Packing Brass Instruments for Shipping

A lot of my business comes from other parts of the country and the world, so I send and receive a lot of packages.  Over the years, there has probably been more than two thousand packages coming and going and far too many instruments that I receive are not packed well.  Most seem to believe that writing "fragile" on the outside will instruct careful handling but you can't expect the employees of shipping companies to handle thousands of packages and note that yours needs special treatment.  My UPS guy told me to never label a package "fragile" because there will be some idiot along the line that will take it as a challenge to throw that package just a little bit harder.

The first photo on the left shows how I received a 1968 Bach trumpet recently.  There wasn't enough bubble wrap inside the small box to keep the trumpet from flopping around and this was placed inside a larger, cube shaped box that wasn't long enough, so it was placed in diagonally.  The mouthpiece was wedged tightly into one corner.  Then there were various pieces of packing material thrown in, but not enough to hold it in place.  There was surprisingly little shipping damage, but you can see that it could have been disastrous.  I have to assume that many instruments are sent to me with the idea that I can repair whatever damage is done during shipping.  The unfortunate results of this attitude is that the cost of repairs will be higher and there can be damage that is not entirely repairable, reducing the value and/or desirability of the instrument.

The most common damage to occur during shipping is crumpling the bell flare or bending the rim and next photo shows my preferred method of preventing this.  The cone is a rolled up piece of corrugated cardboard or cut from dense foam or other material, made to fit snugly inside the bell.  This transfers and spreads out the force inside the bell and I've never had one of these cones cause damage.  Notice in the third photo, that the cone is pushing firmly against the inside end of the case and keeping the bell rim about 1/4" clear of it.  This is where most people go wrong, so I will repeat myself:  Make sure that nothing is pushing against the bell rim.  Even a well padded case or bubble wrap can bend the rim back when the box is thrown in that direction.  Please take care here.  

Wadded newspaper is firmly inserted as shown, keeping the trumpet from moving inside the case and, if necessary, a piece of foam can be used to keep the curve of the bell from hitting that end of the case. The newspaper can be substituted with pieces of bubble wrap or Styrofoam, cut to fit snugly. Virtually all musical instrument cases are designed only for protection while carrying and not shipping or otherwise throwing about.  

Tubas, Bass trombone and French horn bells are the most commonly damaged in shipping and the same sort of packing should be used.  When shipping instruments without a carrying case, I always double box them, meaning that I pack them in one box in a similar manner described above and then pack that inside a much larger box.  Additional pieces of corrugated cardboard can be inserted inside either boxes for reinforcement if there is any question about the security.  I make the same cardboard cone that will push firmly against the end of the smaller box and wrap the rest of the instrument with bubble wrap.  There has to be enough bubble wrap to keep the instrument from moving and bending the bell rim against the end of the box.  Gaps inside the box can be filled in with wadded newspaper or any other suitable packing material.  The smaller box or carrying case is then packed inside a box that is large enough to be surrounded on all sides with packing material such as foam peanuts.  Wadded newspaper is probably the best packing material available and easy to pack around your valuable instrument.  I don't often use it to fill large spaces because of the time needed to wad each piece, but I always keep good materials from boxes that I receive, saving me a lot of time and money.

Antique instruments can most often be packed using the same techniques described above, but some are much more delicate.  The last three photos shows two very early cornets that are more delicate than most and would have a high likelihood of being damaged if I relied on normal packing.  In these cases, I cut layers of styrofoam to cradle the body and spread out the forces.  The most easily damaged area after the bell flare is where the mouthpipe is braced to the bell.  It can be bent any direction easily and so I shape the foam so that nothing touches the bell above the brace.  If I were to use a cone inside the bell, the forces on it could bend it at that weak point.  Then I then pack this smaller box inside a much larger one.

Lastly, it seems to me to be a good idea to pay for insurance of the whole value of the instrument.  I've never had one lost or badly damaged, but the declared value on the shipping documents will help the shipper differentiate between low value packages and your $3000 instrument.