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Author Topic:  Shipping Steel Guitars
Duane Reese


Post  Posted 5 Feb 2019 10:58 pm    
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Hello!

I thought it would be appropriate to make a post here about shipping steel guitars, as a way for me and others to share some important tips on the best ways to go. These are usually large and heavy instruments, and as such, the best and easiest way to do it may not be obvious.

First, I want to tell you about a couple of important things I learned from talking to an employee of a major carrier:

  • A rule of thumb they use is that a package is only packed well enough if it can withstand a drop from waist-height (let's say three feet).
  • Contrary to a pervasive idea that you can to ship a steel guitar with only a close-fitting cardboard box surrounding the case, without addition padding, and the handle sticking out, this is not a good idea at all. The handle will not guarantee that it won't be dropped (from waist-height) and the cardboard won't do anything to protect it in that event.

The best advice I've heard about how to pack a steel is to have a 2" gap all around between the case and the box, filled with cushioning. That cushioning should also be made so that it's non-migrating and stays where it is needed.

Where do you find a box that big? You can make one out of 4 x 8-foot cardboard sheet(s), making your creases using a blunt object and a straight edge, and then making the cuts after that. Greg Cutshaw's post below has a very helpful link where he shows you how you can assemble a box around a steel case; the difference in how he's doing it compared to how some recommend is that he has cushioning all around the case, which is important because that will absorb a lot of shock if it hits the ground hard. He also has his handle sticking out, and there shouldn't be anything wrong with that per se (I've never seen a damaged handle myself), as long as the handle isn't protruding out where it can get caught on something, and as long as you don't assume that having the handle out for shipper convenience negates the needs for cushioning around the case.

It is also very important to secure everything on the inside as well. It should all be snug when you shake the case around in different directions.
  • If there is a leg compartment, make sure that it is filled with packing material or something to support the partition, in the event that the package falls and the force of the instrument is transferred into that partition. It was suggested (below) that wooden blocks are good to use.
  • Make sure that the instrument itself is snug in its own compartment. Some of these cases are old and the fit is loose.
  • Watch out for switches or any protruding hardware, where you don't have much clearance between it and some hard surface in the case. If the package is dropped or gets hit, that small clearance is going to get used up, and something will get broken.
  • Make sure that all hardware, like legs and pedal bars, are not touching each other. If they are, the vibrations in transit will make them tap together like Morse code and it will leave marks.
  • (This is more for amps and accessories) if your package has cables/cords, those need to be well-secured too. Do not assume that the planets won't align and the connector on the cord won't turn into a flying fork and land right into some unfortunate entrée, like a speaker cone – don't ask me how I know this.

Please post other good suggestions, and I'll add them to this list. Happy shipping!


Last edited by Duane Reese on 8 Feb 2019 12:29 pm; edited 5 times in total
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Daniel Morris


From:
Westlake, Ohio, USA
Post  Posted 6 Feb 2019 5:29 am    
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Good points, Duane.
I recently bought a pedal steel from Johnie King in Tennessee. THIS guy - wow, what a packing job.
He built a plywood box, put stiff foam around it, then put cardboard around that. Should I ever sell that steel, I now have a solid box in which to ship it (yes, reusable).

Another idea is to put wood blocks in the leg compartment - in the event of a drop, this will help keep the divider from breaking loose and allowing everything to shift in the case.
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Stu Schulman


From:
Ulster Park New Yawk
Post  Posted 6 Feb 2019 5:56 am    
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Johnnie King has the best method that I've ever seen for shipping a steel guitar.
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Keith Bolog


From:
Wisconsin, USA
Post  Posted 6 Feb 2019 6:02 am     padding
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Id like to add to this that the way to NOT pack it is an a big oversized box with lots of padding or worst, peanuts (like the 'service' you get from a UPS store). The mass of the guitar always defeats it and the damaged guitars Ive received were all packed that way. Well one damaged guitar and several damaged cases. Furthermore, that adds a lot to the shipping cost

My belief is the best method is to pad the inside of the case thoughtfully as explained, then build-a-box by wrapping it in a double layer of cardboard, with a strategic hole cut for the handle. If the antique handle is rather vulnerable leave a flap of cardboard over it but mark it prominently. 100% of the time I have seen that driver carrying it by the handle and it suggests that it has been handled properly at other times during shipment. Except on the 6 foot drop on their conveyor belt ha ha. But a double wrap of cardboard is remarkably tough and cushion-y enough. Cheers
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Greg Cutshaw


From:
Corry, PA, USA
Post  Posted 6 Feb 2019 7:49 am    
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Lots of work but foam insulation works well and building your own box out of double wall industrial cardboard is a cinch:

http://www.gregcutshaw.com/Shipping%20Steels/Shipping%20Steels.html
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Ron Hogan


From:
Nashville, TN, usa
Post  Posted 6 Feb 2019 8:01 am    
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What Daniel said about wood blocks. Ive had two dividers break over the years. The nails that hold the divider scratched the end plate.

Go to any construction site and get discarded 2x4s to make the blocks. Wedge them in well.


Last edited by Ron Hogan on 7 Feb 2019 12:15 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Jack Turlington


From:
Toccoa, GA, USA
Post  Posted 6 Feb 2019 9:20 am     Shipping
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When Duane Dunard sent me a LeGrande III about17-18 years ago, I heard a house shaking thud on our front porch. A immediately looked out and saw the UPS man standing there, upright, steel sitting on the porch floor beside him. It was obvious that he was protesting having to deliver a heavy package, and when he got to the porch, he just turned loose of it. I was not a happy camper. It checked it out ok and I’ve never had a problem with it, but I probably should have complained about that driver. Duane had packed it in cardboard with the handle sticking out and it survived!
I had the unfortunate experience of working for UPS for a few days and saw first hand how packages were handled when being loaded onto trucks. Ever since then, I avoid using UPS for anything fragile! (although other carriers may not be any better)
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Duane Reese


Post  Posted 6 Feb 2019 10:19 am     Re: padding
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Keith Bolog wrote:
Id like to add to this that the way to NOT pack it is an a big oversized box with lots of padding or worst, peanuts (like the 'service' you get from a UPS store). The mass of the guitar always defeats it and the damaged guitars Ive received were all packed that way. Well one damaged guitar and several damaged cases. Furthermore, that adds a lot to the shipping cost

My belief is the best method is to pad the inside of the case thoughtfully as explained, then build-a-box by wrapping it in a double layer of cardboard, with a strategic hole cut for the handle. If the antique handle is rather vulnerable leave a flap of cardboard over it but mark it prominently. 100% of the time I have seen that driver carrying it by the handle and it suggests that it has been handled properly at other times during shipment. Except on the 6 foot drop on their conveyor belt ha ha. But a double wrap of cardboard is remarkably tough and cushion-y enough. Cheers


I respectfully disagree with both of those points. Having the handle sticking out gives one a false sense of security. You see the drivers carrying it by the handle nicely when they deliver it to your door, but you can't see if they're tossing it around at other times. Two layers of cardboard doesn't cut it – I've seen damage to cases that were shipped that way. In my opinion, the people who started that trend (I think it may have been a prominent dealer but I'm not going to speculate who) were lazy and wanted to save money. It's just a cut corner.

If you have an oversized box, and your packing that goes around it is tight enough or otherwise restricted from migrating, it provides some give when the package is dropped; that said, it still must be secured inside the case or that's not going to do much good. I've used peanuts that were packed in there tight, but not in bags; I've never had anyone report damage caused by the case migrating, but if I ever ship something again, peanuts outside the case would be in bags so they stay in place, or I'd use foam sheets (those are good but the don't give as much to the mechanical shock, if they land flat). In all situations, cushioning between the case and box is going to be better than two layers of cardboard and nothing – securing inside the case notwithstanding.
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Keith Bolog


From:
Wisconsin, USA
Post  Posted 6 Feb 2019 10:47 am     sure
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You can still pad the build a box if you like, Ive done it with styro sheets they work great. I dont trust the pack and ship store method. The mass of an 80 lb MSA easily defeats it.

