I just sold a guitar and need to ship it. Should I loosen the strings before I pack it up for shipping?
Ever so often, this question comes to me–usually from someone who just sold a guitar online, and is about to pack ‘er up for shipping.
There’s a lot of debate out there about whether you should loosen a guitar’s strings before shipping. The debate has become almost a religious one and gets quite heated on guitar forums and such. Here are my thoughts:
I Don’t Loosen Guitar Strings Before Shipping (But That’s Just Me)
Firstly, I never loosen guitar strings before shipping a guitar. I’d just like to throw that out there.
My view is: if this were necessary, then all the major manufacturers–Martin, Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, etc–would do it. Yet, they don’t. I’ve never received a guitar from a manufacturer or big online retailer that has been purposely detuned. A little out-of-tune upon arrival, yes, but that’s the normal result of being knocked around during shipping, climate changes between locations, etc. Whenever you receive a guitar in the mail, it’s almost guaranteed that it’ll not only be out of tune, but probably need a complete setup.
Shipping a guitar with the strings at full tension doesn’t pose any danger to the guitar neck itself. However, there might be some validity to the argument that the headstock is more susceptible to breakage if the guitar takes a bad fall during shipping. The theory is, because the headstock has full string tension pulling it forward already, the sudden pressure of a good smack can be enough to crack the point where the headstock is connected to the guitar.
However, it would need to be a pretty catastrophic fall and the guitar would have to have been packed poorly to begin with.
If You MUST Loosen Guitar Strings Before Shipping…
Now, I fully understand that, for your own peace-of-mind, some of you may still want to loosen the strings before shipping. I get that.
Here’s the deal: If you ARE going to loosen guitar strings partially or completely in preparation for shipping, then you should also loosen the truss rod a proportionate amount (and be sure to let the person on the receiving end know you’ve done this). If you loosen the strings completely–so that there is NO tension–then also loosen the truss rod bolt completely. Turn the truss bolt counter-clockwise until it begins to spin freely.
If you ONLY loosen the strings you’ll have an imbalance where the truss rod is bending the neck backwards with little or no string pressure to pull it the opposite direction. In that case, you may be helping the headstock a bit, but now the neck itself is probably a bit more susceptible to damage during shipping.
A Note About Shipping Nylon-String / Classical / Flamenco Guitars
Nylon string guitars (Classical and Flamenco) can indeed benefit from having the strings loosened (but not totally slack) prior to shipping. This is because these guitars usually don’t have a truss rod. They don’t need one because nylon strings don’t exert enough tension on the neck to warrant a truss rod. The natural rigidity of the neck’s wood is enough to handle the tension. So, you can safely loosen the strings prior to shipping, but you still need to pack the guitar adequately, and this includes padding INSIDE the guitar case as well as outside.
So, in summary, loosening the strings probably isn’t necessary when shipping a guitar. However, if it makes you feel better to loosen them, be sure to also loosen the truss rod (and let the person receiving the guitar know). What is FAR more important is properly packing the guitar, inside the case and outside. The same packing recommendations I give for flying with a guitar apply to shipping as well.
Hope that helps!