Tips For Moving An Instrument Collection

Moving can be both an absolute high and a depressing low. It brings the excitement of new beginnings, but also the terrible pain of boxing, loading, and then unpacking your seemingly endless amount of possessions. I've moved five times in the last five years due to my profession. Each move was more terrible than the last. Moving becomes especially tricky when you have a musical instrument collection - in my case, a stack of guitars. After the move is complete, getting your collection to optimal conditions again is a task many gloss over, but is equally important to the process.

I have an embarrassing amount of instruments by the standards of a non-player, and moving them is always a unique challenge. Most of us have instruments at many price-points, but few own those indestructible metal road cases that you can toss out a window for each instrument. Like most non-professional players, I have some guitars in good hard cases, some in iffy hard cases, some in gig bags (of varying quality), and some with no cases at all.

Moving your gear is usually best handled personally. For some reason, non-players seem to think that instruments can be shoved and stacked like logs. To you as a player, it's like transporting Faberge eggs. I've never let movers or friends help in instrument moving. Neither should you. It's best to preserve the friendship and not constantly yell at your movers.

Here are some tips for moving your collection as painless and broken-neck-free as possible:

Keep Your Shipping Boxes

The best moving method I've found for guitars and basses is to get as many cardboard guitar case shipping boxes as you can get. Usually music stores are happy to give a few without much issue. These are great when moving guitars without hard cases. I use sheets/towels/laundry to pad the bottom of the box, put the guitar (in a gig bag) in the box, and then lightly pack fabric on either side of the neck. This keeps the guitar stable, and “floating” in the box. When packed in this way, how you transport them will be very forgiving. I also slacken the strings a bit to reduce possible strain during the move.

See some tips for packing guitars.
Pack Horizontally

Once your guitars/basses are packed as above, you can now feel more confident in loading them into any car or truck. Packed in this way, it is best to lay them lengthwise across a seat. Also, don't stack them. Put the instruments next to each other, not one on top of another. The back seat of my four door car easily fits four guitars in boxes, and one on top of the stack. Also, if you have a longer drive to your new place, keeping the instruments in the back seat is safer than in the trunk, as the heat or cold swings in an unventilated trunk can seriously damage an instrument.

Watch For Odd Shapes & Headstocks

Without a doubt the hardest instruments to move successfully are ones with odd shapes, such as V's, Explorers, Xiphos, and other non-standard guitars. I have a Gibson Flying V, for which I do not have a hard case, and it is by far the most worrisome to move. This is especially troublesome as my V has the longer pointy headstock rather than the shorter rounded style. For this guitar, I use a bass shipping box (for extra room), and pay special attention to making sure the headstock is wrapped well. If you have a really odd-shaped guitar, an acoustic shipping box can usually accommodate the extremes.

Make Multiple Trips If You Need To

If you don't have enough space, don't try and force it. No need to break something when another trip is possible. During my last in-town move, I was able to make several trips without worrying about guitars crushing each other or something coming loose and falling on an instrument. I find it easiest to move the instruments in groups that are similar, such as acoustics in one batch and electrics in another.

Unpacking The Collection

Now that you've reached your new place, it's time to get them inside. If you can, I recommend moving them in last to avoid other items knocking into your instruments as you unpack everything else. I tend to bring all of the instruments into one room and lay them flat in the cases/boxes for the night. I do this to begin the acclimatization process and to start learning the weather zones of my new place.

Know The Weather Zones

Setting up the optimal space for your instruments is key to maintaining their health. We've talked before about temperature and humidity, and these factors are vitally important in your storage space. The cost of a hygrometer will always be less than a humidity related repair. Take a few days before unpacking the instruments and get a feel for drafty spots, hot spots from sun exposure, and moist and dry areas. A little reconnaissance will go a long way.

Let The Instruments Acclimatize

Leaving the instruments in the boxes and packing material lets them acclimatize at a steady rate. This prevents “shocking” the instruments, something that can cause finish checks, neck shifts, and warping. Your instruments went from one environment to another. Ripping them open and pounding away can be detrimental. Once the instruments are acclimatized, you can bring them back up to speed. This will take longer in a winter move, so be patient.

Slowly Bring Them Back to Playable Form

Getting the instruments to optimal playing condition does not happen overnight. Once you have the instruments in a stable environment, begin tuning them up. Some people slacken all the strings significantly for a long move, especially if the boxes are going to bounce around. For a short move with stable packing, keeping the strings at pitch is not as much of an issue. Once you've got all the the instruments back to pitch, you can evaluate if other tweaking is needed, like truss rod adjustments.

With these tips in mind you can keep your instruments happy and healthy. I've moved 15+ instruments many times over the years and never had any damage. I've also been lucky enough to have my collection so stable that my guitars generally stay in tune even when sitting for a while. This also means I've been able to save significantly on set-up costs (and repairs) over the years.

What tips do you have for moving a collection? Any horror stories? Let us know in the comments below.

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