My experience is: Ive received 17 through fedex and UPS. 14 packed my way arrived safely. 3 packed wrong: 2 damaged cases, one severely, and one damaged steel.

Ive shipped at least that many my method. Zero damage. AFAIK. I think I would have heard.
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Duane Reese


Post  Posted 7 Feb 2019 11:19 am    
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The worst packing job I've ever seen was a Professional that went to a friend, and there was NO packing material in the box, except for about two feet of thin bubble wrap around the guitar (probably as a joke). This came from a dealer in Tennessee, believe it or not. The front apron was broken. He also ordered a bar, and the dealer just threw it in the box and let it fly around in there like a missile. The legs were just flying around.. To this day, we don't know why he did this.
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post  Posted 7 Feb 2019 12:02 pm    
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is this like discussion # 133 on the exact same subject, with the exact same reply's !??

I love it ! Very Happy
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Last edited by Tony Prior on 10 Jun 2019 9:58 am; edited 1 time in total
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Len Ryder


From:
Penticton B.C.
Post  Posted 8 Feb 2019 11:08 am    
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When I sold my Finger-Tip to a fellow in Massachusetts I prepared the instrument well with bubble wrap, secured the legs well and packed it well in the case. Took it to U.P.S. where I told them to pack it properly. To make a long story short, the packing could have been done better by my Great-Grandson. There was damage to the guitar and after a long, long consultation with U.P.S. a financial settlement was reached.
When I sold my Dobro to a fellow in Oklahoma I did all the preparation and packing my self and had no problems. All of the shipping was from Arizona.
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Duane Reese


Post  Posted 8 Feb 2019 12:18 pm    
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Greg Cutshaw wrote:
Lots of work but foam insulation works well and building your own box out of double wall industrial cardboard is a cinch:

http://www.gregcutshaw.com/Shipping%20Steels/Shipping%20Steels.html


Thanks for posting that, Greg. I've updated my original post with that, and a couple of good suggestions that were made (like the one about wooden blocks for the leg compartment.

This post has been stickied to the top, so hopefully it will help people tackle the big job of shipping these big instruments.
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Gary Rue


From:
Maryland, USA
Post  Posted 11 Feb 2019 2:50 pm     packing a steel
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Big box, big shipping price.
I have had very good luck wrapping the instument inside the case with brown construction paper so it can't shift. Taping the legs together(turn the tape inside out) then wrap, and put green foam board on the outside of the case followed by a brown paper wrapper and packing tape. It's just a little larger that the case and very stout.
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Johnie King


From:
Tennessee, USA
Post  Posted 28 Mar 2019 7:53 am    
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Thanks Stu
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Mark McCornack


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 23 May 2019 7:11 am    
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Johnie,,
When you build a box, what thickness of the plywood you use? Standard CDX? This would be for a D-10 guitar, 75 pounds (in case).
Thanks...Mark
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Johnie King


From:
Tennessee, USA
Post  Posted 23 May 2019 9:25 am    
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Mark I like to use 1/2 inch for sides an 1/4 inch top An bottom.
I use 1/2 foam or cardboard top,sides, An bottom too protect case inside the shipping crate. It helps to have access too a table saw. This Saw is from my cabinet building days.


