#LogisticsAdvice

How to ship a guitar and other instruments internationally

Anna Thompson
Anna Thompson
Discover content team
5 min read
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woman playing trumpet

Any true musician will tell you that their instrument is not just a “thing” – it’s an invaluable and irreplaceable part of their creative being. So, when shipping musical instruments – whether on tour or for repair – they want to feel confident that they’ll arrive at their destination safely and in perfect condition. And that’s why many turn to DHL.

guitar by a window

“My guitar is not a thing. It is an extension of myself. It is who I am.”

Joan Jett

DHL Express have vast experience and expertise in shipping musical instruments and large items. They were the official logistics partner of The Rolling Stones record-breaking “Unzipped” exhibition, transporting some of the most revered instruments in rock history around the world to be enjoyed by fans from London to Las Vegas. Among them were several of Keith Richards’ and Ronnie Woods’ guitars, and a rare dulcima (a kind of double lute), played by Brian Jones.

A lot larger in shipping terms, and only a little less rock ‘n’ roll, is their longstanding customer, Thomann – Europe’s biggest online retailer of musical equipment. Hans Thomann Snr started the business as a sideline to his trumpet-playing in the 1960s, initially selling instruments from his backpack. Thomann has one store in rural Germany – but thanks to e-commerce and DHL, the company now ships musical instruments to many millions of customers across the world.

Let’s take inspiration from Ronnie Woods and begin our focus on the guitar…

How to ship a guitar: seven top tips

  1. Use strong instrument cases in good condition

  2. Loosen the strings before packing

  3. Use plenty of bubble wrap to minimize movement

  4. Choose the right sized plastic packing crate or box

  5. Label every package clearly to avoid loss or mishandling

  6. Always insure your instruments

  7. Choose a logistics partner that offers expedited shipping and full tracking 

guitar in a case

How to pack a guitar for shipping

1. Start by de-tuning or slacking your guitar strings to release any tension from the fret board. Failing to do so can result in the strings snapping in shipment – causing damage or unwanted scratches to the body of the instrument.

2. Make sure your instrument cases are in good condition. A strong case gives an extra layer of protection inside the packing crate. A top tip from Rasmus Bom Andersen, lead singer with heavy metal stalwarts, Diamond Head: “Use military grade SKB cases, or, if transporting several instruments, then Enki cases, Scott Dixon or Quantum industries are the go-to brands for safety."

3. Line the hard case with bubble wrap to cushion the guitar. Then wrap the entire guitar in bubble wrap, paying special attention to the neck which will need extra support. Also put some padding – cloth, newspaper or more bubble wrap – between the fretboard and the strings for protection. Place the wrapped guitar inside the case.

4. Fill any gaps with foam padding or polystyrene chips to restrict the guitar’s movement within the case.

5. Pack the case in an appropriately sized box or crate – one that isn’t too big in order to minimize movement in transit. We recommend using one of our plastic packing crates because they provide great protection for items that are sensitive to temperature – which is particularly true of stringed instruments. Aim for a 6cm gap between the instrument case and the crate, which you can fill with bubble wrap.

6. Pack all small, loose parts – such as tremolo arms, capos and so on – separately, so they don’t scratch the instrument.

7. Important: do not use black outer packaging. Our automated parcel sorting systems can’t process it so your shipment will be delayed or returned.

8. Tape the box/crate up securely and place you shipping label clearly on it.

9. Measure and weigh the parcel ready to obtain a shipping quote from DHL.

How to ship a guitar without a case

Source a strong cardboard box that is robust enough to travel through transit. Many guitar sites sell guitar shipping boxes.

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How to ship a guitar amp

Astro-pack foam is an ideal material to protect your amplifier as it is lightweight, non-abrasive, and absorbs shocks. Wrap the amp in the material, securing it with packing tape. Then use several layers of bubble wrap for extra protection. Place the wrapped amp in a strong cardboard box, with plenty of padding such as polystyrene chips to prevent movement during transit. Place a “This Way Up” sticker on the outside, along with a shipping label. 

How much does it cost to ship a guitar?

DHL offers highly competitive prices for domestic and international shipping. Get a quick quote here.

FAQs

Is it okay to ship a guitar in cold weather?

Many stringed instruments are constructed from real wood which can be vulnerable to extreme hot or cold climates. Fortunately, DHL is experienced in transporting fragile items in temperature-controlled environments, so you can be sure your instrument will arrive in perfect condition. 

How can I be sure the guitar is packed securely enough?

Do the shake test! Take the guitar case and give it a shake. You shouldn’t be able to hear or feel anything rattling loosely.

Should you loosen guitar strings before shipping?

Yes, always!

man packing flute

How to ship other musical instruments

Stringed instruments

One of the most important things when shipping guitars, violins, double-bass, cellos, mandolins or any other stringed instrument, is to loosen the strings before packing. This is because the temperature may fluctuate during the journey, meaning the strings could tighten up and snap.

Shipping drums

Most drums don’t have cases, so it’s best to cover them in several layers of bubble wrap before putting them into the packing box or crate. You’ll need the right sized box for each one, so there isn’t too much room for movement.

If you’re sending more than one drum, you can remove the heads and hoops of the big drums and nest the small ones inside, along with crumpled newspaper or cloth as padding. Then replace the heads and tape them securely. Use a separate bag for small parts.

If you’re sending a whole drum kit, you’ll need to break it down, removing the legs and taking the rack tom stand apart. Wrap the rack tom parts and place them inside the kick drum, filling in the gaps with crumpled newspaper so they don’t move around.

Brass instruments

As trumpets, trombones, horns, tubas and the other brass instruments are made up of lots of different parts, it’s best to dismantle them and wrap each part separately. Cover and tape each part with plenty of bubble wrap as protection, then put them directly into the packing crate, including their cases wrapped separately.

Wind instruments

Wind instruments such as flutes, clarinets, saxophones and oboes can be packed in their cases. Cover both the instrument inside the case and the case itself in bubble wrap for protection and shock absorption, taping it securely. If you’re shipping your instrument without a case, then wrap it in at least three layers of bubble wrap before it goes into the packing crate.

insurance policy

Always insure your instruments

You can never be too careful! DHL offers free cover up to a certain value as standard (depending on your country of origin and destination), but this can easily be upgraded if your instrument exceeds this value. And for extra peace of mind, DHL offers full tracking of your shipment to its destination. 

Don’t forget the batteries!

If your musical instrument and/or accessories contain batteries, and you’re shipping them cross border, you will need to be aware of certain regulations. Some batteries will be classified as Dangerous Goods – the transportation of these is a risk when they are not correctly packed or handled. To ensure your shipment gets to where it needs to be, safely and on time, check out our guide to shipping batteries.  

If the Rolling Stones – AKA The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World – trust us with their priceless, historic instruments, perhaps you should too! Because many musical instruments are fragile, the less time they spend in transit the better, which is where our expedited delivery option is a perfect fit. Get in touch! 

1 – Joan Jett, BrainyQuote, accessed July 2022