How To Pack a Guitar for Shipping
Sometimes people just have to ship guitars, and it is a risky proposition. Whenever it is possible to NOT ship a guitar, that is the best thing to do, but sometimes people just have to ship guitars. I make about forty guitars per year, most of which must be shipped, and I also do many repair and restoration jobs that have to be shipped back to their owners, so I have a great deal of experience with the subject of shipping guitars. Believe me, I've seen some beautiful shipping damage over the years, but I have learned from my experience to pack an instrument in such a way that the chance of damage is very small. Because of this, many people ask me how I pack guitars for shipping.
Recently my friend and Webmaster, Boge Quinn, was at the shop taking pictures of a Style 41 AuditoriOM that I had just completed, and we decided to have him document my packing of the guitar for the web site. I hope the following information proves useful to you.
(click pictures for a larger version)
When it comes time to ship the guitar, I recommend shipping via ground rather than by air (overnight or "express" shipping). There are several reasons for this: first, airplane baggage handlers can be absolutely brutal, and air packages are typically handled much more roughly than ground packages; second, ground packages as a rule do not change trucks as often as air packages change planes, and every time a guitar is sent down a conveyor the chance that something bad will happen increases; finally, ground packages generally do not experience the climatic extremes that air packages do...sure it gets cold in the back of a truck during the winter, but I guarantee you it's colder at 20,000 feet in a non-pressurized baggage compartment! Every guitar I have personally seen damaged was damaged by air shipping; I have never had any problems shipping guitars by ground. As to which carrier you use, I don't see that it makes much difference as long as you use a reputable carrier; I usually choose FedEx Ground over UPS, and I have no experience shipping via USPS Priority Mail, but that's not meant as an endorsement of one carrier over the other. I think UPS does just as good a job as FedEx does in shipping, but I prefer FedEx Ground because they are less picky than UPS over exactly how a guitar is packed; UPS has a long list of packing rules that you must follow, or else your claim for a damaged package that was entirely their fault could be denied. Besides, I ship a lot of guitars, and I don't need the shipper telling me how to do my job.
Finally, it is important to remember that once the guitar arrives at its destination, it needs some time to acclimate to its new environment. This means waiting a few hours to open the case (see my earlier article on caring for your instrument's finish). You need to remember this when you receive a guitar, and if you ship a guitar to another individual (factories, independent luthiers and competent repair people already know this) you need to make sure they understand this as well. The person who receives the guitar should carefully inspect the shipping box for obvious damage while the delivery person is there, and any obvious damage should be pointed out to the delivery person.
All this sounds pretty scary, and as I said at the beginning, it's better NOT to ship unless you can't get around it. Still, the shipping companies by and large do a great job, and as long as you take great care and exercise common sense when you pack the instrument, you should have no problems.
Last modified: November 27, 2015
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