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How to Ship Musical Instruments

Nikki Sneed

Some items are easy to ship, and some are not. Musical instruments rank high on the list of things that are challenging to pack and ship correctly. When you ship musical instruments, you must consider more than the best way to package the instrument to protect delicate frets, strings, and keys. For example, weather and temperature changes during shipping have the potential to damage fragile instruments. These are all critical considerations for eCommerce fulfillment of musical instruments or shipping a single guitar, keyboards, or even a piano.



Musical equipment can be extremely valuable. A professional violin can cost as much as $100,000, and a Stradivarius violin may be worth millions. Pianos start at about $3,000, and you could pay more than $100,000 for a grand piano. When you ship musical instruments, you need to pack and send them in a way that protects your investment.

Each type of musical instrument shipping has unique requirements for packing. This post provides an overview of best practices and what to be aware of when you ship musical instruments.

Basic principles to ship a musical instrument

When you ship musical instruments of any kind, a few general best practices apply from woodwinds to electric guitars.

Use suitable packing materials

Don’t ship musical instruments with old newspapers or in used boxes. Invest in new kraft paper, bubble wrap, rubber bands, and strong packing tape. Avoid packing peanuts, which can get stuck in frets and may shift during shipping. 

bubble wrap

Cardboard can develop weak spots during shipping, so new boxes will give your instrument better protection. Use heavy-duty cardboard boxes or double-box your shipment. Choose a size that leaves space for infill on all sides – no part of your instrument or the case should touch the box.

Ship musical instruments inside their cases whenever possible

Shipping a musical instrument in its case provides a valuable extra layer of protection, especially if it is a hard case. However, you’ll still need to protect the instrument so it doesn’t move or shift within the case. 

Some cases, such as newer violin cases, come with internal padding that make the packing process much easier. If you don’t own a high-quality case, you might want to invest in one before shipping a valuable instrument.

Pack the instrument firmly but not tightly

The goal when packing a musical instrument for shipping is to keep it from moving at all within the package. But you also need to take care not to pack it so tightly that you put pressure on it, because that can also cause damage.

how to ship musical instruments

Ship musical instruments in pieces, when possible

The optimal way to ship musical instruments is with some components removed and packed separately. That isn’t always possible, and it can add to the expense of shipping if you need to pay a professional to assemble the instrument at its destination. However, the expense may be justified if you’re shipping a very valuable piece.

Shipping stringed instruments

We recently wrote a complete guide to shipping guitars and amps, so this section focuses on violins, violas, and cellos. These stringed instruments are among the most delicate and valuable, so you’ll need to take special care if you need to ship them.

How to ship a cello

Cellos can be expensive stringed instruments, as well as a large and heavier instrument to ship, which is why it is always one that musicians want to take extra care with when shipping. For those wanting to know how to ship a cello, loosen the strings and if the cello is completely put together during shipping, place a rolled-up paper towel under the neck and the tailpiece to keep them from scratching the wood during shipping. Add soft padding, such as a piece of cloth, to protect it inside the case. And pack the bow separately or place padding between it and the instrument to protect your cello. This also applies to how to ship a violin, or viola. 

how to ship musical instruments

Temperature and humidity changes can warp these delicate instruments. To avoid this, pack a humidifier into the box (there are humidity controllers made specifically for shipping with string instruments). You might also want to ship early in the week to reduce the chance that the instrument will sit in a hot truck over the weekend. If it’s a high-value violin, viola, or cello, it might be worth the extra expense to ship via air freight.

How to ship drum kits

Preparing a drum set for shipping can seem challenging because it includes so many different components and takes up a lot of space when it’s in use. 

The first step to shipping percussion instruments, like a drum kit, is to take the drums off their stands and place them on their sides. You can nest smaller drums inside larger ones for shipping, as long as you wrap them in bubble wrap so their surfaces don’t touch. Fill any hollow spaces in your kit with kraft paper or other infill and take extra care to protect the drumheads with bubble wrap.

Each drum or set of nested drums should get its own packing box. You can pack multiple boxes together in a larger box or ship the boxes separately. See the discussion of dimensional weight below to help you figure out which is the better choice. 

