View Full Version : How to pack a mandolin without case for shipping

Apr-03-2009, 8:21am
Hello. I have a mandolin listed on eBay and am looking for tips on packing it for shipping. I see previous threads here that assume that the mandolin is being shipped in a case, but this one will not have a case.

I've been selling on eBay for 12 years so I know the basic concepts of packing but I thought I'd check here for hints so I don't re-invent the wheel as I figure out how to apply those concepts to the mandolin.

My ideal is to have the mandolin securely packed in a box with at least two inches of cushioning between any part of the instrument and the box walls, then have that inside another box with another two inches of cushioning between the two boxes. (Also, strings slackened but still holding the bridge in place)

Any tips for materials to use, or anything I missed?

Another trick is to find those two boxes exactly the right size -- Canada Post's calculation of volumetric weight can be pretty punitive for oversize parcels, so ideally it wouldn't be much more than 2 inches of extra space in any direction.

Apr-03-2009, 9:29am
Any way to buy a cheap case? I know if I were the buyer, I wouldn't want it shipped without a case.

Bob Wiegers
Apr-03-2009, 9:31am
if it's an A style, you can get a decent one cheaply here: http://accessories.musiciansfriend.com/product/Musicians-Gear-Hardshell-AStyle-Mandolin-Case?sku=544411

Apr-03-2009, 9:43am
If there is a Walmart near you they have a wide variety of packing boxes that are inexpensive but you will probably have to combine two boxes to make one large enough for the mandolin. I use styrofoam peanuts and I also buy styrofoam strips at Home Depot that are used to insulate garage doors. These are 4 feet long, 1 foot wide and about an inch thick. I use these to bolster the box itself and fill in with peanuts. Make sure the mandolin is in some sort of bag so it doesn't end up full of peanuts. Keep in mind that the mandolin can be diagonal in the box (looking down at it).

Paul F
Apr-03-2009, 9:47am
Larry Muth ships his mandolins without a case, in a foam-lined box he clearly made, cardboard on the outside with duct tape hinges. He reuses this box, and has folks send it back to him empty. No problems yet with this method. A search of the forums may find pictures of his box.

David Newton
Apr-03-2009, 10:35am
I hate peanuts. Not real peanuts, styrofoam peanuts.
Put the mandolin in a pillow case, or wrap in a cloth, then wrap it all around with bubble wrap, at least two layers, then inside the box, then newspaper crunched into wads in the voids.

Apr-03-2009, 11:21am
If there's a shop nearby that sells cheap Asian-made mandolins, they may be throwing out the trapezoidal boxes that such mandolins come in. One of these will work for your first box, as long as it's suspended inside a larger box.

I've had a few mandolins shipped to me in just the trapezoidal box, and thus far they've survived the trip. But I like to play it safe and put that box inside a second one.

Apr-03-2009, 12:17pm
When I bought my 1935 A-00 I sent the seller the following instructions:

I have been told the best procedure for shipping an instrument is:

1) Loosen the strings to take pressure off the neck while in transit;

2) Pack crumpled newspaper around the instrument inside the case to keep it from moving around;

3) Put the case into a box not much bigger than it and crumpled newspaper around the case to keep it from moving around inside the box.

Seems quite sensible to me. I guess the most important consideration is to keep the instrument as still as possible, without putting undue strain on either the case or the box from the inside. That is, firm but not threatening to burst.

When it arrived it was not in a case :disbelief: but in a box about its size with bubble wrap around it, and this box with bubble wrap around it inside a larger box. I was surprised about the lack of a case - he could have mentioned this somewhere in our correspendence - and if I didn't know there was already a crack in the back I would have been pretty darn mad. :mad: As it was I was just peeved about there being no case, and decided to not include him on my Christmas card list after all. :whistling:

I bought a MandoBird on ebay with no case and it came in a small box packed with bubble wrap and strips of styrofoam. It was just fine.

I don't remember who had suggested newpaper to me, but on further thought it may not be all that great, much as I have been warned against bubble wrap, because both can lose the air that is doing the cushioning. Even so, both these instruments survived just fine. I still think styrofoam strips are the best. Peanuts will work but also may leave bits of styro all over the place, including inside the instrument. Strips will too, I imagine, and maybe they should be wrapped in plastic to counteract this. I did see on another thread a mention of bad reactions of finishes to vinyl (http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/Musician/GenMaint/Vinyl/vinyl.html), not sure if that's the same here with plastic. I would think that some caution should be used with styrofoam strips, for as soft as it seems, constant rubbing in transit might damage the finish - another reason to wrap them in plastic, or the instrument in cloth.

Jim MacDaniel
Apr-03-2009, 12:23pm
Since it won't be in a case, it may be hard to adequately pack the headstock to prevent neck breakage when the box is dropped or knocked over by the shipper (due to the combined forces of intertia and string tension), so you might want to detune the strings so that they are very slack and put no tension on the headstock. This will mean that you should remove the bridge to protect the top since string tension will no longer keep it in place. I usually put a post-it note on the top at each end of the bridge's foot before detuning it, with marks on the post-its indicating original bridge placement, and then wrap paper or plastic around the instrument between the strings and the instrument to further protect against scratches from the slack strings.

Eddie Sheehy
Apr-03-2009, 1:32pm
I cruise the local music stores looking for the trapezoidal boxes and the electric-guitar boxes. One fits inside the other. Sometimes I reinforce the outside box corners with stiff cardboard or styrofoam chunks. Make sure there is NO movement in either the mando or the inside box.... lottsa bubble-wrap.

Apr-03-2009, 3:13pm
Thanks for all the suggestions so far. These are great.

