Tips on Packing Banjos for Long Distance Customers
Packing the banjos for shipping can be tricky.
LOOSEN THE STRINGS. REMOVE THE BRIDGE.
The banjo itself should be swathed in bubble wrap, and placed in a cardboard box that is then filled to capacity with packing peanuts, or wadded up newspapers. Take extra care to wrap the peghead and the tuners in an extra thick layer so that the tuners aren't exposed to the risk of being bent. Wrap it like a mummy.
In the end, though old newspapers are plentiful, the box will weigh more and cost more to ship. It might be worth your while to buy the peanuts. The box could be reused to ship 'em back to you.
The trick is to make absolutely certain that the banjo is essentially suspended in a total bed of peanuts, packed tightly, and that there is no movement in the box once sealed.
The most costly damage to a banjo in shipping comes when the package is jostled and the banjo moves in a way that whiplashes the neck, so that the peghead is strained. The most vulnerable part of the banjo is the juncture between the peghead and the nut. It's not impossible to repair a break at that point, but it is difficult and can cost a lot since it involves some strategic pinning and usually an entire neck refinishing.
Peanuts settle, so you'll have to tamp them down.
I usually use a box that is two inches taller than the banjo -- one inch one each end. The box should allow one or two inches in the front and the back of the banjo.
I also use brown packing tape, the kind you cut to length, wet, and apply. Scotch-tape like packing tape is sufficient, but it doesn’t lend that strapping reinforcement to the outside of the package.
My own view of commercial packing services is that they never get it right. Further, music stores rarely get it right. I think you'd be better off packing the thing yourself.
I would recommend insuring the banjo for an amount that represents the minimum it might take to replace yours with banjos of similar make and period of manufacture.
Make certain you have plenty of detailed photos for insurance purposes, just in case.
I use the U.S. Post Office. UPS can be costly for a heavier banjo, unless you have a corporate or business account with them. They charge a princely sum for packing. I'm not convinced they do a job sufficient to make certain that the banjo won't suffer whiplash.
Note: John Bernunzio of Bernunzio instruments has a good explanation of how to pack a banjo on his website.
WHEN YOU PACK A BANJO FOR MAILING IN THE HARD SHELL CASE you still need to make certain that the banjo is immobilized in the case. Any side to side jostling will put a strain on the neck and risk breakage. You need to secure the banjo with bubble wrap or other filler INSIDE THE CASE to make sure there is no possibility that the banjo can shift and move once secured in the case. The case itself, inserted into the mailing box, needs to be immobilized with packing material -- again, I think packing peanuts make for a lighter package.