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A guide to shipping delicate instruments

Whether you’re moving house, playing a concert abroad or selling an old instrument you no longer use, you may need to ship your musical instrument overseas. In this blog, Stuart from My Baggage introduces some ideas to help you ensure you protect these delicate and expensive items.

How to pack your instruments for shipping

As instruments come in all shapes and sizes and with their own unique parts, packing instruments into a bag or box is not a one-size-fits-all solution. That being said, there are some generic packing tips that you can use to help you pack your items, no matter their size, number of parts or fragility.

In all cases, the most important thing to do is to make sure that your container/box has enough space for the instrument and packaging and you’re not forcing it into the space, risking a breakage. You also need to ensure that you give yourself plenty of time to get this right, rather than rushing the job. Some top packing tips include:

  • Not allowing the instrument to rattle around in empty space. Instead, be sure to use paper, padding or bubble wrap to fill it out so it’s tight in the box, which minimises movement during transit
  • Be sure to put extra padding around string instruments with thinner necks. It’s also a good idea to loosen the strings, take down the bridge and wrap it in tissue separately, and if possible take down the soundpost, as a string instrument shipped under tension is more likely to crack
  • If you are shipping a bow for a string instrument on its own, a sturdy plastic tube is the best way to protect it. Make sure the bow hair is not under tension before you pack it
  • For brass and woodwind instruments, it’s a good idea to first place these in their original case. Then add additional padding to ensure the instrument doesn’t move within the case
  • Using bubble wrap, carefully but firmly wrap up the instrument. This can also be applied to instruments being sent in a case, wrapping the case in bubble wrap, or adding padding to protect it
  • Choose good quality boxes, cases, packaging, bubble wrap or any other padding for maximum support and safety

Think about how you’ll ship your instruments

Posting your instrument the conventional way is going to be risky. Instead, you need to choose the most affordable and the safest shipping option for your item. Some of the options include:

Standard shipping

An average, standard courier/shipping service could be the most cost-effective option providing you’ve packaged your instrument carefully, and it’s one of the sturdier instruments such as a flute in a case. However, this is not ideal for instruments with lots of different parts.

Pallet delivery

Are you shipping a large objective like a piano or a harp? If so, a pallet delivery, where items are sent packaged between a flat standard structure, might work best for you. In this case, it’s a good idea to do your research thoroughly and make sure you choose a provider that has great reviews and is going to take very good care of your item.

Specialist shipping providers

Although it might cost more, one of the most effective ways to ship your delicate instruments is going to be looking for a shipping service provider that specialises in transporting fragile and expensive items. Some will even offer packaging to ensure your item is prepared and shipped correctly.

How to choose the right shipping provider

Now you know the options that are available to you, let’s look at how you can choose the one that’s right for you. You need to think about:

  • Your budget and what is going to be the most cost-effective option for you
  • Your time frame and how quickly you need the instrument to be shipped
  • Whether you can get a tracking number to keep an eye on your instruments in transit
  • Whether you need a specialist provider to take extra care with your instruments

    Take all of these factors into consideration and you’ll be able to determine which method is going to be most beneficial for you.
  • Get insurance or a warranty

    Finally, even though you may have already chosen the perfect shipping provider and packaged your instrument carefully, there is still more you can do for extra peace of mind and protection.

    If you choose to use a courier service provider, you can see what warranties or cover they offer to protect your instrument and reimburse you should anything go wrong in transit. Most good courier and shipping services will offer you cover before you send your goods; it’s up to you whether you choose to take it.

    Insurance or a warranty when shipping an instrument offers peace of mind and is the responsible thing to do to protect your customer if you’re selling an item.

    You can also be reimbursed for damaged instruments or damaged parts if it is the courier’s fault. The same applies if it is lost in transit for any reason.

    Alternatively, you can choose to take out your own private insurance before you send your instrument. There are plenty of providers online; you just need to do some research and find the right one.

    Shipping outside the UK

    If you are sending your instrument outside the UK, you will need to check what customs documents are applicable so that your package will clear customs successfully in the destination country. Don’t forget that since Brexit this includes all the EU countries. There will probably be duty and tax to pay in the destination country, so make sure the recipient is aware of this, unless you have agreed to cover these costs yourself.

    There are also restrictions on certain endangered-species materials such as ivory and tortoiseshell, which mean you need to apply for a CITES permit before shipping instruments containing these items outside the UK.

    By following this guide, you can ensure that you carefully pack your instruments and ship them in a way that is going to be most beneficial for you - and potentially for a customer if you’re selling these items.

    Whatever your reason for shipping, always do your research and take your time, these are expensive items, and you don’t want to rush this decision.

    *additional information from Naomi McCarthy, ISM Senior Public Affairs Officer

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