Packing An Instrument For Shipping

Here are a few techniques we’ve learned over the years that have proven to help protect instruments during shipping. These are only suggestions.

First and most obvious, FULLY insure any instrument. It’s hard enough to process any claim, but if you haven’t properly insured an instrument you have no recourse. The shipper is responsible for the instrument until it is received. So any shipping damage is the shipper’s problem to deal with.

The most common incident is for the Headstock to be partially or completely snapped off. You can understand why if you look inside a guitar case. You’ll see that the body and neck are nicely supported, but the Headstock is hanging in the breeze. So any fall that creates a whipping action toward the head of the guitar can easily snap the thin wood at the nut area. Two simple steps can greatly reduce the risk of such a break:

  1. Detune the guitar 4 or 5 complete turns of the pegs. This greatly reduces the tension on the problem area around the nut. NOTE: If the guitar has a pickup system be sure to leave a little tension to hold the saddle and pickup in place so the balance is not effected.
  2. Pad above and below the headstock with bubble wrap, newspaper, etc. Do so to the point that the headstock would be supported in a fall. You can judge the right amount underneath when the neck hit its support above the storage compartment and the back of the headstock rests on the packing. You can judge the right amount over the headstock when the you close the lid and it just comes into contact with the top padding.
  3. Please avoid the use of foam peanuts as they create environmental and disposal issues and make a mess as they break up during transit.

In winter months cold exposure can cause finish cracks or worse. Finish cracks occur when a guitar gets cold and then warm again. The cold contract the wood and the warm expands it again. When this happens quickly or drastically the expansion pops the finish, usually in several places or an entire top with check. Here are some ways to reduce the risk:

  1. Choose a fast shipping method. Don’t skimp here, an extra $50 or $75 dollars is much cheaper than the lost value for a checked or cracked top. If the guitar might be exposed to cold choose overnight or 2 day shipping.
  2. Don’t ship over a weekend if the guitar will sit in a cold warehouse, wait until Monday.
  3. The receiver MUST let the instrument warm up slowly in the box before opening it. Let the entire package warm to room temperature for 6-8 hours before opening. Slow warming is one key to preventing the cracks that come from expansion.

Humidity changes from source to destination and in the hull of an Airplane is a big issue. Drastic and quick changes in humidity have a serious effect that can cause cracks, neck bow, etc. Here are some ways to reduce that:

  1. In dry conditions an in case humidifier is cheap insurance. Simply include a return envelope and have the receiver mail it back to you.
  2. Put a plastic bag around the entire case inside the box. This will maintain the humidity of the instrument and prevent excessive change during shipping. This is very helpful for air shipments. The hull of a plane is very dry.
  3. Discuss climate conditions at both ends, determine what the guitar will experience and try to adapt it slowly. If the guitar is going to a dryer climate, the receiver needs to know that so they can pay extra attention to humidifying it properly and vice versa. Every owner of fine guitars should have a Hygrometer measuring the humidity in the room(s) where they store instruments. Again, cheap insurance.

Also make sure to secure small items located in the case accessory compartment by placing in a ziplock bag and/or packing paper on top of the items to secure them. This is to reduce the chance of small items (such as case keys) migrating from the compartment to the guitar while in transit.

We hope these few ideas are helpful. A few easy and inexpensive steps can greatly reduce any risk of shipping instruments. Builders and dealers do these things everyday and they are proven to work. If you have any further questions, please contact us.