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Alembic Club » Alembic Basses & Guitars » Archive: 2007 » Archive through July 18, 2007 » Shipping instruments, damage, road cases &such things « Previous Next »

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Senior Member
Username: the_8_string_king

Post Number: 500
Registered: 9-2005
Posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - 8:23 pm:   Edit Post

I raised some questions to Mica earlier today on a thread in "troubleshooting"... but am putting it here because it is something that potentially affects other club members, and other club members may have questions of their own, and/or want to include their input.

I may have to send or personally deliver my custom 8-String Europa to the "Mothership" at some point in the near future to address a problem with the balance control. Hopefully not, but it has sophisticated custom electronics, and the symptoms seem complicated. Additionally, I've also ordered a replacement for my stolen 6-String which will probably be ready to ship in the not-too-distant future.

I know of several people who have had SERIOUS problems with instruments being damaged or even TOTALED by UPS and FedEx. It seems clear that both of these companies have earned poor reputations for shipping instruments safely, and for honoring their insurance when they damage them. My friend Tim shipped a custom made acoustic bass thru FedEx. He MADE a custom made case special for the bass, and packaged it in front of them. They totaled his bass and crushed the case and bass. A black and white case. And they wouldn't pay for insurance.

He didn't have the money for a lawyer, and let it go... but he won't use them or UPS for anything -ever. I've also found more than one "horror story" here on this very site. At this point, I've at least skimmed through EVERY thread in showcase and FTC, and found a couple pretty disturbing and egregious examples of misconduct -though I can't recall or refer to the exact threads.

But it raises some questions that I'm curious about:

(1) who does Alembic use to ship their instruments these days?

(2) what happens when a customer's instrument is destroyed? Or damaged? Does the customer have the option of getting a new instrument... or is it left to the whim/discretion of someone other than the customer? Does Alembic decide, the insurance company, the carrier? How does it work?

(3) What is the current state/standard of the cases Alembic uses? Mica bluntly told me months ago that increasing incidences of damage -from UPS, I'm pretty sure, correct me if I'm wrong- was leading Alembic to redesign their cases to make them more durable. What is the state of this initiative? How improved are the standard cases, and how improved are the road cases?

Getting an Alembic is no small thing. It's expensive, and it's emotionally intense. We're buying dreams here, folks. It's wonderful when the dream arrives... but a broken dream can be a nightmare.

I'd like to know the answers to these questions, and I'm sure I'm not alone. How does it work? Who ships the instruments, who is responsable for making sure they get to their owners safely, and who takes care of it when problems occur? What is the level of input/control that the owner/buyer has. For example, if my peghead has broken during shipping, I'd want and expect a new bass... NOT a repair. And I certainly wouldn't want Alembic or my insurance company (Heritage) to get screwed.

But I certainly could not afford to get screwed myself. I'd never order the instrument if their were any possibilty of it. I'd get one from a store that I could go in and play and inspect.

Anyway... what's the scoop? Inquiring (and righteously paranoid) minds want to know!

Based on what I've heard, their should be a class action lawsuit again UPS and perhaps FedEx too... but I have no idea at all how this should proceed. And, fortunately, I haven't had the misfortune of having an instrument damaged (yet... "knock on wood"...). But I avoid shipping instruments at all costs. I may well end up flying to Alembic and driving back with my new baby when the time comes.
Intermediate Member
Username: bassjigga

Post Number: 182
Registered: 8-2005
Posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - 8:40 pm:   Edit Post

I'm interested in responses to this thread also with my custom in the works. I've considered picking it up myself but it's a long drive from Orange County to Santa Rosa and getting time off work might complicate that.
Advanced Member
Username: edwin

Post Number: 228
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - 9:58 pm:   Edit Post

Orange County? That's about the same amount of driving I did to get to my gig this weekend in Telluride. I think it's well worth it. I intend to drive back to Santa Rosa when my Series I refinish is finished this summer.

Intermediate Member
Username: bassjigga

Post Number: 183
Registered: 8-2005
Posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - 10:30 pm:   Edit Post

Yeah I probably will. I'm paranoid about shipping. Another thought is to fly and then rent a car to drive back with the bass.
Advanced Member
Username: tbrannon

Post Number: 360
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 2:08 am:   Edit Post

Just my $.02, but if I were you, I'd make the drive. Vegas to Santa Rosa isn't all that bad a drive and is an easy- albeit somewhat long day. If the 8-string has to go back, you could always drive it back and pick up the 6 at the same time....

Additionally, when I purchased my Rogue from another club member, I HAD to use FedEx. The bass case was too large and USPS and UPS wouldn't accept it. FedEx was expensive, but mine got here safe and sound.

