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Gregg

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Reply with quote  #1 
This is a topic that needs to be on everyone's radar at all times.  Lots of us have different experiences that we have shared.
Having just had the nightmarish experience of trying to file a Fedex claim for an instrument I received from a private seller that was clearly damaged by Fedex - only to be denied - I have learned some hard lessons about shipping and/or insurance.
Some I gleaned from Googling the Internet and reading others' horror stories, others from getting frank advice from Fedex and UPS employees.
1. Corporations (including Fedex, UPS, USPS) will do everything they can to avoid paying claims.  Never count on it happening.
2. Insuring your package (or listing "Declared Value") is not proof of value in a claim.  You will need legitimate receipts and/or appraisals for your items.  I read of one supposed Fedex "trick" where they "mistakenly" forget to charge the Declared Value fee so that you were never insured to begin with.  Insurance is also a COMPLETE waste of money if your item is not packed to the shippers' satisfation (see next).  In other words, I have been throwing my money away for years on this "peace of mind" shipping insurance that would likely have zero value in a claim.
3. Packing: NEVER USE newspapers, clothes, towels for packing.  A reliable UPS source states their simple (non-disclosed) policy.  Use a MINIMUM of 2" of bubble wrap surrounding all sides of your item AND a minimum of 2" of styrafoam (peanuts or equivalent) around THAT - on all 6 sides.  If you put in so much as one crumpled sheet of newspaper to "top it off" you can kiss a claim goodbye.  They (UPS, and I assume the others) will virtually never honor a damage claim when they see newspaper or any other material included (even added to an otherwise fully bubble-wrapped item) - ONLY bubble wrap and styrafoam together is covered.  I have often shipped and received guitars loose or in cheap cases with less than this 4" total of bubble wrap/styra combo surrounding the entire thing - to do so, no Guitar Center shipping box will suffice.  A HUGE oversize box is required.
4. Get help.  One thing I might do is switch to the local UPS store (I have always used Fedex as we had an account, and they are usually less than UPS).  I did so today on one of my flight case/gig bag sets.  They have a "pack and ship" policy where (so they claim) anything that they pack is automatically covered for any damage claim (their employees did it, and presumably by the book, so they stand behind it).  This will cost extra, but for ANY harp guitar might be the cheapest (and only useful) insurance you can get.
5. Replacement Issue.  This is interesting.  Fedex doesn't have anything on their form, but UPS does.  It asks specifically "Is it breakable?" (say YES) and "Is it replacable?  ALWAYS CHECK YES.  Meaning, it could be an irreplacable one-of-a-kind antique instrument, but for all you know, one could go out and find another.  You will need an appraisal for this.  Checking "No" guarantees that they will not cover it.  Insure for the appraisal or receipt value; don't make up a number that can't be supported.
6. Outside insurance.  I have Heritage now to cover all the biz instruments.  There is a $500 deductible, so I just insure all outgoing for $500, counting on Heritage to cover the rest should it be lost or destroyed.  I haven't had to do a claim yet (knock wood).  One problem with Heritage though is that they won't cover any INCOMING instruments.  The theory is that I can't vouch for what I haven't seen.  This is a huge problem, for if I want to purchase instruments for resale, I am totally at the mercy of the seller.  Which brings us to next....
7. Receiving and/or buying an unseen instrument from private party.  This is just what happened with my Fedex disaster.  The seller packed fairly well, and Fedex truely must have crushed the side of the box in order to stress-fracture and crack the side of the guitar (1/4" masonite side panels he used prevented puncture, but not crushing).  In the future, I would:
A. Try to arrange payment (or half payment) upon safe delivery.  That way, the seller/shipper is responsible for protecting his own investment.  I expect this will be difficult to insist on, despite my reputation.
B. Ask/insist that the seller use the "Pack & Ship" UPS Store option to protect against damage and claims.  Offer to pay for this service.  Provide him a written appraisal to include.
C. OR - what I have done on occasion - ship them an empty HGM flight case (supplied with bubble wrap) to ship the instrument back in.  This may be an extra $50 or so, but again, cheap insurance.  It should be pretty difficult to destroy an instrument in one of those.
D. NEVER use my own account #.  Just have the seller pay directly for the shipping (reimbursed or not).  When the seller used my account # at his local Fedex authorized depot, this contributed to the miasma of trying to get claim through.  Essentially, NO one was responsible - I had let them ship the damaged instrument BACK to Massachusetts, where it sat for a week, until I begged the seller to pick it up and send it to me AGAIN (in my shipped empty flight case) at our expense.  I almost lost the entire paid-for instrument.  As it ends up, I'll get the thing back after wasting $100 MORE on shipping, then pay to have it repaired, then discount the sale for the repair.
E. Ground vs. Faster service.  I'm not convinced that going faster would protect the instrument any better, nor help in any claim - just reduce the time and handling for damage to occur.  It IS helpful for protecting the finish of new instruments during inclement weather.  Getting customers to pay for is a problem; so I'll be adding a disclaimer about finish crazing/cracks if not used.

Bottom line (for me personally): Best is to follow the UPS guidelines and buy/use HUGE boxes (or their services) and charge customers accordingly.  Only when customers are getting my flight case dare I rely on less.

Hope this helps!


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Gregg Miner, editor, Harpguitars.net
FredCarlson

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Reply with quote  #2 
Thanks, Gregg!

