Shipping a Guitar

Useful links:





  1. The single most important thing about packing a guitar is to pack the headstock.  Use crumpled paper and pack tightly under and above the headstock. You don’t want any movement.  Don’t use bubble wrap because it absorbs shock by moving.  You don’t want that. You want to immobilize the headstock. Use your shock absorbing stuff to protect the case inside the box.
  2. UPS, Fed Ex Ground, and USPS are all good options for shipping.  Check prices and go with who you like. I will generally return via UPS, although I’m starting use other carriers, too.
  3. You are responsible for getting incoming guitars to me safely.  I have to set this policy to protect myself against shipping fraud (.eg shipping an already damaged guitar) and poor packing. Do NOT send an already damaged guitar and try to claim insurance on it; all insurance companies are wise to that move. 
  4. If you’re shipping a valuable instrument, I highly recommend that you carry your own insurance via Heritage or another instrument-oriented policy and that it specifically covers shipping. “Insurance” offered by UPS, Fed Ex, and USPS is pretty worthless.
  5. See detailed instructions in the links above for packing your guitar. You can use heavy duty bubble wrap, craft paper, or Styrofoam peanuts for packing. Whatever you use is what I’ll use to ship back, or I will have to charge you for packing material. Lightweight “air pillows” aren’t great because they usually pop or lose pressure, leaving your guitar with no protection. Styrofoam peanuts are best for temperature insulation.
  6. Please, please, please do NOT mix peanuts and newspaper, or peanuts with larger pieces, or peanuts with ANYTHING.   This is a real mess to unpack.  If you must mix materials (.ie you ran short on peanuts), keep them separate.  Peanuts will settle, so use them in the lower part of the box and use newspaper, boxes, chunks in the upper area. 
  7. It's very helpful if you can print or write a summary of the work you want done, or the things we've discussed and include with the guitar. Sometimes we'll exchange numerous e-mails before settling on a course of action, and this just helps to make sure everything gets done.
  8. Be sure to read and send the disclaimer.  I don’t get the disclaimer, I don’t work on the guitar.
  9. For big jobs that will take several weeks, I like to have approximately 1/2 the money with the guitar and the other prior to shipping.  I'll give you a final total prior to shipping.   For smaller jobs like saddle/nut/setups, I request payment (incl. shipping) up front.  Either way, I don't deposit your check until the job is done.
  10. Plan on return shipping costs of $65 via UPS Ground, $150 via UPS 3-day, $250 via UPS 2nd-day.   Overnight is generally not available due to my remote location.  Other shipping arrangements can be made- contact me.
  11. There is no need to write your name and address all over the box in huge letters.  No shipper uses that information (they all scan the bar code) and I have to black all those addresses out before I can re-use the box to ship back to you.  You're far better off attaching a luggage label or sticking your address to the case itself inside the box.
  12. To avoid excess shipping charges, you should keep the longest box dimensions 48" . If it's even 1/4" over that, UPS will charge you for Oversize which costs significantly more than standard.  A standard guitar box from Martin, Taylor, Gibson, or Guild will usually be fine.  Do not use too small of a box as there won't be enough cushioning material around the case. Better to pay the extra shipping cost and have it well cushioned.
  13. If I feel that your box or shipping material is not good enough for return shipping, then I may use a new box and new packing material and there will be a charge for these materials


Where to Get a Box:

Your best bet is a guitar store.  They usually have boxes for free or for $5-10 or so.  Lacking that,  you can order them from Uline.  Unfortunately, minimum order with them is 5 boxes which will run you about $45 shipped.  I usually keep the Uline boxes in stock  to use for shipping back guitars shipped to me in OS2 boxes, but since UPS bills by size, it'll cost $45 or so to ship the empty box to you!  If you can't find a box locally, buy 5 from Uline and sell the leftovers to your friends.

Packing the Guitar


First thing to do is loosen the strings.  You can ship it under full-tension, but I just like to loosen the strings a full step. 


If you're using a thermoplastic case like this one, take extra care to pad the butt and shoulders of the guitar inside the case.  These cases have sharp corners (feel for yourself!) and almost no actual padding.  See the next 2 pictures for details.
The butt of this guitar is padded with small bubble wrap.  Just lay a single thickness down in the case and set the guitar into it.
Likewise, be sure to pack around the front of the guitar.  The corners of these cases are very sharp and hard where the neck heel fits. I've had two guitars (out of a couple hundred) suffer small cracks.  Just pack 'em with small bubble wrap.  Remember- your padding MUST be compressible.  That is IT should take the shock, not the guitar.  If you use a towel or something like that, it'll simply transmit the shock to the guitar.
Add some padding under the headstock, so that you have to press the headstock gently into the padding. Add padding under the neck along the case accessory pocket. I like crumbled newspaper best. Don't use flat newspaper or anything flat- you might as well not even use it.  My goal here is to immobilize the neck, not just cushion it.  Do your cushioning outside the case, between the case and the box.  In other words, I don't want this neck/headstock flexing at all; to flex is to break. 

