By: Rick Landers
You’ve Bought/Sold a Guitar on eBay, now what?
During the past decade, thousands of musicians have sold their instruments on eBay and have had to figure out the best way to ship their instruments to the buyer.
I’ve sold scores of guitars, both electric and acoustic, and recognize the issues and problems that can happen in shipment to a fragile or rare guitar, if not packed carefully and properly.
The main thing to keep in mind is the traveling experience your beloved instrument will have from the moment it is placed in the hands of the U.S. Mail, or some other private shipping service, until each reaches a fellow guitarist.
We’ve all heard horror stories.
Keeping that in mind, it also amazes me when I receive a guitar that was shipped by someone who found a thong-sized piece of bubble wrap to protect the axe, then who collapsed an old box around it and taped it, apparently, with both hands tied behind their back…and the guitar arrived unscathed.
I’ve had a couple of guitars show up cracked – a rare vintage piece! – an ’82 Dan Smith Stratocaster dinged up when a whammy bar was left loose in the case and not wrapped in a protective manner, and some other more minor issues.
So, when a guitar shows up in good shape that was carefully packed, I thank the seller. When it’s not packed smartly and without due diligence, and it still arrives safe and sound, then my hat’s off to the shipping company.
Why anyone would take the chance that a guitar they shipped would arrive scraped, dinged or with the neck broken, is beyond me. And for those of you who figure the guitar’s insured and that’s enough. Well, good luck trying to get that recoupment process to work in your favor. Both the seller and the buyer end up unhappy – the seller gets bad feedback on eBay and the buyer gets the joy of receiving an instrument that’s been damaged or worse – destroyed.
If you’re going to sell something, then you have a responsibility to do your best to get it in the hands of the buyer in good shape. And if you’re a buyer, you deserve to receive your prize package in the condition stated in the sale.
I have had guitars packaged professionally and I have packed them up myself and none of the shipments arrived beat up.
So, how DO you take the proper care in packing up a guitar and getting it safely to the next owner?
- Gently wipe down the guitar with a damp soft cloth and take a couple of photos of it so you can show its condition prior to shipment in the event you need to make an insurance claim.
- Lower the string tension or remove the strings prior to shipment
- Wrap the guitar, including the neck in bubble wrap and if you did not remove the strings, place bubble wrap between the pickups and the strings – small bubble wrap. Do not adhere any tape to the guitar itself. Tape the bubble wrap to itself to strap it down.
- Place some balled up newspaper beneath the headstock and beneath the bottom of the neck.
- Do not leave anything loose in the case, unless you’ve also wrapped it in newspaper or bubble wrap or placed it in the guitar case accessory compartment. Then, either tape or otherwise ensure the compartment cannot open up during shipment. And this means, unscrew the whammy bar and wrap it in bubble wrap or newspaper, tape it secure and stash it under the neck surrounded by more bubble wrap or newspaper so it doesn’t roll around the case during shipment – or in another safe place.
- Either buy a guitar sized box from a shipping company or obtain a used guitar box, in good shape, from a local guitar shop. They tend to throw them out and I’ve always had good lucky getting free guitar sized boxes from them.
- Once you have a good solid shipping box for the guitar, ball up some newspaper and place about 4-5 inches of it at the bottom of the box where the tail end of the guitar will rest. This protects the bottom of the guitar from hard knocks.
- Next, type up both yours and the buyer’s addresses on a plain piece of paper with a From: (Your address) and To: (Buyer’s address) in VERY LARGE BOLD TYPE and place one copy in the guitar case. Close up the case. The guitar and case are now ready to be placed in the shipping box.
- Gently lower the case (bottom first) into the case so the bottom rests on the rolled up newspaper (See step 7, above).
- Ball up more newspaper and stuff it down between the sides of the guitar case and the inside of the shipping box, so the guitar case is in the middle of the box – meaning the guitar neck is in the center of the box. Add more balled up newspaper over the top of the end of the guitar case (the top of the guitar).
- Place another copy of the From: (Your address) and To: (Buyer’s address) as the last piece of paper you place in the box, before sealing it up with tape.
- Use shipping tape, which is typically clear, and carefully tape up the bottom of the box and the top of the box to keep it closed during shipping, as well as to add some level of protection against the elements.
- Place another From: (Your address) and To: (Buyer’s address) in the center of one side of the shipping box. This may be the address used by the shipper or, at minimum, it will make available the Ship to: address to you to fill out any necessary shipping forms, in case you forgot the address at home. This is better than showing up at the Post Office and having to open up the box to get the address!
- Once you’re at the shipper, make sure they stamp in multiple places on both sides of the shipping box “Fragile”, to notify handlers in route that the box contains a delicate item.
I also recommend that you always insure the guitar for it’s value, request that the buyer sign for the shipment received and get a tracking number for both you and the buyer to track the guitar while it’s in route.
In my opinion bubble wrap and newspaper are both pretty good as far as protecting your instruments. However, I tend to use newspaper because I like to repurpose things and I believe newspaper tends to be more forgiving, yet still protective, when a shipping container is under external pressure, than bubble wrap. Although small bubbled bubble wrap may be just as good.
Selling a guitar can be fun and even a little exciting, but packing and shipping a guitar is work. The effort is worth it if you ensure your guitar’s journey to its next owner is safe and the guitar arrives in a manner that brings a smile to the face of a fellow guitarist.
A final thought – if you just bought a guitar from an individual, you might want to send them a link to this article!