Shipping Your Violin or Viola Bow

What You'll Need

  • A sturdy Bow Case. Cases that hold a single bow are best for safety in shipping.
  • Or: A length of rigid tubing, 32" - 36" in length, with an inside diameter of 2" - 3". PVC tubing can be found at most hardware stores, in the plumbing section. ABS sewer pipe is even better, as it is both lighter and more rigid than PVC. Cardboard tubes are available at USPS and most shipping centers, but, obviously, offer far less protection against bending or crushing.
  • A length of bubble wrap (small bubble) or similar material to cushion the bow inside the tube.
  • Rectangular or triangular shipping box, long enough to contain the shipping tube (above). Boxes that open at the ends are preferable, as they require less tape to seal and can more easily be re-used.
  • Newspaper or other void fill material to cushion the tube within the shipping box.
  • Packing tape to seal the outside of the box.

Preparing Your Bow For Shipment

  • If preparing to ship your bow for service or rehair, inspect it carefully before packing. You might also choose to photograph the tip and frog, as proof of the bow's condition. If the bow is then damaged in shipment, you can show the insurance company before and after photos. And, if the bow comes back with a cracked tip or damaged slide, you can show the shop who did the work that it was not like that when you sent it to them. Inspect the area around the tip carefully for cracks or other damage. It is not uncommon for ivory tip-plates to become cracked near the mortise, and it's best to notice this yourself, before shipping the bow for service. (Also it's dangerous to rehair a bow with a cracked tip-plate, as it could result in a cracked tip!)
  • Make the hair very loose. Of course, don't loosen so much that the screw falls out; but, you want all the tension taken off the hair before shipping. Your bow may be exposed to very dry (low humidity) conditions while in transit. (Imagine your bow sitting in a hot and dusty warehouse.) As a result, the hair my tighten considerably while in the box. Too much tension could cause damage to the bow. (For the same reason, we recommend sending particularly valuable bows early in the week - to avoid having your bow sit in a hot/cold/dry warehouse over the weekend.)
  • Place a card with your return address and phone number inside the box, in case the label on the outside of the box becomes damaged or unreadable.

Pack Your Bow

  • Gently roll your bow up in bubble wrap (small bubble) and insert it into the rigid tube (above). Pad the ends of the bow well with additional bubble wrap.
  • Or, simply put the bow into your bow case, if you have one. Depending on the case, you may need to pad the ends of the bow within the case with foam or similarly soft material. Cases that hold a single bow usually hold the bow securely and do not need additional padding. But, cases that hold multiple bows generally need additional padding at the bow's tip, since the bows are typically free to slide around within the case when the lid is closed, banging into the sides of the case and sometimes into each other.
  • Place the tube or case inside the rectangular or triangular shipping box. We do not recommend sending round parcels, as they have a tendency to roll away and are more likely to be lost in shipment.
  • Seal the ends of the box well with packing tape. Sealing all open seams of the box will help to prevent water infiltration, and will slow air exchange (helping to keep humidity and temperature within the box constant).
  • Cover or mark out any old labels or writing on the outside of the box.

Choosing a Shipping Service

  • UPS, Fedex, and the U.S. Postal Service all offer fairly reliable shipping services. We use USPS Priority or Express Mail, as this tends to be the least expensive option for a package of this size and weight. And, although we experience occasional delays - sometimes as long as several weeks when something really goes wrong - we've had very few actual losses with USPS.
  • Select a service with a tracking number. USPS calls this, "Delivery Confirmation". You may also wish to require a signature upon delivery, to avoid having the package left on the recipient's front porch in the snow, or where it might be stolen. USPS calls this, "Signature Confirmation". Another advantage of using USPS: If the recipient is not available to sign for the package at the time of delivery, he or she can simply stop by the local post office to pick it up. (Signature confirmation is free with Express Mail service.)
  • Consider expedited service. Express services tend to get the best treatment, are exposed to the elements and danger of loss for a shorter amount of time, and often get you better service when something does go wrong.
  • Consider purchasing insurance. All shipping services occasionally lose packages. And, you will only be reimbursed if you declare the full value of your bow (and purchase insurance) at the time of shipment. Unfortunately, shipping insurance is costly. And, the more valuable your bow, the more it will cost. Obtaining insurance for valuable bows is exceedingly complicated, and there are numerous loop-holes that can prevent your receiving any compensation. And, some UPS locations will not handle packages that are over a certain value Always check carefully with the shipping service, and ask about coverage limits before purchasing insurance. Also, check with your home or renters insurance policy to see if the bow might already be covered. Or, consider insurance specifically for your instrument and bow, which may cover not just shipping, but also accidental damage, fire, theft, and more.
  • If shipping to a post office box, be sure to use USPS, not UPS or Fedex.

Ship Your Bow

  • Verify the shipping address, and include the full zip+4 zip code. Using the full code reduces handling and the likelihood of a mistake being made. You can look up the full zip code at usps.com.
  • Purchase the appropriate postage from your chosen shipping company, apply the label to the package, and drop the package off at the post office or appropriate shipping center.
  • Avoid the common mistake of shipping a UPS package at the post office, or vice versa.
  • Ask for a receipt, showing when and where you dropped the package off. You can't collect insurance if you can't prove that you shipped the package.
  • Keep the tracking number and receipt in a safe place.

Tracking Your Shipment

Shipments can be tracked at usps.com, ups.com, and fedex.com. UPS and Fedex offer more detailed and up-to-date tracking than USPS, so don't be alarmed if you don't see much information on a USPS shipment - that's perfectly normal. USPS Priority Mail is not a guaranteed service, so don't be surprised if it takes longer to get there than the estimated two or three days. USPS Express Mail is more reliable, but still gets delayed by a day or two rather frequently. (You can request a refund for Express Mail shipments that arrive late.)

When Things Go Wrong

If your package is delayed, there is very little that you can do about it, other than wait and see. (There is also very little that the folks at your local post office can do about it, so be nice to them.) Most USPS packages will show up, eventually. When there is bad weather, or over the Christmas season, if something goes wrong, your package may be delayed for a week or more. But, it is likely to show up, in the end. With UPS and Fedex, delays are less likely. And, they will usually note the reason for any delay in the tracking information. But, if the package mysteriously disappears while in route, it is unlikely ever to be seen again.

If you do need to investigate a problem with a USPS package, your best bet is to contact the local post office at the destination zip code. (You can look up the phone number online by entering the zip code and the words "post office" in Google.) If the package says, "Delivered" and has not been received, then ask to speak with the carrier who supposedly delivered it. Note: The general USPS customer service number will only ignore you, or direct you to your local post office.

To submit an insurance claim, visit usps.com, ups.com, or fedex.com, as appropriate.