Shipping brass instruments and woodwind instruments 

how to ship musical instruments

If you regularly ship musical instruments, you’ll probably find brass instruments and woodwinds, like clarinets, to be less challenging than violins or guitars. Since these instruments generally come with cases molded to their shape that completely protect them, it’s vital to ship them in their cases. Follow the general principles above and use good packing materials and a sturdy outer box. Never ship a wind or any other instrument in just its case.

How to ship large musical instruments such as pianos and harps

If you need to ship larger musical instruments that won’t fit inside a regular shipping box, you’ll need to use freight shipping. In most cases, specialized piano movers transport pianos, whether you’re moving across town or shipping across the country. Piano movers can properly pack this large and delicate instrument for shipping. Plan on always having a piano professionally tuned after it is delivered.

how to ship musical instruments

Harps, unlike violins, should be shipped with the strings taut. Use foam pads, Styrofoam blocks, and bubble wrap to protect your harp. You’ll probably want to ship it inside a wooden crate rather than just a cardboard box, and secure it to a pallet for truck transport.

Dimensional weight charges may apply when you ship musical instruments

The cost to ship musical instruments can bump up dramatically if your package is subject to dimensional weight, or DIM weight, charges. FedEx, UPS, and USPS all use a formula for calculating shipping costs that factors in size as well as weight. 

For example, a viola might weigh 1.3 pounds. After adding packing materials, the whole package weighs just under 2 pounds. But the viola needs a large box: 32” x 16” x 9”. The viola would ship with a DIM weight of 34 pounds for FedEx or UPS and 28 pounds for USPS. The dimensional shipping cost could range from an additional $8 to more than $60 extra, depending on the shipping zone and carrier.

If you ship delicate or high-value musical instruments that are subject to dimensional weight pricing, alternate shipping methods may make sense financially. If you work with a 3PL, ask for help and guidance to choose the right shipping method for your musical instruments.

Costs of shipping popular musical instruments

There are certain instruments that are more popular to ship, such as violins and drum sets, so there are many questions on how much those costs to ship. 

How much does it cost to ship a violin?

Shipping smaller musical instruments like a violin, that weigh less than 100 pounds may cost at least $100 for regional delivery, and up to $300 nationally (in the USA), and up to $500 internationally (exception: nearby Canada). While the actual shipping rates may not be nearly that much, there are additional costs such as shipping insurance, and special packing that should be purchased to provide ultimate peace of mind. 

How much does it cost to ship a drum set?

How much it costs to ship a drum set varies vastly by what is included in the set, where it’s coming from, whether it is a full set or if you’re buying it new from a retailer (and whether they offer free shipping). Let’s say you want to go all out and by a full five-piece set of Roland V-Drums for $8,999.99 from Sweetwater.com. This would come with 10 inch and 12 inch Toms, a 14 inch floor tom, a 22 inch bass drum, a 14 inch digital snare drum, an 18 inch digital ride cymbal, a 14 inch digital hi-hats, and 2 x 16 inch crash cymbals.

Andrew Wilson, a sales engineer at Sweetwater, explains that although the shipping cost would be free to the shopper when purchased at Sweetwater, it would actually cost the company $314 to ship it from their warehouse in Phoenix AZ to a sample destination in Knoxville TN (it would normally ship from Ft. Wayne, which would probably be less, but at the moment that item isn’t stocked there). 

There are some ways to reduce shipping costs for drum sets. For example, George Fergusan, a former dance band and concert percussionist, said on Quora that he could cut shipping by 2/3 by reducing the number of boxes he was using, from six boxes to two boxes, simply from organizing the pieces more efficiently (stacking the shells and heads together, etc.)

Oversized packages

Getting expert help for shipping high-value and oversized products

If you regularly ship musical instruments or other high-value, delicate, or hard-to-ship items, it makes sense to work with an order fulfillment warehouse. A 3PL will be able to provide professional shipping services to protect your valuable merchandise. And, you might actually save money.

For example, Red Stag Fulfillment offers flexible carrier selection, so you get the most affordable shipping option for each package. And we specialize in shipping oversized and fragile products. We’re so good at it, we’ve even won awards.

If you need help to ship musical instruments or anything else that needs professional handling, let us know. We can help.

More about fragile and oversized shipping:

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