“I just sold a guitar and need to ship it. Should I loosen the strings before I pack it up for shipping?”
There’s a lot of debate out there about whether you should loosen a guitar’s strings before shipping. Fact is, no one really knows for sure whether this is necessary or not. So, the best I can do here is give my my opinion based on having shipped and received a few guitars over the years.
I Don’t Loosen Guitar Strings Before Shipping
Firstly, I never loosen guitar strings before shipping a guitar. I’d just like to throw that out there. Here’s why:
If loosening strings were necessary or provided some kind of benefit, then all the major manufacturers like Martin, Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, etc. would do it. Yet, they don’t. I’ve never received a guitar from a manufacturer or big online retailer that has been purposely detuned. A little out-of-tune upon arrival, yes, but that’s the normal result of being knocked around during shipping, climate changes between locations, etc.
Shipping a guitar with the strings at full tension doesn’t pose any danger to the guitar neck itself. However, there might be some validity to the argument that the headstock is more susceptible to breakage if the guitar takes a bad fall during shipping. The theory is, because the headstock has full string tension pulling it forward already, the sudden pressure of a good smack can be enough to crack the point where the headstock is connected to the guitar.
However, it would need to be a pretty catastrophic fall and the guitar would have to have been packed poorly to begin with.
If You Insist on Loosening Strings Before Shipping
Now, I fully understand that, for your own peace-of-mind, some out there may still want to loosen the strings before shipping. I get it.
Here’s the deal: If you ARE going to loosen guitar strings, only loosen them a little–no more than a half-step or a whole-step at the most. If the guitar has a floating Floyd Rose style tremolo, be sure it doesn’t tilt back so far that it rests on the body. If it does, then block it (place something semi-soft underneath to support it).
If you want to completely loosen the strings so that they’re actually slack, then you should also loosen the truss rod completely (and be sure to let the person on the receiving end know you’ve done this). Turn the truss bolt counter-clockwise until it just begins to spin freely.
If you ONLY loosen the strings you’ll have an imbalance where the truss rod is bending the neck backwards with little or no string pressure to pull it the opposite direction. In that case, you may be helping the headstock a bit, but now the neck itself is probably a bit more susceptible to damage during shipping.
Shipping Nylon-String, Classical, or Flamenco Guitars
Nylon string guitars (Classical and Flamenco) can indeed benefit from having the strings loosened (but not totally slack) prior to shipping. This is because these guitars usually don’t have a truss rod. They don’t need one because nylon strings don’t exert enough tension on the neck to warrant a truss rod. The natural rigidity of the neck’s wood is enough to handle the tension. So, you can safely loosen the strings prior to shipping, but you still need to pack the guitar adequately, and this includes padding INSIDE the guitar case as well as outside.
So, in summary, loosening the strings probably isn’t necessary when shipping a guitar. However, if it makes you feel better to loosen them, then only loosen them a little… no more than a half-step or whole-step, at most. What is FAR more important is properly packing the guitar, inside the case and outside. The same packing recommendations I give for flying with a guitar apply to shipping as well.
Hope that helps!