The popularity of shopping for used gear online has turned many regular musicians and hobbyists into knowledgeable gear shippers. If you’re new to selling gear online, shipping gear is definitely nerve-wracking.
Guitars are strange instruments to ship, due to their odd size, potentially fragile build, and the strings. However, it is totally possible to ship a guitar successfully, you just need the right supplies and the know-how.
Supplies Needed for Shipping a Guitar
Shipping any instrument requires a few basic supplies.
- If possible, a hard case
- Newspaper or brown Kraft paper to crumple up
- Packing tape
- Appropriate box – music stores/guitar stores will have guitar-sized packing boxes available, often for free
- Consider double boxing the guitar if the guitar has no case or if the box seems flimsy
- Bubble wrap
- Rubber bands
- Optional items include: ‘FRAGILE’ stickers, ‘DO NOT LAY FLAT STICKERS’
Note: do not use packing peanuts. They do not offer enough protection and they are a pain to get out of acoustic guitars. Don’t do it.
Preparing The Guitar For Shipping With A Case
Here is how to prepare a guitar for shipping with a case. If at all possible, you should use a sturdy hard case to ship a guitar, as it significantly lowers the risk to the neck and to the rest of the guitar.
Create A Layer Of Newspaper Or Kraft Paper
Crumple up a bunch of newspaper, craft paper, or some other light paper and lay it on the bottom of the box. You can place the guitar case on this layer, and the instrument will be insulated from bumps.
Loosen The Strings
Loosen the strings on the guitar to release tension. You do not need to take the strings entirely off, but you certainly can if you want to. If you are shipping the guitar without a case (just in the box) it may be wise to remove the strings completely.
Detuning them a little bit will help ease the pressure on the headstock and reduce the risk of the strings snapping in transit. Removing the strings entirely will prevent this entirely, but on some vintage acoustic guitars it can be detrimental to the neck.
Wrap Up The Headstock
If you have bubble wrap, wrapping the headstock will protect the tuning pegs from damage. Tuning pegs jut out from the guitar and can be knocked around. Wrap a layer or two of bubble wrap around the headstock and secure it with an elastic band.
Place Padding Between The Strings And The Fretboard
This is not completely necessary, but many professional shippers recommend placing a light towel or a folded newspaper between the frets and the strings. This can help reduce potential damage to the fretboard and prevent strings from smashing into each other.
Fill In The Holes In The Case
Once the guitar is in the case, there will be a bit of empty space, usually around the headstock. You want to reduce the chances of the guitar moving around inside the case during shipping; use cushioning materials like bubble wrap, crumped up paper, or air cushioning to fill the gaps, particularly behind the headstock.
Do The Shake Test
Take the guitar case in your hands and shake it. Do you hear movement? If you hear movement you should pack a little more padding into the case. The goal is to reduce the risk of movement while shipping.
Place The Case In The Box And Finish The Packing
You’ve already created a layer of crumpled paper in the box, so place the packed-up guitar case in the box. There will be open spaces around the guitar case. Pack these open spaces with as much crumpled paper as you see fit. When you are done, you should have a hard time moving the case around with your hand.
Once you’ve filled up all the empty spaces on either side of the case, create a top layer of paper as you did with the bottom.
Close the box and tap up all the edges firmly. Use a fair bit of packing tape. Once you’re done, you can add on the ‘FRAGILE’ or ‘DO NOT LAY FLAT’ sticker on each side of the box. You don’t want heavier boxes laying directly on top of your guitar!
You are ready to ship the guitar!
For a visual guide on shipping a guitar with a hard case, this video is a good watch:
How To Ship A Guitar Without A Case
If you are not shipping the guitar with a hard case, some extra care needs to be taken. Most guitars are shipped from the manufacturer without a case, but there is no doubt that it is risky to ship guitars without cases.
Here are some extra tips for shipping a guitar without a hard case.
Get A Gig Bag
If possible, a gig bag can protect the instrument from nicks and scratches. You still need to take all of the precaution I will list below, but at the very least it gives the guitar an extra layer of protection.
Get The Appropriate Box, Consider Double Boxing
It is important that you get the right box. You should use one of the triangular guitar boxes if possible, because it makes it easy to pack the box full of cushioning and reduces the risk to the guitar.
Make sure that the box is big enough. If the guitar is touching the sides of the box at all, it will absorb any impact from being tossed around and the guitar will get damaged. The box needs to be big enough that you can pack the bottom, sides, and tops with cushioning.
Some shippers will double box the guitar. You can put the triangular box inside a rectangular box and then pack that box up with paper as well. Double boxing reduces the chance of the original box being punctured or damaged.
Line The Box With Crumpled Up Paper
As with a hard case, you’ll want to make a cushion of crumpled paper for the guitar to rest on. Line the box with it and be liberal – you can never be too cautious.
Loosen The Strings And Wrap Up The Headstock
To reduce the risk of damage to the neck and headstock, loosen the strings and firmly wrap the headstock in bubble wrap. Double wrap it if you need to, and use elastic bands to secure the bubble wrap.