David- I'd make the drive for sure from OC- I've gone Irvine to Petaluma and back in a day.....

Senior Member
Username: kmh364

Post Number: 2117
Registered: 9-2003
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 5:16 am:   Edit Post

Personally, unless you can hand-deliver your baby, I wouldn't ship using any carrier until I had the thing wrapped in a flight case.

I suppose if you pad the OHSC to the hilt inside and outside and double-wrap it in HD cardboard, the thing might be safe. Just be aware that my Series One came shipped that way, and the carrier still found a way to bounce it hard enough to cause a finish crack at the headstock/FB junction (around the scarf joint) and wreck the central case latch.

I had no such problem when Alembic shipped my custom Orion in the OEM ATA flight case.

I've wanted to ship the Series back to the mothership for upgrades/repairs, but until it's in a flight case, it's not leaving here unless I'm hand-carrying the thing. The OHSC just isn't enough protection, IMHO.

Just my two cents.
Username: mcdonap

Post Number: 21
Registered: 2-2007
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 5:47 am:   Edit Post

This isn't an answer - just another related question: I know it costs more, but what about having the bass packed by a packing/shipping store? I heard that if it's packed by one of these places, insurance claims are more likely to be honored. (I don't know for sure if that's true.)
I know that no one wants to spend more than necessary, but it might be worth it if the bass was damaged.
Senior Member
Username: dannobasso

Post Number: 510
Registered: 3-2004
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 5:52 am:   Edit Post

I have only had instruments delivered by major carriers. I just sent back a special Essense 5 via insured UPS to Alembic. It was in an original case with old shirts for extra protection, cardboad box leftover from last Alembic, peanuts and old shirts and sweaters for the ends. I would love to be able to go there in person to pick up or deliver my stuff but that is not an option as yet. If i lived within driving distance I would not hesitate to make a long drive. Remember these folks are extremely dedicated and accomodating. I'm sure they could meet you on a weekend if that was your only option due to work. Flying has its own little variables as well (that has been covered in other threads). It comes down to luck, packaging and the amount of resources you have to ensure a safe delivery. But you have to admit that far more instruments arrive safely compared to the casualities. I put my faith to the test each time but I guess that's what makes for an interesting life experience.
Advanced Member
Username: 2400wattman

Post Number: 328
Registered: 11-2005
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 6:08 am:   Edit Post

A club member bought my Distillate. so when I boxed it up and took it to the UPS store I wanted it insured for $2,000.00 and they told me that the shape my box was in (two boxes put together with peanuts & newspaper for stuffing) it could not be insured for that. I had to have them package with there boxes and stuffing. Got to the buyer with no problems. As far as driving to the "Mothership", as long as I can get there in a day (which to me involves MORE than 8 hours driving) I would do it in a Dixie second! If you can avoid letting some jerk get his hands on your baby you'd better do it and save yourself some grief/paranoia.
Senior Member
Username: tom_z

Post Number: 517
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 8:06 am:   Edit Post

Mark - like Danno, and many others, I've taken my chances and not had a problem with shipping from or to Alembic via UPS - lucky, I guess. Alembic packs with care and I did as well when I sent my guitar in for some TLC.

Also, I've made the drive to the mother ship - it's really a fairly pleasant drive from Southern Nevada - and I'm not big fan of being cooped up in a car for hours. Pretty much plan on two full days to make the round trip comfortable - though it could probably be done in a single 24 hour jam. When my custom Further is finished I'm likely going to drive up to Santa Rosa. If the timing works out I'll try to spend a few days in Northern California.

On the other hand, if I can't get away when the guitar is done, I'll trust Alembic and the numbers of successfully shipped instruments and have it shipped. It would be cool if our instruments were finished near the same time - we could carpool it. :-)

Senior Member
Username: bsee

Post Number: 1540
Registered: 3-2004
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 8:12 am:   Edit Post

My custom had a few issues and needs to be sent back. I have been hesitating to do it, hoping I would have a reason to fly out there and hand-carry it. In addition to the potential for further damage to occur to the bass and/or case, there's an issue of cost. Even shipping FedEx Ground would cost most of $100 when you throw in insurance to cover the replacement cost of the instrument. From Mark's other comments, I'd have to believe that at least he agrees that we've paid enough for these basses. I don't want to incur either the cost or the risk of that return shipment. If you don't want your baby crossing the country in a truck, then using 2-Day air puts the price up to about $200 for one-way shipping, not including packaging materials. That's from the east coast and I can't imagine the pain the Europeans feel when something like this occurs.

