Beat'Em Up Zombie Revenge features a stage where you can use Quino and Campa's guitar cases from Desperado.
- Ricardo Gomez, the party's designated bard in Shadow Hearts: From The New World, doesn't keep weapons in his guitar case; instead, he keeps them built into his actual guitar, and they range from a simple rifle/shotgun arrangement built into the fretboard, all the way to an anti-personnel flamethrower and even a multi-barrel missile launcher capable of initating a Macross Missile Massacre. And it's an acoustic, even. One wonders what he could get away with on a guitar that worked with an amplifier.
- Played with in Last Res0rt as Cute Bruiser Jigsaw Forte appears with a violin case that everyone else thinks has a gun in it, as an explanation for why a small furry creature would want in on a show that gets people killed. She then proceeds to use this as a way to intimidate the secretary for her interview, but when it comes time to fight, she proceeds to reach for the case... and whacks the giant Robot Chickens senseless with the unopened case, then goes right back to everyone thinking that there's more in the case than she's letting on. She's not opened the case yet, but it's heavily implied there's only an ordinary violin in there... though that's not stopped the fandom from speculating.
- Referenced in Afterlife Blues. In the future, those with access to nanotech who want to conceal their guns go so far as to transform them into violins.
- Parodied in The Simpsons: Krusty and Homer are looking for Krusty's daughter's violin, which Krusty lost to a mobster in a game of poker. On sneaking into a mob business meeting, they find the case... amongst a giant pile of violin cases. When they eventually find her case, it turned out to have a wad of cash in it as well.
- In one episode of Kaput and Zosky, the pair incorrectly assume that some violin cases must contain guns, not violins. This comes back to bite them later when, as always, everything starts going horribly wrong.
- Inverted in Oscar's Orchestra: the series is set in a world where all music was banned and features a cast of anthropomorphic musical instruments rebelling against the regime. In one episode one of the characters, Monty (a violin), gets on a transport by hiding in a violin case amongst some luggage. While this might seem stupid then we cut to the guards whose dialog is something along the lines of "What's this?" "The manifest says it's a machine gun!" "Phew! I thought it was a violin!".
- In one episode of the original Transformers cartoon Megatron gets into a high-security compound this way. For those wondering, he's a size-changing character, and turns into a gun.
- In an episode of Darkwing Duck, Darkwing suspects Tuskaninni of concealing weapons in instrument cases. Actually, he had concealed the weapons inside the instruments.
- In one episode of Alvin and The Chipmunks, the boys watch a gangster movie where a thug plays this trope straight, and then believe they're seeing it for real when they see Dave paying money to a man wielding a violin case. Shortly after, Alvin ambushes the man at a concert and grabs the violin case... only to find that it contains an actual violin.
- This is the shtick of the younger Angels from Open Blue. They've used violin cases to store IKEA rifles, oboe cases to hide Whip Swords, and most recently, a clavichord case to hide a pair of small swords. Inspired by the Gunslinger Girl example above.
- Steven P. Kazmierczak, the Northern Illinois University shooter from February 2008, packed a guitar case with shotguns in order to bypass the campus security, reached the lecture hall and started shooting people.
- Inversion: apparently, hard gun cases are sometimes used by musicians to carry instruments in, or in theater to carry microphones and other small electronics.
- Cleveland Cavaliers guard Delonte West was recently arrested for speeding on a motorcycle with two pistols and a shotgun in a guitar case.
- There actually are gun cases made to look like violin cases. And some of the modern semi-automatic Thompsons are shipped straight from the dealer in violin cases. After all, anybody who buys a Tommy gun (or at least, one that's not the WW 2 military model) would probably want the violin case anyway, as iconic as it's become.
- The Lod Airport massacre: three members of the Japanese Red Army walked in the airport dressed conservatively, carrying violin cases... concealing assault rifles with their butts sawn off. The three managed to kill 24 people and injured 78. Two of them died, one shot, one committed suicide with a hand grenade.
- Jack Benny, whose stage persona was a notoriously Dreadful Musician, was asked to dine at the White House, and while he was there he would play his violin. When he arrived, a Secret Service agent asked him what he was carrying in his violin case. Benny answered that he had a Thompson submachine gun in there, "the old Chicago typewriter". The agent sighed and said "Thank God, I was afraid you had your violin in there!"
- Since standard orchestral concert dress is all black for female players, and full tuxedos for male players, or all black for both, it is not uncommon for violinists and violists to get Mafia/assassin comments every once in a while.
- There's an old joke about a student at a music academy opening up his violin case and finding an assault rifle. When asked what's so funny, he says: "It's my old man. He's probably at the bank right now, playing my violin."