Place a light towel or some folded up newspaper between the strings and the frets to protect the fretboard and the strings.
Support The Neck (Very Important)
The most important step you can take when shipping a guitar without a case is supporting the neck. The neck must be stable inside the box or it will be damaged.
Once the guitar is in the box, take air cushioning, towels, paper, or whatever you find and firmly pack the area below the neck, below the headstock, and all around the headstock/neck. You should not be able to move the neck side to side.
Once you finish packing the rest of the box, carefully pack the top of the neck as well. Remember, you do not want to neck touching any part of the box it is being shipped in, as the guitar will absorb most of that impact.
Fill The Rest Of The Holes
Once the neck is firmly packed, pack the rest of the holes around the guitar, and put some cushioning on top of the guitar as well. The guitar should be firm in the box.
Before you finish packing the guitar, close the box, lift it up slightly and try shaking it around a bit. You should not hear any movement. The less the guitar moves around inside the box, the safer it will be.
Tape Up The Box And Apply Any Stickers
Lastly, tape up the box with packing tape. Make sure this is done thoroughly – you really can’t go overboard when you are packing and shipping valuable and fragile instruments!
It is strongly recommended that you buy some ‘FRAGILE’ and/or ‘DO NOT LAY FLAT’ stickers. Without a hard case protecting the guitar, it is especially important that nothing overly heavy gets placed on top of the box while it is being shipped.
You should be ready to go, but if you need extra guidance or a visual guide, here is a method for shipping ‘naked guitars’ that works very well.
Shipping With A Company Vs. Doing It Yourself
Guitars are valuable instruments. Whether it is a high-value vintage guitar, a family heirloom, or has sentimental value, there is a good reason why we are going to such lengths to pack the guitar properly.
This is why some people choose to let professional couriers and shipping companies do the work for them. There are some advantages and disadvantages to this:
If you let the courier company pack and ship the guitar for you, they will have insurance that will cover any damage to the instrument. Usually there is some sort of included insurance when they are packing and shipping the instrument, but that may only cover up to a certain amount. If the guitar is a high-value, ask the courier about extra insurance options.
The other advantage to having a company pack your guitar for you is the professional packing job they will do. Couriers have all the right supplies – air cushions, bubble wrap, good quality boxes, good tape, etc. The people working there have packed a lot of guitars and know what they are doing.
The main downside to paying someone to pack the guitar for you is the added expense. Shipping the guitar can already cost $50 and usually more, packing it can add extra expense which will cut down your profit margin on the guitar.
If you are confident that you can pack the guitar properly, you can save this cash.
Choosing A Courier
Whether the courier is packing the guitar or just shipping it, you want to choose a trustworthy service that has these options:
Good Insurance Coverage
It is essential to check the insurance that your courier uses. Ask about how much damage they will cover and what kind of damage is covered. If it is not satisfactory, you can purchase customized insurance or choose a different courier.
Choose a delivery service that has tracking built-in to the service. You need to give the recipient an idea of when the package is coming and a tracking number so that they can track it themselves.
Also, if you notice some is wrong or the package is being held up, the tracking service will help you with customer service.
Requires A Signature
You should choose a service that requires a signature from the recipient upon delivery. There is often an extra fee for this service, but you should either pay it or bake that into the delivery fee, because it is important.
Guitars are big and clearly visible if left at someone’s door. Don’t risk the guitar getting stolen after you went to the trouble of selling, packing, and shipping it.
Consider A Specialty Service
There are courier services specially designed to transport valuable, fragile items such as guitars. Using a service like this will alleviate all of your safety concerns. It may cost more, but you can discuss with the recipient the costs and benefits of shipping like this.
Shipping instruments internationally can get a little complicated. Acoustic guitars made out of unusual woods can cause issues at customs. Here is some advice for shipping internationally:
Hire An International Courier Service
USPS tends to be the cheapest way to ship internationally and they are widely used. For specialty instruments, a boutique service like EuroSend can give you peace of mind.
No matter who you choose make sure that you discuss the instrument with the courier beforehand and make sure you comfortable
Beware Of Restricted Materials
Instruments (especially vintage) can contain restricted materials like Brazilian rosewood or ivory and may require a license to ship. Some vintage guitars contain materials made from endangered species and can’t be shipped at all.
Buyers Are Responsible For Taxes
The buyer is usually responsible for all taxes, duties, and customs fees upon receipt of the item. Most governments charge local tax plus import duty on instruments. For example, in the U.K. you will pay a 20% VAT plus duty of 3.7%. Make sure the buyer is aware!
Companies To Use
There are many couriers available, but some of the common ones are:
USPS tends to be the cheapest option for people in the U.S. ESPS Express Mail is a good option and has good insurance.
UPS is good internationally and is a reliable carrier. They are a little but more expensive.
Fedex is similarly priced to UPS.
How To Ship A Guitar, Final Thoughts
Shipping a guitar can be nerve wracking, but thousands of them are shipped every year. If you follow these steps, have clear communication with the courier and the buyer, you should be in good shape.