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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)

I keep a good stock of packing materials on-hand, from shipping boxes to newspaper to heavy paper to packing peanuts. It may be necessary to buy a shipping box, but many players have at least one suitable box lying around.

 

Begin by de-tuning the guitar. It is not necessary to completely loosen the strings, just lower the pitch by a couple of steps.

 

Now, we begin padding the guitar inside the case using newspaper. Newspaper works well because it compresses easily, holds its shape, and will not mar the finish. First, make a pad for underneath the neck heel. This adds support for the heel and heel block, which can be easily damaged by a sharp blow. You want this pad to be fairly thick so that the padding which will be added on top of the guitar does not create stress on the neck block.

 

Add a layer of padding around the outside of the guitar. The idea here is to prevent any lateral movement inside the case.

 

Add padding around both sides, continuing around the lower bout.

 

Pay special attention to the area around the end pin to assure that any blow to the end of the case does not impact upon the end pin and possibly split the tail block or crack the sides.

 

Add a generous amount of padding underneath the headstock...

 

...this is to assure that the headstock is supported and unable to shift around.

 

Now we add a generous amount of padding underneath the rest of the neck.

 

The idea here is to be sure that the entire neck is evenly supported.

 

By supporting the entire neck, we make sure that the neck support inside the case is not the only support for the neck.

 

If the neck was not properly and evenly supported, a blow to the case could cause the case's neck support to act as a fulcrum, possibly shattering the neck or shearing it loose from the body.

 

Make a good-sized pad for the bridge...

 

...and add padding along the entire length of the neck and headstock.

 

You should feel some resistance when closing the case. The newspaper will compress, which will protect the guitar from impact. The newspaper will also add a layer of thermal protection.

 

I like to add an extra layer of cardboard to the inside of the shipping box.

 

If you happen to have a slightly smaller box that will fit inside the shipping box and still have plenty of room for the case, that is fine. It works just as well to create an "inner box" from large pieces of heavy cardboard, and is just as effective in preventing any punctures of the box from contacting the case inside.

 

Next, add a couple inches of heavy packing paper to the bottom of the case. Here you want something stronger than newspaper. Commercial packing paper or heavy butcher paper works fine.

 

The case should fit inside the box with a good couple inches of space all around.

 

Add more heavy packing paper around the case.

 

You want to be sure that the case is supported and will not move around inside the box.

 

Once you get the case properly supported inside the box, fill in any remaining space with packing peanuts.

 

Close the box tightly...

 

...and tape the box shut securely using packing tape. Masking tape, freezer tape and duct tape are not acceptable! Better to use too much tape than not enough.

 

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.

Sincerely, 

 

 

Last modified: January 01, 2007

 

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