I've had my share of frustrating and unfortunate experiences with shipping.  Having your own insurance seems to be the best safety net for things you ship out; controlling what other folks do when they ship to you is something else.  I try to get people to package things absurdly well, but some folks just don't get it.

My personal experience has led me to trust FedEx more than UPS for the valuble shipments; I use UPS for the cheap ones, with some exceptions that I probably shouldn't make.  I do not in general trust the franchise storefront shipping places like The UPS Store and the FedEx equivalent (whatever they call it) for valuble pieces; I suspect they are more variable, depending more on the individual employees, than the actual FedEx or UPS facilities. 
None of these places are really set up to deal with valuble musical instruments, and shipping is one of the most dangerous things we can submit our instruments to.  A necessary evil.

Basically I do whatever each situation seems to require, and keep my fingers crossed.  I now have a Heritage insurance policy, like you, that hopefully will cover any real problems; I just don't know how long I'll be able to afford it....
My packing policy is to go for something that can survive the worst.  In most cases I like to "double-box"- that is, instrument in solid, hardshell/wood case, packed in a sturdy box with at least an inch of packing material all around, and that box then packed in a second, larger box with again at least an inch of packing all around.  I sometimes add extra cardboard, or even pieces of plywood, to reinforce the boxes.  You should be able to jump on the outer box without damaging the instrument...they say it needs to withstand the equivalent of a 70lb package being dropped on it from 6 feet above!

This ends up being a huge, heavy box that is very expensive to ship, and I try to ship Next Day/ Overnight when possible.  This ends up often being hundreds of dollars, and the price keeps going up.  Sometimes I choose 2nd Day, figuring the extra day sitting in a terminal probably won't increase chances of damage/loss too much, and you can save a bundle of cash that way, but I have no doubt that the best way is the fastest.

I hate shipping instruments!  I get so stressed out doing it!

I'd also suggest that double-boxing is the best way to go if you need to check your instrument as airline baggage.  But it's really a pain, if you're gigging on tour, to have all those extra boxes to deal with.  Plus, how do you even carry the thing?

Best solution is maybe to stay home and keep your instrument there, with you.  Invite your friends over to your house.  Move your instrument no further than you can easily carry it walking.

Not likely, huh?

Well, I'm always thinking of designs for small, light, ultra-portable, indestructible harp guitars!  When I come up with one I'll let you know!

Fred

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Reply with quote  #3 

     The best story I have about shipping company comes from a neighbor harpsichord teacher. One of his long time students went to live in the US, he had to take with him his harpsichord been hired to play on a big classic ensemble. The monster was a 3 hundred years old Flemish harpsichord… The shipping company when berserk and ask him to by a special shipping box that was able to float on open sea for 48 hours, very strong and expensive, the box was around 12.000 euro if I remember well. But the instrument was insured for more than 250.000 euro so it was worth it. They came to his place to pack the instrument and carry it out with a special truck. And as soon as it was in the shipping company hangar a guy went through the box and the harpsichord with a big forklift…

      The best is that the guy who called the owner tried to explain that it was too bad the instrument wasn’t insured, the student said actually yes it’s insured for 300.000 euro… The company guy almost had a heart attack.

     It took him a year to have his money back; the shipping company was trying to prove that it was his fault… And there’s goes a 300 years old Flemish Harpsichord…

Benoit

 

Gregg

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Reply with quote  #4 
Interesting...I'd never tried this.  Duane Noble just sent me an HG for consignment (yes, his killer "tree-of-life" is here...someday I should just declare bankruptcy so I can keep all this amazing stuff! But I digress....) -
He sent it in one of my flight cases without any box.  Straps and handles sticking out all over the place - just like when you check at the airport.  Looked none the worse for wear (better than airline I suppose...).  He cable-tied the large Fedex address envelope to the handle, rather than stick on the case itself. 
I just sent it back empty via Fedex, no problem. 
Just in case you don't want to mess with a box (I send all new cases in box just to keep as pristine for customers as possible).


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Gregg Miner, editor, Harpguitars.net
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Reply with quote  #5 

I decided to go with UPS Pack and Ship for sending off a mandolin today, and it really wasn't as expensive as I thought (of course, this is for a mandolin-sized package, not a HG). The box + supplies only cost about $14, and they didn't charge me an extra fee to pack it. So I ended up paying about $50, which I thought was more than reasonable. I didn't have to use one of my ratty old boxes, and (according to the UPS guy) the case would be wrapped in bubble wrap, center-packed in styrofoam peanuts inside a new suitcase box with sturdy foam corners.

Now the catch was, I couldn't watch them pack it. They took my mandolin case and an empty suitcase box and disappeared off to a back room. I was like, "Can't I watch you pack it?" and they said, "No, we'll probably do it later in the day - it'll be fine." I decided that once I gave them the instrument and made my payment it was in their possession anyway, but still.. It felt creepy to just wave goodbye to an instrument naked in its case with the only thing protecting it being a shipping label and an empty box.

Is that normal "Pack and Ship" behavior? Gregg, are you telling me you'd just drop a Knutsen off at UPS and say, "See ya!"?

Well, hopefully it works out..


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Darrell Urbien
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Reply with quote  #6 
Apparently they did a good job; mando arrived in one piece and the buyer was impressed with the packing. That was pretty painless.

Woot!

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Darrell Urbien
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