Apr-06-2009, 8:58am
I get boxes that they are throwing out at my local music store. Then I buy three big bags of styrofoam peanuts and pour about 6 inches into the bottom of the box and then put the manolin in and hold it away from the sides and pour in the rest of the peanuts so that the mandolin is completely surrounded by them and pour an equal layer on top.

The mandolin is effectively suspended in mid air inside the box with the p-nuts. I believe the mandolin could survive a 3 or 4 foot drop.

Of course without a case you would have to wrap the mandolin in something. I use cloth never anything plastic. You can get a used cheap gig bag on ebay for almost nothing.

One of the coolest ways I ever got a mandolin was when I bought my 1920 A style Gibson oval hole mandolin.

The guy got a box big enough for the mandolin case and he got some of that expanding foam in a can that you use to fill up voids in construction and he sprayed a nice thick layer down at the bottom of the box and while it was still soft (it hardens pretty fast) he put a layer of plastic over the foam and pressed the case into it. Then he put another piece of plastic over the case (with the mandolin inside it of course) to protect the case and filled the rest of the case to the top in foam.

So what you have is two foam pads that form fit the mandolin case and protects it. It worked great and I reused the box next time I sold a mandolin.

I haven't gotten around to trying this method yet but I am one day. I have worked with that foam and you would have to be especially careful with it because if any gets on the mandolin case (or your hands) it is VERY hard to get off.

Seems like a cheaper way too because styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap can get expensive! I have at times spent $30.00 NOT including shipping charges just to buy the materials to ship a mandolin. I insulate and pad more if I am shipping an instrument in the winter to protect from checking.

It kills me that people expect you to charge them EXACTLY what it costs to ship someone something and totally miss materials and handling as well as insurance and shipping charges! :mandosmiley:

Apr-06-2009, 12:35pm
[QUOTE=jim_n_virginia;651227] ... So what you have is two foam pads that form fit the mandolin case and protects it. It worked great and I reused the box next time I sold a mandolin ...

That is the best ever! I would have had a hard time letting that go, it's so perfect.

I once temped at a distributor that did a brisk mail order business. They had huge bins filled with styro peanuts with a 3-4" flexible hose at the bottom (with spigot) to fill around the contents of a box. Typically you put a layer in the box, product on top, and filled around it and just a little above the sides, so when you closed and taped the box it would be nice and tight. You filled the bins with these three-pound bags the size of a small person - really fun toys!

When I got my late lamented F-12 :crying: I didn't have a case. For a while I just toted it around in my backpack - and would so even later when going on a day hike. I found a flat clothing box about the right size, glued a couple of thin pieces of wood to hold it in place around the neck, and that lasted me for a while until I could afford a good rectangular case. I even hitchhiked cross-country with this. Sadly, in the meantime those shims put little dents in the back of the neck - no structural damage, but permanent reminders to take better care of my instrument. (When packing, always use material softer than what you're packing. :redface:) I suppose they are readily identfiable marks if I ever cross paths with the current owner ... :whistling:

Apr-06-2009, 6:22pm
If you pack it well enough to where you are comfortable with throwing it off the roof of your house, it's probably good to go.

Apr-06-2009, 8:18pm
If you pack it well enough to where you are comfortable with throwing it off the roof of your house, it's probably good to go.

Yep! The only problem is checking to make sure you were right means unpacking it to take a look, thus undoing your (hopefully) good work. :grin:

The good old Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at work, on a macro scale ...

Apr-07-2009, 4:25pm
I have gotten pretty fanatical about recycling packing materials. When I worked in an office I used to scavenge the padded envelopes my co-workers got in the mail. Those are good for multiple shippings of small items (CDs and so forth). I work at home now, but I save every padded envelope that comes through the door, as well as every instrument box. I also have a couple of big boxes in the basement: one for styrofoam peanuts and one for other types of packing material, be it newspaper, bubble wrap, foam pads, what-have-ya. Thanks to all this, plus a very successful Guitar Center dumpster-raid, I've been able to do instrument transactions for the past year without buying any packing supplies -- just reusing what people send me or what I can scavenge. If I run out of peanuts -- well, there's a Burlington Coat Factory just up the road that's always throwing out packing materials.

Even in small shipments, like stuff from Amazon.com, there's often a bit of bubble wrap you can reuse. It does add up if you save it.

barney 59
Apr-16-2009, 12:48am
Music shops often have boxes that are the proper size and they just throw them away anyway. I hit them up from time to time and store them in my attic.A large store like a Guitar Center that is getting new stuff everyday is a good bet.Check out back at the dumpster. Lots of bubble wrap and those pesky popcorns and a bunch of tape and insurance is what I do. I have also just taken my item to a UPS Store and let them wrap it and put it in a box. It costs a little but not much and with them wrapping it I feel they are more responsible. They can't blame it on bad packageing if they packaged it. I have received some things that were damaged in shipping but I've had good luck going out.

Apr-16-2009, 10:20am
The UPS Store and UPS itself are not the same thing. The fact that a store employee packed the box may or may not impress the UPS claims department. I would quiz that employee very carefully, and not assume anything.

I received a mandolin that had been packed by a mom-and-pop shipping store in New York (not a UPS Store). They simply took a box and put the cased mandolin inside it. No bubble wrap or peanuts whatsoever, no loosening the strings or cushioning the headstock or anything else. Thank God it wasn't broken. Another instrument came to me via the Postal Service that was "packed" by wrapping white butcher paper around the case and writing my address on it. Surprise, surprise, a piece of the headstock had broken off. I complained to the seller and he told me a Postal Service employee had helped him pack it!

barney 59
Apr-16-2009, 8:06pm
True UPS stores are a franchise thing--you can own one I guess like a McDonalds or a Ford dealership but it is UPS company that franchises and makes the rules.