To directly respond to the original post here, I suppose it depends on who is doing the shipping and insuring. Alembic may not pay for insurance on things they ship, choosing to play the law of averages and incur the cost of repair and replacements when necessary. They might also have that covered through general business insurance. Alembic sometimes ships direct to the customer, and sometimes to a retailer. That retailer probably collected shipping costs from you, including insurance, and that puts it on the carrier to cover replacement expenses, the same as if you ship your instrument back to them.

It is not Alembic's responsibility to give you a discount on repairs or replacement if an instrument is damaged through shipping. They may do so, and you hear stories about their generosity when an issue arises, but it certainly isn't their responsibility. I have the regular hard shell case and it certainly seems to be of very high quality and protective. It's not a flight case, and isn't intended to be, but pretty solid.

Another question was repair or replace. I suspect that it depends upon the level of damage incurred and if the instrument can be made truly whole again through repair. A broken knob or scratched up hardware would probably be replaced. Scratched up finish should probably be stripped and redone. Severe things like a snapped pieces or dents into the wood probably call for a rebuild paid for by someone's insurance. I think the owner gets some power to make this call, but within reason.

One other note here. I shipped a bass using FedEx a couple weeks ago. They insisted that, if it was to be insured above $500, that they needed to open the packaging and inspect it to ensure that damage would not occur as a result of irresponsible packaging. There's another FedEx facility that doesn't do this, so it may not be a full corporate policy at this point. I think it's a good idea if it will result in quicker claim payment when there is a problem.
Advanced Member
Username: dfung60

Post Number: 242
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 10:40 am:   Edit Post

This is always a quandry and cause for churning guts.

Although you often see the handling of instruments by shippers presented as abuse, I don't think that's normally the cause of damage. The problem is that a long, thin, heavy AND delicate package is going to be a problem to handle in a world that's mostly dealing with boxes with 2 DVDs inside. That's not to say that there are no cases of outright intentional abuse, but I think in most case, I suspect the handers along the way don't give a damn about what's in the box as long as they don't have to carry it too far.

Shipping insurance is also a bit of a problem. Just like theft insurance, the issue here is valuation of the instrument. If you think your bass is worth $12,000, the shipper will (probably, more below) be happy to sell you that amount of insurance, but in the event that there are damages, the insurance adjuster may contest your valuation if you can't back it up with a recent formal appraisal. If you are taking delivery of a new bass that you just bought, the receipt is iron-clad proof, but if you've owned the instrument for years and are sending it for repair, or it is a used instrument, then you could easily be challenged on a claim. You might argue that the value of an instrument that you've owned for 8 years has increased, but, as has often been discussed here, the reality is that the market value of a used instrument is probably unchanged at best and a new instrument will only be worth a fraction of the original price. Although replacement value may have increased dramatically during the time you've owned your instrument, I don't think that helps your instrument's appraisal value much other that a small uplift in used prices.

So, if you go with the shipper's insurance, you may end up in the sad situation of having paid some nominal sum for insurance that wasn't worth anything. If you had an instrument that you thought was worth $5000 but ended up with a $2000 settlement, then you can end up with no Alembic and no ability to buy a new one (or a similar used one).

In the case of FedEx, there's actually a specific limitation of a maximum of $500 declared valuation on guitars over 20 years old or with customization or personalization. Generally, this $500 limit applies for anything where there's an element of collectability, is not easily replaceable, or is hard to formally value. They have external insurance carriers that write insurance on stuff like this, or you need to find your own.

There's often some discussions here about musical instrument insurance from specialized agents. Although this will be much more expensive than shipper's insurance, you'll have much better chances of being made whole if there's a problem going this route. I don't have this kind of insurance, but it seems like posters who do have had good results. Shipper's insurance will be much more effective if you can get a formal appraisal of the condition and current valuation right before you send it. The cost of doing this should be peanuts compared to the value of these instruments.

Of course, the best thing is to not have damage in the first place. The key thing is to make sure that the instrument can't move around at all inside the case during shipping, which means extra foam padding or bubble wrap to immobilize it in the case. You need a really solid packing box (no small feat), not one that's torn, pieced together or otherwise lacking integrity. If you can find a box big enough (raid your local music store for a keyboard box) and you're handy, I think you could build a crate-like cage around the case with 1x4 and 1/4" plywood that would provide a pretty heavy level of protection without costing very much.

David Fung
Senior Member
Username: jazzyvee

Post Number: 821
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 10:40 am:   Edit Post

I had my Orion guitar bought from a shop via ebay, shipped to me from Germany and it was in a generic ATX case that was packed inside Gibson Les Paul cardboard box and taped up etc etc.

