We repair quite a few guitars every year, and an increasing number of them are shipped to us from customers who cannot bring their guitars in themselves. One of the most commonly asked questions these customers have for us is, “how can I ship you my guitar?” Well, having shipped quite a few guitars over the years, we have some experience in the matter, and this is how we do it.
If you are shipping your guitar to us, we ask that you make absolutely certain to remember to include a note with your name, contact info, and the problems, questions, concerns, or complaints you have about your guitar. We see literally thousands of guitars every year, and while we would like to remember every phone conversation or email we have seen recently, it is simply not possible. This seems to many people like a somewhat silly reminder, but probably a good 15-20% of the guitars which are shipped to us have no note of any kind. We have always been able to match the guitars to the owners so far, but you never know. Make sure to put a note in the case, please.
The first step in shipping a guitar is to get an appropriate shipping box. Most guitar stores have quite a few of them which are destined for the trash, and they are frequently happy to give them to you. Do make sure your box is in good condition, with at most minor cosmetic damage to the box. If there are a few small rips in the cardboard, that is acceptable, but you will need to reinforce them with tape as you pack your guitar. Under no circumstances should you use a box which looks as though it has been crushed, and the ideal situation is a box which is in pristine condition. If you can’t find a store willing to give you a box, they can be purchased from most shipping stores for a fairly reasonable cost. In the very worst case, you can buy a guitar sized box from www.uline.com. Their guitar box is a bit larger than it needs to be, which raises the cost of shipping a fair bit, but they work quite well.
When you get your box home, the next step in shipping your guitar is to detune the strings. The strings of a guitar exert a considerable amount of force on the guitar, and if you leave them at tension then a relatively small bump while the guitar is in route can be exaggerated by the pull of the strings, causing severe damage to the guitar. While you are at it, if your guitar has an active pickup, you should remove the battery from the guitar and put it in the accessory pocket of the case. If your guitar has a friction fit endpin (ala a Martin without a pickup), you should pull that out. Also, any other loose objects in the case which can cause damage (capos, hard plastic humidifiers, etc.) should also be removed.
Next, check the fit of the guitar in the case. It is important to use a good quality hard-shell case. When the case is closed, the guitar should not move at all. If necessary, fill in around the guitar with a firm padding (crumpled up newspaper is OK, as is bubble wrap. Old tee shirts are even better for this part, as they are denser). You want to also make certain the peghead is well supported. If the case has two neck rests and the case fits the guitar well, then you probably do not need to worry about the peghead, but even then it doesn’t hurt to add a little padding up there.
Once the guitar is in its case, the next step is to box it up. First, make sure that the bottom of the box is well sealed. Even if the box has metal staples, it is still a good idea to tape all open edges of the box carefully. Do not use packing peanuts for this, or any of the padding of your guitar. Packing peanuts settle while the guitar is in route, and the guitar which was well padded when it left is loose and shifting by the time it arrives at its destination. Because of this UPS and FedEx will not honor insurance claims made on guitars which have been packed using packing peanuts (and they are right to do so, as the guitars were not adequately protected). Our preference is to use bubble wrap and empty boxes to pad the guitar.
We start with about 2-4 inches of bubble wrap at the bottom of the box, and then we put the guitar (in the case, of course) in the box. The guitar should have at least 1-2 inches of space on all sides once it is in the box. Next, you want to use bubble wrap to pad the top and back of the case. You want to insure that the guitar will not move front to back when you shake the case casually. Next use bubble wrap to pack the bottom corners of the box and up the sides of the guitar body to keep the body of the guitar from moving side to side. Then you need to pad the sides of the neck, and we find that the best way to do so is to use some sturdy empty boxes. The boxes we use are 4x6x18, but you can use what ever you have which fits. We then fill the top of the box with at least 2-4 inches of bubble wrap, and if there is room we will fill in the rest of the space with another empty box.
The point of all this padding is to insure that the guitar can not be shifted by casual knocks, but will be cushioned from more serious blows. Seal the box thoroughly with a sturdy shipping tape. If you don’t have access to bubble wrap, you can also use large amounts of tightly crumpled newspaper to pad the guitar as well. It is not as good, and as cheap as bubble wrap is you should use it if you can get it (most large office supply stores carry a large cell bubble wrap which is perfect).
Your guitar is now ready for shipping via the carrier of your choice. We prefer UPS, as we have been shipping guitars through UPS for over 30 years with only a couple minor problems. Considering the number of guitars we ship, their record with us is exceptional. It is a good idea to write your name and address, as well as our name and address, on the outside of the box. Make sure to insure your guitar for full replacement value, and put a few “Fragile” stickers on the outside of the box. There is no way to be 100% certain that your guitar will arrive in good condition, but if you take care in packing it you will be safe from all but the most extreme forms of shipping damage. Over the years, we have shipped thousands of guitars, and with a good packaging job we have had very few problems.
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2219 East Franklin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN. 55404