Monday, February 4, 2013

A Brief Yet Helpful Guide to Banjo Packing


Here’s a blow by blow explanation of how I pack a banjo for mailing via the US Post Office.

I usually shape my cardboard boxes to fit each banjo, since the old ones on which I work (1) generally come without a case, and (2) are often eccentric sizes – ranging from small scale lady’s banjos and parlor banjos to somewhat larger minstrel banjos.   When I’m packing a modern resonated bluegrass banjo and case, I use commercial boxes because of the basically standard size, shape and weight of the item being mailed.





I usually shape my cardboard boxes to fit each banjo, since the old ones on which I work (1) generally come without a case, and (2) are often eccentric sizes – ranging from small scale lady’s banjos and parlor banjos to somewhat larger minstrel banjos.   When I’m packing a modern resonated bluegrass banjo and case, I use commercial boxes because of the basically standard size, shape and weight of the item being mailed.

I will leave two inches or so on the rim end and the peghead end  so that I can ensure that the bubblewrap and packing peanuts allow a decent pillow of packing material for the banjo. 

The photos here walk through the process of packing a banjo without a case.  Actually, more accurately, in this instance I’m packing the banjo AND a soft shell case.  Packing a banjo for mailing in a hard shell case is a slightly different art form.  I’ll document that drill next time I get a bluegrasser in the shop that needs mailing.

In the instance of a vintage open back of this sort, I lower the tension on the strings and remove the bridge.  I pack the bridge separately.  If possible I will place the packaged bridge behind the dowel stick before I swath the rim in bubble wrap.  Once I have the rim wrapped in two or three plies of bubble wrap, I place a plastic bag over the rim and secure the bag with tape at the neck. 




In the instance of a vintage open back of this sort, I lower the tension on the strings and remove the bridge.  I pack the bridge separately.  If possible I will place the packaged bridge behind the dowel stick before I swath the rim in bubble wrap.  Once I have the rim wrapped in two or three plies of bubble wrap, I place a plastic bag over the rim and secure the bag with tape at the neck. 



I wrap the section between the fifth string peg and the heel in a layer or two of bubble wrap.

As for the fifth string peg, I take a length of bubble wrap, fold it over once or twice and use it to wrap the neck so that the fifth string peg is surrounded by layers of bubblewrap, as though I was bandaging a limb.  Then I swath that in a layer or two of bubblewrap, and move up the neck.

 I swath the peghead the same way I wrapped the fifth string peg area, so that I am building a layer of wrap that protects the peghead the same way I look to protect the button and peg at the fifth string area. 




















I use packing peanuts because they weigh less than crinkled up newspaper, which is cheaper and bio-degradable, but produces a heavier package.  The goal is to use enough peanuts to immobilize the banjo in the cardboard box.  I prefer to “front load” the peanuts into a box that is standing on end rather than lying on a workbench because I can pack them down better – the peanuts compress more easily when they are being fed into an upright box from an open end. 

I take the peanut-filled box closed, and then waterproof it by sealing all the entrances with scotch brand packing tape or a reasonable substitute. 










I try not to use the metal tape, but when I do use it – for construction purposes, aimed at securing a joint for example – I make sure that I layer over it a paper packing tape (thread reinforced, water activated  gum on back of tape. 





I add my name and the addresse’s name to the cardboard box, just as a fail-safe measure in case the address that I affix to the brown paper in which I wrap the box gets spoiled, torn, or hard to read for the postal clerks. 

At this stage I remain attentive to the orientation of the box, and will often sketch out the location of the rim and the peghead so that the recipient has a sense how this thing will come out of the box – but also because I want to be able to indicate which side should be up (peghead end) and which side should be down (tailpiece end).






I use brown wrapping paper to give the package a better look, and secure the seams of the package and the sections of wrapping with commercial grade paper tape, with threat reinforcement and water activated glue. 











I place a fragile STICKER on front, back and all sides of this package, type out the address and glue and tape it to the box – I type the address to make certain that handwriting interpretation does not end up sending my package to Ho Chi Minh City. 










I insure all banjos being mailed, and I request tracking.   Tracking (or Delivery Confirmation) enables a record of the progress of the banjo through the mail, and documents the delivery or non-delivery of the instrument, the latter of which would be the tripwire for making an insurance claim. 

Play hard,

Lew


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