When that arrived it was apparent that the case was not the right size one for the guitar as there was lots of space for the guitar to get jiggled about during transit.

In actual fact during transit the guitar was banged about to such an extent that they were stiff having being pushed against the guitar body.

Fortunately there was no damage and after I opened up the back and adjusted the nuts and washers, put a new battery in, it sprung to life and is ok.

I think If I was in a position to order a new alembic I'd rather fly over to collect it and bring it back myself on the plane as hand luggage rather than have it shipped. Make an occasion of it, have a holiday and have a look round the mothership connection.
Username: mica

Post Number: 4423
Registered: 6-2000
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 11:49 am:   Edit Post

While it's true that I feel shipping damage is going up, it's going up from 1 piece every 4 years to one piece every year. Of course, if it's your Alembic that gets damaged, it's an entirely different story.

The main horror story for shipping was a refinish in an old road case. We now require you to purchase a new case when we do refinish work - it's part of the cost. I don't think you'll be hearing of this sort of damage again. The other one was where a peghead was severed on a bass, but it was undeniable that somewhere from here to there the carrier opened the box, damaged the bass and resealed it. Like David, I think it's rare and most folks at the carriers just want to get the boxes delivered.

What I discussed with you, Mark, was the exterior packaging and the terrible road case I received for Rami. As you already know, I am using a different road case maker, and am quite satisfied with their work (Rami was too). Still, we wrap a new road case in cardboard when shipping by common carrier.

Now UPS has lots of large, heavy boxes all going on conveyor belts. Historically, guitars and basses were about the biggest things the UPS delivered, they didn't fit on their conveyors, and in fact, they received special handling.

I feel that UPS, FedEX, DHL all about equally stink. In our recent experience, large overnight packages get handled much more abusively than 2 or 3 day servces. Ground service can anlso be 2 or 3 days if you live close enough to your destination.

Other suggestions about sensible packaging are good. Immobilization, durable containers, reinforced tape all will help the instrument get safely to its destination.

All packages are shipped insured with the carrier when they leave Alembic. What happens when there is damage depends on the extent of damage. You are free to purchase additional insurance, but the carrier's insurance is always in place.

We do have plywood shipping crates available that fit around our normal shipping cartons with extra foam linings. Right now these are $185 additional (there is no dealer discount, this is a direct reimbursement). Since this will be heavier, expect the freight charges to be be higher than usual.

Never check a bass or guitar on an airline if it's at all possible. This type of transportation has the HIGHEST rate of theft and damage (I get reports of 8-10 per year). Plus, most airlines have a $300 limit on checked items, so you certainly need additional quality insurance. You used to be able to purchase an additional seat and belt the case in place, but I'm not sure if those rules have changed.
Advanced Member
Username: lothartu

Post Number: 220
Registered: 8-2003
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 2:14 pm:   Edit Post

Thank you stewardess. I'll just have a Coke; but my bass here would love another vodka tonic.

- Jim
Senior Member
Username: olieoliver

Post Number: 1244
Registered: 2-2006
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 2:20 pm:   Edit Post

I don't let my bass drink anymore, everytime it does it comes out of it's G-string.
Advanced Member
Username: lothartu

Post Number: 221
Registered: 8-2003
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 2:20 pm:   Edit Post

Just to add something constructive...

I had a bad experience with FedEx recently. I purchased an item a little bit before Christmas. As a result the item was shipped to me during the time when lots of packages are being shipped all over. The carriers hire seasonal help so the odds of a safe delivery just went way down.

My item arrived and the box looked like Ace Ventura went postal on it (pun intended). I've now learned my lesson which is "If I'm going to gamble and have an item shipped to me by a major carrier then I'm not going to do it during a time when they hire less skilled seasonal help."

- Jim
Username: jbybj

Post Number: 62
Registered: 6-2006
Posted on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 - 4:50 pm:   Edit Post

I don't really know, but it wouldn't surprise me if in a statistical comparison, driving your instrument home over a long distance, turned out to be more risky than having it shipped. Maybe it's my advancing years, or maybe it's 24 hour news, but we seem to be living in fear of so much these days. My advice is to pack it well, insure it, ship it, then go seek pleasure and joy. The Bay Area is a great vacation spot though......
Senior Member
Username: the_8_string_king

Post Number: 507
Registered: 9-2005
Posted on Thursday, April 12, 2007 - 8:49 pm:   Edit Post

Thanks for your responses everyone.

Tom, my gal and I are pretty much planning to drive up to pick up my bass when it's ready, and drop off the 8-String for repair -unless Ron and Mica can diagnose the problem and facilitate a repair without having to make a trip.

