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How to avoid guitar shipping damage

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This is based on an email conversation I had, and it's definitely good enough to write about since you can avoid a lot of headaches from what you're about to read.

I'm fortunate enough to live in the Dallas-Fort-Worth area of Texas, meaning I literally have access to just about any guitar I want to try out. For anything from a cheap Squier to a very ritzy PRS McCarty or anything else you can think of, I can just drive on down to any number of guitar stores to play one.

I full well understand that's a privilege most people don't have. I also full well understand that most people have to literally buy to try a guitar. And one of the worst things that can happen is when a guitar arrives in the mail damaged. That will just ruin your whole week.

Here's the truth about guitar shipments and what you can do to avoid shipping damage.

Most if not all shipping damage will happen at the last leg of the shipment route

Typically, where packages get thrown around most is obviously not at the guitar store, not at the warehouse and not at the shipping distribution center. It happens when the package is fewer than 25 miles from your house. That last leg of the journey is where things can go wrong.

Just about everyone can tell this exact same story:

"I ordered X from Y company. The ordering process went fine, but then the day X was supposed to arrive, it didn't. I called [insert shipping company here], and they said the driver made an attempt at delivery and said I wasn't there. I said I had been home all day waiting for the package and it never showed."

This story always means the same thing. The delivery driver got behind on his route and lied about where he said he was. This means your package was shoved on to a truck, banged around, then shoved back into some holding place at the distribution center.

How does this story end? It involves several rounds of phone calls leading nowhere, the driver making "repeated attempts" (more lies), and you having to have the package redirected elsewhere just to get it. By the time you do, the box is all banged up, package damaged, and your day ruined.

Want your guitar to arrive undamaged? Never have it delivered to your house.

If you have a delivery driver that you can't trust, don't trust him. Go around him.

How? Have the package redirected to a pickup location.

All UPS pickup locations are listed here www.ups.com/dropoff

All FedEx pickup locations are listed here www.fedex.com/locate.

Which are the best pickup locations?

UPS Stores, UPS distribution centers, FedEx Office stores and FedEx distribution centers.

Using a store instead of a distribution center is usually easier for most people.

How to redirect a package in transit

Some places you order from online may not allow to specify the option to ship to a shipping store or distribution center.

Not a problem. Have it redirected while in transit.

Perform the following steps:

  1. Before ordering your guitar, find out what shipper will be used.
  2. Locate a local store or distribution center (whichever is closest to you) and get its address. You'll need this later.
  3. Order the guitar.
  4. Get the shipping tracking number.
  5. Monitor the shipment and wait until it's actually in transit, because you can't ask for a redirect until the shipment is "in the system", so to speak. This usually takes about a day.
  6. Once the first leg of the shipment has started, call the shipper and request a redirect to a local store.
  7. Monitor the shipment via the tracking number.
  8. Once the shipment arrives at the store, print out all the tracking info.
  9. Go to the store. Have some form of ID with you (driver's license usually is enough).
  10. Give the guy at the desk the printout and your ID. He will get your package.
  11. Inspect the box before leaving. Look for damage. If you spot any, grab your phone and take photos of it. Make sure those photos are time-stamped (it is worth it to look up how to do this with your phone as they can all do it).
  12. No damage? Cool. Take your package and go home. But if there was damage, you have photos proving absolutely it was the shipper's fault just in case you find anything busted when you open the box later at home.

Should you always have guitars shipped this way?

If there are no guitar stores near you, yes. Always pick the guitar up at an official shipping store or distribution center and never have it shipped to your house.

If you do have a guitar store near you that has the guitar you want to order, always have it shipped to the store and not to your house.

I've been doing this for years with Guitar Center stores. I never have a guitar shipped to where I live to specifically avoid lost packages and shipping damage. In addition, I can inspect the guitar at the store once received. If anything is wrong with it, I just refuse the instrument and get a refund, take store credit or have a replacement ordered. GC is not only very OK with this, they encourage it because it's actually easier both for you and them to handle everything in-store.

Have freight packing tools just in case you need them to ship the guitar back

If you don't have packing tape, get some. The really good stuff for cardboard boxes is reinforced gummed tape.

Buy some king size chisel tip Sharpie markers. You'll need these to cross out old stickers. Great to have.

Get yourself a heavy duty packing stapler. Just about all guitars come shipped in stapled boxes. Yours won't be as large as the brass ones the box has, but will be good enough to repack the box in case the guitar has to be shipped back.

And remember, unpack any guitar out of its box slowly, save all the packing materials, and TAKE PHOTOS with your phone to see exactly how it was originally shipped so you can repack it exactly the same way, if need be.

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