How to Prepare an Instrument for Shipping

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Using the following method I have had a near-100% success rate for shipping horns safely. It is an expensive method, both in terms of time and money, but worth it.

While shipping a horn can be done cheaply, it will not be very safe or secure.  If you take your horn to a packing service, insist that they follow these guidelines as closely as possible. (I use about $25 worth of materials alone to ship a horn.)

Some services are great, others are not.  If you are paying a high premium (before shipping costs – I know, I’ve shipped horns using these services) to have your horn packaged, you deserve a great job.

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Be sure to read everything below carefully before shipping your instruments.  This advice is designed to help ship a French horn, but can easily be applied to almost any other instrument.

What you need

  • A new box, preferably double wall corrugated
  • Large bubble wrap
  • Packing ‘peanuts’ (a.k.a., pelaspan)
  • Packing tape – (See note for Registered Mail, below*)
  • A yardstick or ruler
  • Knife

Evaluate the situation inside the case

If the horn can rattle around and bump things then it can get damaged. Some cases have hard spots that can put a dent in your horn, such as the notorious late 60’s Elkhart 8D case.

Secure all loose articles so they can’t bump the horn or get lost down the bell. Pack the horn in bubble wrap so that the horn can’t move around, but do not put in so much that the instrument is compressed in any way.

Just make it snug in the case and that is fine.

If you have a detachable bell, make sure can’t hit anything hard if the boxed case is dropped. Also, check the latches of the case to make sure they won’t pop open during shipment. Secure them with tape or a wrap of some kind, or strap the entire case so it won’t pop open, if necessary.

Shipping without a case

If for any reason you are afraid of shipping the horn in the case, then ship it separately from the case.

Wrap the horn completely in at least three layers of large bubble wrap. Secure the bubble wrap with packing tape. It should look big and puffy, like the Michelin Man.

No edge should be poking out or near the surface.

Select a good box

Now that you have the horn well packaged in either bubble wrap or secured inside its case, select a new, sturdy, corrugated box that is at least 2 inches bigger than your item in all directions.

I have a lot of success with the U-Haul Dish Barrel Box for both fixed and cut bell horns.

It is true double wall corrugated construction, whereas the boxes mentioned below are single wall.  They work fine, but the Dish Barrel is much sturdier overall.  Some cases may not fit, so check dimensions carefully.

Other box suggestions:

  1. for a fixed bell horn, a U-Haul TV/Microwave box (not the 27″ one)
  2. for a cut bell horn in a flat case, a U-Haul Lay Down Wardrobe
  3. for a cut bell horn in a Marcus Bonna-style case, a U-Haul Large box or larger depending on the shape of the case
  4. For a case alone, a U-Haul Electronics Box, Medium Box, or Large Box will do based on the shape of the case

Almost all of the above boxes will ship at higher than their actual weight, no matter what the weight.  Most shipping services use dimensional weight or actual weight, whichever is greater.

Tape

Tape the bottom of the box with packing tape, sealing all edges and seams. Be sure to either use a doubled covering of tape, or use heavy duty packing tape.  The main closure should have three lengths of tape – one for each flap, and a third down the center to prevent opening and spilling of the packing peanuts.

If shipping by USPS Registered Mail, paper tape for all the edges, not plastic tape is required.

Paper tape is available in rolls as reinforced, adhesive backed paper.  The adhesive must be moistened before applying to the box.  Use a sponge to do this, getting it completely wet and then letting it dry just a bit before sticking it down.  If an edge comes up, rub it down with the moistened sponge.  Let the tape dry completely before shipping, which usually only takes 15 minutes or so.

Packing peanuts

Using packing peanuts (known also as pelaspan) fill the bottom of the box about 2 inches or so. Get foam peanuts, not recyclable/biodegradable ones. Used peanuts are fine.

(The recyclable/biodegradable kind are made of corn starch and do not have the resilience of the foam kind. The foam peanuts are infinitely re-usable and don’t attract bugs like corn starch.)

You can use crumpled newsprint, but it is very heavy compared with the packing peanuts, and may increase your shipping costs needlessly.

I highly recommend the packing peanuts over any other void fill.

Put the horn in the box

  • Place the horn (case) in and fill the box up to the top of the interior.
  • Do not underfill the box. If anything, slightly overfill it so that the lids are a little (not a lot) difficult to push down closed.
  • Seal the top with packing tape, and all edges as well.
  • If using a U-Hail Dish Barrel box be sure that the tape on top goes over the edge far enough to seal the die cut handles in the sides of the box.

Float the horn

The general philosophy of shipping a horn safely? The horn should “float” in a box of packing peanuts.

If the box should get damaged and the peanuts start to seep out, the horn should have sufficient protection (case or bubble wrap) around it to help it survive further abuse. Once the peanuts seep out, the item is likely to settle to the bottom of the box, risking damage.

Double boxing is fine, especially for a horn without a case, but does not guarantee much. Better to wrap the instrument really well in bubble wrap than pack it poorly in two boxes.

Insurance and US methods

Fully insure the instrument. Using a new box and packing it properly helps remove the wiggle-room that the shipper has to deny a damage claim. Report all damage immediately and fully.

I have a lot of experience with the US Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS. They are all equally likely to damage the instrument, and just as unlikely, as well.

If you use Registered Mail, be sure to check the USPS web site before shipping, to make sure they will accept the dimension of the box.  Registered, Insured Mail is among the most secure methods of shipping, and is comparable in price to other ground shipping methods.

Overseas shipping

Overseas shipping can be costly and time consuming. Take it to FedEx. They do a great job of overseas shipping with all the paperwork that’s required. The extra cost over the USPS is worth it, in my opinion.

Tariffs may apply. Shipping a horn back to the U.S. can be especially tricky if it was not made in the U.S. This applies to used as well as new horns. Do not get stung by tariffs.