There's NO WAY I'd send my 8-String thru these turkey carriers... it's too expensive and unique. Even though Heritage covers it, I just wouldn't want to deal with it. For all I know, the problems I have may have been the result of the 4 times it's already been shipped.

So, I may be interested in doing the carpool with you -depending on whether our instruments are ready at or about the same time.

By the way, if all goes well, we'll be moving into our 1st house in the next couple weeks... it's near Rainbow and Alta... fairly close to you right? I'll invite you over for a coffee and a jam when we move in. It's virtually a done deal at this point -barring some big unexpected "x factor."
Advanced Member
Username: tbrannon

Post Number: 365
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Thursday, April 12, 2007 - 8:57 pm:   Edit Post


Congratulations on the house purchase~

I think you're making a good move by planning to drive there for a personal delivery.
Senior Member
Username: lbpesq

Post Number: 2301
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Friday, April 13, 2007 - 7:26 am:   Edit Post

Tom & Mark:

If you have the time when you come through, give me a heads up and I can grab a drummer and put a jam together at my studio. I've got some extra amps there you guys can use.

Bill, tgo
Senior Member
Username: tom_z

Post Number: 518
Registered: 7-2004
Posted on Friday, April 13, 2007 - 7:55 am:   Edit Post

Mark - congrats on your home purchase. Yes, it's pretty close to my neighborhood. Touch base when you're settled.

Bill - that would be a blast! I toyed with the idea of making the drive for the Northern California Alembic gathering-of-the-tribes, but I've been pretty slammed at work lately and just couldn't squeeze it in this time.

Senior Member
Username: the_8_string_king

Post Number: 509
Registered: 9-2005
Posted on Friday, April 13, 2007 - 4:48 pm:   Edit Post

Hey Bill, thanks for the offer. I'd love to visit and do a little playin' witcha, if all the variables could flow together!

Tom, thanks for the word. I've thought about emailing you and getting together for a coffee and/or beer and or jam... but you're on the other side of town, I do most of my commuting by bike, and it seems... I dunno... unclassy to ask you to come see me since I can't haul my bass and amp on my bike! On the other hand, if it's just a couple of blocks, then I feel comfortable with it!

I'll be in touch!

Yeah, chances are VERY GOOD I'll go up to pick up the bass & get "8 Strings of Power" serviced. The biggest factor is whether it's necessary to get the problem on the 8 String fixed. Now I'd be delighted if it wasn't/isn't necessary. At this point, there's no way to tell. Mica's gonna try and arrange for Ron to look at my notes on the subject, and at the schematics of my bass, to see if a "remote" solution can be effectively troubleshooted... it might be as simple as sending me a replacement pan pot. Or it might not be. I just don't know at this point, and I may (or may not) know in a week or two.

If it IS necessary to have Alembic repair it, I will most definetely take it to them. The 8-String is just too unique and irreplacable to entrust to the goons at UPS or FedEx -even if/though it's insured. In this case, carpooling and/or visiting would become attractive objectives to pursue. :-)
Username: estring

Post Number: 17
Registered: 9-2003
Posted on Friday, May 04, 2007 - 11:50 pm:   Edit Post

Hey,I just read that their may be another Alembic
Gathering,do you guys know when the next one is?I Am waiting on a instrument right now through Alembic but it would still be fun to meet you guys and bring the bass I have or if I get My Alembic beforehand and attend!I Am in Southern California but it would be deffinetly worth the drive!
Username: dtrice

Post Number: 54
Registered: 10-2006
Posted on Sunday, May 06, 2007 - 4:29 pm:   Edit Post

I was wondering who makes the road cases that Alembic sells? I assume that they are ATA rated. No? I am considering buying a road case for my next Alembic, either from Alembic or through a third party (i.e. Anvil, etc.).
Intermediate Member
Username: chuck

Post Number: 121
Registered: 3-2005
Posted on Sunday, May 06, 2007 - 4:45 pm:   Edit Post

Check my last post in dreaming for now [custom cases] and go to their website.
Username: davehouck

Post Number: 5025
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Monday, May 07, 2007 - 2:43 pm:   Edit Post

Christopher; the only current gatherings discussions I recall reading about are the European in this section of the board and the Mid-West in the Showcase section. There was a North Carolina discussion that got put on hold; and it seems to me there was a brief discussion somewhere around the New York area.
Senior Member
Username: byoung

Post Number: 632
Registered: 12-2004
Posted on Tuesday, May 08, 2007 - 11:14 am:   Edit Post

The road cases are made by Jan-Al.

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