You do not want the neck resting solely on the neck support.  In this picture, the neck is clearing the case's neck support by a good 1/2" or so.  When the newspaper is compressed, it will come down but do not let the weight of the neck rest solely on the support!

Last thing is make sure your under-headstock padding follows the angle of the headstock.  Don't prop the logo end of the headstock up. 

Pad the top of the neck to push it down into the padding beneath. You don't need a lot, just enough to keep things from shaking around. Add some newspaper along the sides, if necessary. Again, just take up the slack. If your endpin will come out, it's a good idea to remove it and put it in the accessory pocket. Check for anything that might come loose during shipping- especially 9V batteries for pickups. Take 'em out and pack them.  Note that this paper is crumpled, it is not laid flat.  If you just wrap the neck w/ paper, you're wasting your time.  Crumple it!

I would NOT place anything on the guitar top.  Any material on the top will have to be weaker than the top, or else the top itself will break during an impact.   If you put a brick on top of an egg in an egg carton and hit the carton, what happens? The egg breaks.  If you put some bubble wrap on top of the egg and hit the carton what happens?  The egg breaks.  But, if you have 1/2" of dead air on top of the egg, and then hit the carton what happens? Hopefully, the carton itself will absorb the blow and the egg will survive.  Thus, I think it's better to leave dead air between the case and the guitar top. 

I like Taylor, Gibson, and Guild boxes the best because these have a top and bottom suspension system.  I don't like to rely on just the suspension, but like to add packing material to this.  If you don't add extra padding and there's an impact, you've got nothing between the cardboard and the case.  Styrofoam peanuts add a lot of "bounce" to the box, take repeated impacts, are light, and add quite a bit of insulation. Try to get some between the back and front of the case as well.  Craft paper (the heavy brown stuff) and heavy duty bubble wrap are acceptable 2nd choices.  If you use must use newspaper, crumple each sheet separately into a loose ball- don't just stuff whole sections of the paper in there.  I suggest taping an address label to the guitar case itself. 
Bad!!  Bad!! 

This guitar is packed not only with paper mixed in with the peanuts, but the case itself is wrapped with bubble wrap.  Packed the way I like it, I can nearly always wiggle the case out w/out dumping all the packing out on the floor, but that won't be the situation here.  I will have to remove all the packing material, making a mess all over the place.  Clear plastic tape sticks extremely well to bubble wrap  and I will have to CUT the bubble wrap off the case; it's tricky to not cut your case in the process AND I will not be able to re-use your packing material. 

Please don't do this.

Please don't do this.

Please don't do this.


This is wrong.

f you use the suspension, use it right- the plastic goes down and you will have to push it down while you close the lid.  

This is the right way to do it.  Put one end in, hold it down with the flap at that end, then push the other end down, and use that flap to help push/hold it down. The fold the long flaps over.
A foam pad is a good idea if the box doesn't have a suspension system.
Air bags are marginally acceptable as padding, but they don't offer "second impact" protection (that is, once they've taken a hit, they pop and now you have no protection in case of a second hit), don't offer any insulation, and often go flat while your guitar is being worked on.  I have to re-use the same packing material that you send me with 1 exception: T-shirts and towels and sheets!   These will NOT be returned.  Don't pack with them. If your guitar is damaged with packing material like this be assured that UPS will not cover the claim. 
Seal the box up with good quality packing tape. Add your address label, along with phone numbers of both receiving and sending parties. 

There is no need to write addresses in HUGE letters on the box!!! 

UPS doesn't use them and I have to black them out on the return shipment to make sure they don't send the box back to me.  This labels is what Fed Ex and UPS use and they all like a clean box with a clear address label.

For shipping, I use UPS ground 75% of the time with few problems. A few packages have been mis-routed and taken twice as long to get here, but 90% of the time they'll be fine. If you want to pay more, 3-day Select is good. Ship on Monday if possible to avoid over-weekend warehouse stays. Fed Ex is probably the best way to ship more valuable instruments.

I ship about 150 instruments every year.  Here's a particularly busy day back when I was still making the run to UPS.  Now, I just have a deal with my UPS man where he swings by my house on Monday and picks them up. If the weather's bad or he's in a big hurry, I'll meet him out on the highway.

Questions? E-mail me

Damage is rare, but it can occur.  As of May 2017, I have had 6 damaged guitars.  2017 - 1999 = 18 years. 150 guitars/year = approx 2700 guitars shipped in and out for a total of 5400 transportations. 6/5400 = 0.11%.  Your guitar has a 99.89% chance of getting here undamaged.  Those are good odds.  Even so..... here's an example.  I've had TWO damages exactly like this, by the way. Three more were cracked necks and the last was a cracked top.

First, here's the outside of the case.  Notice that there is no sign at all of damage. 
Unfortunately, this is what I found when I unpacked the guitar!  Guitar is an early 50's Martin D-18. 

Based on the impact area, it looks like it was dropped pretty hard.  I was able to steam and push the dent back  out and get it fairly well fixed.

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