For whatever the situation, you find yourself in the position to ship an instrument. Making sure that you have things packed properly will alleviate any anxiety during the time that the instrument is in shipping. Granted, there is no preparation for when the handler just throws things around but if you properly package the item, you know you've done everything right on your side to make sure the item will get to where it's going to in one piece. I avoid the places that do the packing for you. I have seen some horrendous jobs done on packing where you shake your head wondering how the instrument ever made it out of their door in one piece, never mind getting to the destination in good shape.
First and foremost, is to make sure you have the proper box to put the instrument into. Nothing worse than trying to squeeze the instrument and case into a box that just misses being the right size. Your local music store is more than happy to get rid of a box that would work fine for shipping usually. A good rule of thumb, is to try and get a box that was used to ship an acoustic guitar in previously. That way if you have an acoustic to ship, you know that the instrument and case will fit and if it's an electric that you are shipping, there is more than enough room for the instrument and case with extra padding around it. Unless you are shipping a bass, be it an acoustic or electric, then you need to find a box that will accommodate what you need. Always allow enough room in the box for some type of padding surrounding the entire instrument and case. Better to play it safe than sorry.
Next, you will need the usual packing tools of tape (the 2" wide clear plastic tape works well), a label and some type of filler, either newspaper (not the color inserts that the ads are on), bubble wrap or the dreaded styrofoam popcorn that some companies use (granted, as long as it works). For a label, a plain piece of white paper works fine as long as it is big enough to handle the return address in the upper left hand corner and the shipping address in the center.
Make sure that you loosen the string tension. On acoustics and electrics, I normally drop the tuning down at least a whole step or whole tone to lessen the tension on the neck. For archtops, mandolins, banjos and bowed instruments, it is recommended to completely remove the string tension and take the bridge completely off and store it in the case compartment. Wrap the bridge in paper just to give a little protection. Now, lay the instrument in the case (if you do not have a case, then make sure you have bubble wrap and encase the instrument in it, making sure you have at least a couple of layers surrounding the instrument). Look at any place where the instrument does not make contact with the case. These are the places where you will want to put filler to take up the gap when the case cover is closed. Take extra care around the headstock area, this is one of the most common areas to break from shipping. Never over pack the filler material to where you have to force the case closed as this can put undo stress on the instrument and create problems in itself. With the case closed and locked, you should be able to pick up the case by the handle, shake it and not hear any movement from inside the case. If you hear any movement, figure out what is causing it and add a little more filler. When you don't hear any movement when the case is shaken, then you are ready to move on.
Now it;' ready to go in the box. Making sure you have the proper size box, Put a layer of filler material across the bottom of the box (if there is enough room, put two). Now lower the case into the box, try to keep it centered in the box as much as possible. Put as much filler material as it takes to fill any gap between the case and the box. You can tell when there is enough when you can shake the box and the case stays centered in the box with very little movement. If the box was the correct size, you should be able to put at least one layer of filler material across the top of the entire box and not have any gaps surrounding the case. If you can close the box without forcing anything, try shaking it once again to see if there is any movement inside the box. If everything seems solid then you can close the top and tape it really well with the 2" packing tape. At this point, the box should be able to handle most of the abuse that the shipping companies usually put things thru without any problems. In twenty nine plus years, I've not had a problem when packing things this way.
Now that the box is set, the last thing is to put the label(s) on. Make sure you put the return address and the shipping address on this label. Fill it out the same as you addressing a letter that you mailing through the post office. Same format, upper left is the return address and centered is the shipping address. Printing is preferred than writing for this information by most carriers. Make sure the print is large enough so that your printing can read easily by the carrier. After the label is filled out, I'll attach it to the top of the box by laying it down and covering it with the clear 2" packing tape. This will protect it from the weather and prevent the addresses from smearing and becoming unlegible. When shipping an instrument back to one of the companies, check to make sure that you don't need an RA# (return authorization number) from the company. If necessary, the company will provide you with one. Most companies do require a RA#. If you feel it is necessary, then attach two labels, on the sides instead of the top. These I would still put towards the top of the box just to indicate to the shipping company, which side is up. Always mark on the sides "Handle With Care Please". You would be amazed how far that please will help in getting things to there destination in good shape. At this point, once again, if you can pick up the box and shake it with no movement inside the box and the label is on properly, she is ready to ship.
This is where you have to decide which shipping company to use. I consider myself lucky as I've had very,very little get damaged thru shipping with any of the shipping companies. Go with the one that you have the most confidence with and make sure the contents are insured for the right amount. Nothing worse than to have a piece show up with a lot of damage and the insurance was not enough to cover getting it replaced (I've heard the horror stories). Also, get a tracking number put on it. This can alleviate some anxiety while in shipping and you can trace it to the destination if necessary. The last thing to do is to get in contact with the receiving party and let them know that the piece has been shipped and when they can expect it. This way if it is taking longer than normal, you can start a trace on it and find out where she is
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