How To

How To: Pack A Guitar Like A Pro

When I was 16, my first boss shared an invaluable lesson with me: always go beyond what the customer expects.  That first job of mine was a lowly service role.  I was a pool maintenance guy.  And the only way my company was going to stand out versus all other pool maintenance companies was to go above and beyond the specific tasks laid out in our service level agreement.

So, beyond vacuuming the pool, brushing the tiles, cleaning the filters and making sure the pH and chlorine levels were correct, I would spend an extra 10 minutes to tidy up the surroundings of the pool like brushing the surface area around the pool and arranging the deck furniture.  When I was done, not only was the water clean and inviting, but the entire pool area looked like it was ready to be photographed for the cover of Architectural Digest.

The memory of that first career lesson came back to me earlier this week when I received a guitar that I had purchased from Capital Guitars Online.  The guitar is a blonde 2007 Fender Telecaster GE Smith Signature Model.  It looks great.  It plays great.  And I love it.  But, there was one additional thing that has stuck with me several days later – the way the guitar was packaged.  It was, by far, the best packaging of any guitar I have received in the last decade.  Capital Guitars Online could give a masters class of packaging.  But, rather than relying on CGO to share the do/don’ts of preparing a guitar for shipping, the Fretish blog will provide this tutorial.


Image uploaded from iOS
Exhibit A – Plain Brown Box

Less is more: Keep your package contents a mystery by choosing a box with no obvious text or images which scream “highly valuable musical instrument in here”.  Adopt a blank canvas approach.  Most retailers or online instrument marketplaces tend to slap their logo and an outline of their most popular model on the box, leaving no doubt to potential porch pirates that this is their lucky day.

Image uploaded from iOS (4)
Exhibit B – Short & sweet messaging

Clear, simple labeling: Concise instructions are better than verbose ones.  People will retain a three word message better than a ten word message.  And if you can use intuitive icons instead of words, like an arrow to indicate “this side up”, that’s even better.

Image uploaded from iOS (3)
Exhibit C – Seasonally relevant messaging to prevent instrument damage

Additional instructions with proper explanation: Receiving an instrument from the post man is always an exciting time.  But, to open your package immediately after it arrives during a harsh New England winter could lead to bad outcomes.  To be on the safe side, always label your package between November to March (even longer, depending where you live) with a sticker telling the recipient to wait 24 hours before opening their package.  This sticker above works well because it sets the context (“hey, we’ve shipped this from a very cold environment”), provides the instruction (“wait 24 hours”) and the risk one assumes if they don’t follow your direction (“finish checking”).

Interior Packaging Materials

Image uploaded from iOS (2)
Exhibit D – Peanuts, bubble wrap or heavy stock paper

I didn’t properly document this photographically, but here are the steps they appeared to take:

  1. Stack the box vertically (see Exhibit A photograph above)
  2. Line the “bottom” of the box with a layer of bubble wrap
  3. Load guitar case gently into the box, leaving space for shipping peanuts and/or heavy stock wrapping paper on all sides
  4. Add shipping peanuts and/or heavy stock wrapping paper so the instrument has equal protection on all sides.  Also, please consider using biodegradable shipping peanuts.
  5. Top off the box with a layer of bubble wrap

Inside the Guitar Case

Image uploaded from iOS (1)
Exhibit E – More bubble wrap, heavy stock paper and plastic cushions

This is where they went from good to great in my opinion. Bubble wrap on the head stock is becoming a more common packaging practice, particularly with brands that have notoriously weak head stocks (e.g., Gibson).  But, make sure the bubble wrap does not lift the neck above the built-in neck rest of the case.

Image uploaded from iOS (5)
Exhibit F – Head stock bubble wrap

Paper lining, between the strings and the fretboard, is also becoming more common.  But, what made Capital Guitars Online’s approach different was the heavy stock used, the way it was perfectly measured slightly wider than the neck AND the fact that they triple folded it to add an extra bit of “cushion”.

Image uploaded from iOS (6)
Exhibit G – Perfectly measured paper to protect the fretboard

Here is what I have never seen before – one layer of bubble wrap over the top of the guitar and the use of plastic cushions in the corners of the case and just below the strap button.  Was it necessary?  Probably not.  Did it make me think that this box could have withstood a drop from a two story building?  Definitely.  That’s going above and beyond.  Hat tip to Capital Guitars Online.

Image uploaded from iOS (7)
Exhibit H – Top, sides and bottom all taken care of