Last edited by Johnie King on 23 May 2019 9:38 am; edited 2 times in total
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Mark McCornack


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 23 May 2019 9:35 am    
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Great info. Thanks! Also, I’m envious of your Delta table saw Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!
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Leo Grassl


From:
Nashville TN
Post  Posted 23 May 2019 10:37 am    
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This is an interesting subject. I've shipped over 10 guitars myself and have been sent at least 15 throughout the years. In my experience the guitars that were delivered to me that were well covered in thick cardboard and had the handle sticking out were by far the best treated/handled. I have had zero problems using this method. I will add here that I believe in this method given that the case is a high quality steel guitar case and is in good condition. There is always room for error in transit but IMO making the package easy to handle is very important for obvious reasons if you think about it. So I have to respectfully disagree with Daune about the handle not needing to be accessible.


The last guitar I had shipped to me (a guitar I purchased here on the forum a few weeks ago) the handle was not out and the delivery driver carried it up my driveway over his shoulder. I have seen this before when there was no hole for the handle and I believe anything making the package harder to handle is a mistake. A guitar falling from over ones shoulder or from ones hand is a about three times farther of a drop.

I will also add that all the steel guitar builders that have ever shipped me a guitar have used the method of thick cardboard and hole for the handle. Fred Justice of Justice steel guitars is among them. In my experience fedex is better about handling packages with care. I have had two guitars damaged by UPS. Never by Fedex. I also use third party insurance on all of my instruments to avoid the hassle.

Best,

Leo G
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Mark McCornack


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 24 May 2019 8:37 pm    
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Johnie.. The crate as you described is working out well, but I had one thing to add.

If you live in an area where there is a shop that does upholstery work, you may be able to get some descent scraps of high density foam for cheap, or even free for packing. My local guy gave me three nice big pieces for the favor of hauling them out of his shop. It’s junk to him, but great packing material, especially in the crates you use for shipping.. Nice symbiotic relationship. Mr. Green
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Duane Reese


Post  Posted 21 Jun 2019 7:58 am    
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There will always be people who will disagree based on their experience, which is fine – it's an open discussion. I came to the conclusions I did based not only on experience, but based on talking to the shippers themselves, and how the sausage is made when they're not carrying the guitar up your driveway by the handle. Never mind what you see the shippers doing when they come to your door – prepare the shipment for what you can't see.

For me, the bigger issue than the handle controversy is thinking that layers of cardboard are good enough for cushioning. I'm not surprised if guys who ship a lot of guitars bark at me for this, because doing the cardboard-only thing is a lot easier, but it's just a fact of physics – it's not going to do what real cushioning will, in the event of a fall. I have never see anyone casually throw their guitar on the ground, confident that being in the case means everything is going to be alight, so I don't know why anyone would be confident about that happening in a shipping hub somewhere with people who don't necessarily even care about the contents.

Perhaps the most deluxe way is to have some kind of handle or lifting strap, and real cushioning, like how Greg Cutshaw does it – belt and suspenders. I still put the highest importance between the two on the cushioning. The main thrust of my message is that having the handle sticking out shouldn't give one a false sense of security, and think that layers of cardboard are good enough. The only benefit (for the recipient) that the cardboard-only approach has is that it seals the contents of the shipment, and keeps the case from getting marred – beyond that, it's like doing nothing at all for shipping preparation.
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Johnie King


From:
Tennessee, USA
Post  Posted 3 Jul 2019 12:37 pm    
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There’s a Roland amp I in shipping box 2 inch foam cut too fit amp then a shipping crate.
Steel guitar shipped with foam top bottom an sides inside shipping crate.

Surprised

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Jeremy Threlfall


From:
now in Western Australia
Post  Posted 3 Oct 2019 6:49 pm    
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This is how my Anapeg arrived recently. Full styro sheets (0.5")and thick cardboard, with a hole for the handle

ends slide off

re-useable


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Mike Perlowin


From:
Los Angeles CA
Post  Posted 17 Oct 2019 2:23 pm    
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Slightly irrelevant: I found one of the original Crate practice amps from the 70s, the one that looks like a wooden crate. I paid $30.00 for the amp,$35 to have it shipped, and $200 to repair the damage it received while it was in transit.

@#$%% UPS.
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