Saturday, February 16, 2013


Here’s how I pack a bluegrass resonator and case.

First, I mark the position of the bridge just for a reference point.  For a newcomer to the bloodsport of bluegrass, I will place an arrow on a visible part of a bridge foot aiming toward the peghead to indicate the orientation of the bridge, which I will remove once I’ve slackened the strings and place in an envelop (marked “BRIDGE”) in the accessories compartment. 

Second, I stuff the accessories compartment with some packing material so the items stored there – sometimes a set of pics, extra strings, etc – won’t clack around when I shake the packed box in order to determine whether the banjo is packed so that there is no movement in the box; I don’t want the sound from the compartment to suggest that the instrument itself is banging around and therefore needs to be repackaged.

Third, I swath the banjo in bubble wrap paying close attention to providing sufficient cushioning for the fifth string peg and the peg head by mummifying both in layers of wrap. 

Ø  The main difference between packing a BG banjo in a hard shell case and packing an open back banjo or any banjo without a case, and any banjo in a soft shell case is this:  in the hard shell case one needs to be careful that the swathing is not thick enough to make it harder to close and secure the top of the case. 

Ø  The bubble wrap needs to fit comfortable between the top of the accessories compartment and the top of the closed case.  If it is too tight, it could be adding extra pressure on the neck that would add to the G-forces on the instrument once boxed and put in the system, where it is probably going to be jostled around.  In short, the top of the case needs to close easily over the neck once the neck is wrapped for protection.

Fourth, I lay down a field of peanuts – or other packing material – so that the peghead is comfortably resting on a soft pillow, which minimizes instrument movement in the case. 

Ø  The key here is to eliminate the possibility of neck whiplash in the event the packed banjo is bounced around in the delivery process. 

Ø  Once again, the case needs to close easily over the top of the peanuts.  The peanuts should not make it harder to shut the case, because that, too, would be subjecting the banjo to stress.  We want stress free banjos as much as we want stress free banjo players (though I don’t recommend bubble wrapping bluegrass banjo players in any transshipment arrangement). 

Fifth, I select a cardboard box that I can reinforce in the interior.  I make certain that there is about two inches fore and aft between the top of the box and the top of the case, and between the bottom of the box and the bottom of the case, for extra cushioning.  I tend to assemble my boxes from large furniture packing boxes.  They tend to be of stout material, and are often already double layered.  I use packing peanuts for cushioning.  Crumbled newspapers is another way to go, but they tend to make for a heavier box.  And in these days of internet news, its harder to find neighbors who have subscriptions to newspapers that they’ll stockpile for your packing requirements.  The electrons that compose internet newspapers just do not provide the necessary protection to anything other than a virtual banjo. 

Sixth, I mix in the peanuts, making sure that they fill the sides and top/bottom in a way that will immobilize the box once the top is secured in place with tape.  Depending on the box, and the volume of peanuts, I will lay down a layer of loose cardboard to keep the peanuts in place, over which I will fit the top to the box.  I fashion those tops of two pieces of cardboard, with the smaller one glued to the larger one for more of that “double boxing” effect. 

Seventh, I tape the top of the box in place with scotch tape type packing tape, and pick the thing up, shake it, and listen for movement in the box.  If the peanuts shift and the case seems to have space enough to move around, I remove the tape and fix the mix of peanuts necessary to hold the case firmly before re-taping the top.   Depending on the box, I might elect to use some reinforced gummed water activated brown paper packing tape over the scotch tape.  This might be overkill, but I tend to that side of the equation in packing banjos.  I aim for the bullet proof packing. 

Eighth, I address the interior of the box before I put the brown paper wrap on the thing as an added level of insurance that, should the label be compromised, lost or rendered unreadable in transit, there’s still a fail safe way of making certain the box’s destination is clear to the delivery service (beyond their documents and shipment manifests).  Again, I know that is overkill.  Indulge me.  Packing banjos is one part technique and method, and two parts superstition.   (To drive home that point I will say that I glue the address labels into place, then put some clear packing tape over them, more overkill/comfort level.)

Ninth, I swath the box in brown wrapping paper, securing the top and bottom, and seams of the wrapping, with reinforced gummed water activated brown paper packing tape.   I place FRAGILE stickers on every surface of the box – top, bottom, sides – so they can be seen however the banjo is stacked for shipment.  I insure for replacement value, and request tracking/delivery confirmation documentation. 

No boxing job is ever the same.  Like snowflakes or fingerprints they are all unique.  Everybody has their own preferred methods/techniques/superstitions governing the job of packing and mailing a banjo. 

There are dividends that spring from the laborious job of carefully packing a banjo and hauling it to the Post Office.  After taking box after box of banjos to our local USPO for mailing, filling out the insurance forms, and answering the questions from the postal clerks about contents and fragility, I had one clerk ask whether I repair these old instruments because his Mom in West Virginia had uncovered an old banjo in the attic that belonged to a great grandfather and was looking to have it restored for pride of place in the family home.   Made a friend, and got a new client for Little Bear Banjo Hospital.

Play hard,


No comments: