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Guitar Lessons: The Complex Process of Shipping the World’s Most Popular Instrument

Jun 8 2017

Proper packaging and compliance with government regulation require a first-rate logistics solution.


The logistics of shipping guitars are more complex than they may seem at first. Due to the high-value nature of the product, the specific requirements for its safe packaging, and a number of regulations that directly affect them, those looking to ship and receive these instruments would do well to seek out the help of a logistics solutions provider well versed in the intricacies of the process.

The first and foremost concern when it comes to moving guitars, as with all types of cargo, is safety. With guitars, their unique shape, size, and weight, as well as the emphasis placed on their aesthetics, means extra precautions must be taken to ensure that they are delivered in perfect condition. Even a few nicks and blemishes incurred during transportation can result in hundreds, if not thousands in lost revenue and man-hours.

Seeing to it that guitars are securely packaged is often easier said than done. Even when personally traveling with a single instrument, you must go to great lengths to ensure that your cargo remains undamaged.

If those measures seem time consuming, imagine shipping dozens or more of these units at once. All guitars must be transported in cases that, although not necessarily custom-built for their frames, must be able to fit them. These cases are then themselves placed in special packaging (usually a long cardboard box, often, though not always, triangular in shape) and further protected with lots of foam stuffing and bubble wrapping.

It is enough work merely to secure guitars when transporting them domestically. When it comes to importing and exporting guitars, the Customs process is just as important, as well as complex. You might assume that this would be relatively painless, being that since guitars are neither produce nor are they made from hazardous materials that they aren’t be subject to many regulations. In fact, the opposite is true.

This is, by and large, the result of environmental regulations, particularly those that focus on fishing, game and wildlife conservation. One such regulation is The Lacey Act, initially passed all the way back in 1900. The Lacey Act prohibits the import, export, trading, and purchasing of “fish, wildlife or plants that are taken, possessed, or sold in violation of State or foreign law”. In 2008 this act was amended to include a broader scope of plants and plant products, resulting in the materials that guitars are often made from (as well as guitar design components such as abalone shells) falling under its purview.

Another important piece of regulation that directly affects the shipping of guitars is the multilateral treaty known as CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna).  New CITES regulations require special permits for the shipping of any instruments that contain rosewood or certain types of bubinga, which are commonly used in the manufacture of—you guessed it—guitars.

The shipping process cannot be started until everything is cleared through CITES, and the environmental regulations are shown to have been followed. Failure to comply with one or any of these can result in the entire Customs process stalling. They are thus a major headache for manufacturers and shippers, especially when convention season rolls around. Late shipments can result in deadlines being missed, including for important shows such as NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants).

More and more, guitar manufacturers have developed their own in-house logistics departments. But in the cases of smaller guitar makers, or even larger ones who would rather focus specifically on the manufacturing and sales side of their business, it is important that their logistics solutions provider be completely up-to-date with the various complexities of guitar shipping, lest they find themselves strumming a sad song as their entire supply chain breaks down.

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