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Can’t Anybody Here Play this Game?

I've been waiting for this guitar for a week now. It's been to NYC, Memphis, Albany, Newark, NJ and god knows where else.

I’ve been waiting for this guitar for a week now. It’s been to NYC, Memphis, Albany, Newark, NJ and god knows where else.

Back when the New York Mets were brand new, the manager was the legendary Casey Stengel. The Mets were terrible and were mired in last place when Mr. Stengel famously commented “can’t anybody here play this game?” This statement applies to the shipping industry at least when it comes to vintage guitars. I’ll use Fedex as the example but UPS and the US Postal Service aren’t any better.

I had a 63 ES-335 shipped to me from the UK this week (on my account) and it cost over $300 to do so (and I get a good rate). First off, Fedex won’t insure vintage guitars for more than $1000. It’s the “declared value” line and you can put any number in there you want and they will charge an ever increasing fee for your “insurance”. I know, before I read the fine print, I was “insuring” them for as much as $25000 and paying hundreds of dollars for the privilege. Then they broke a mint 64 SG Standard and explained that I needed to read the “terms and conditions” which clearly state Fedex’s policy. This is a cut and paste from the Fedex website: Shipments (packages or freight) containing all or part of the following items are limited to a maximum declared value of US $1,000: Guitars and other musical instruments that are more than 20 years old, and customized or personalized musical instruments. It should add (but it doesn’t) that “we’ll take your money, however if you want to give it to us but we won’t increase our liability beyond $1000.” So, I put $1000 in the space provided and carry my own insurance through another carrier (the very well regarded Heritage Insurance in Pennsylvania). Caveat Emptor, shippers. Fedex has enough money without throwing more at them for no service.

But that isn’t the issue with the aforementioned 63 ES-335 (which is a very rare factory blonde). I was on vacation, so I had it shipped International Economy rather than the Priority service I usually use. In general, a well packed guitar doesn’t mind sitting for a few extra days. What it doesn’t like is being handled. Here’s where my guitar has been. Note that I live less than two hours from JFK Airport in Jamaica (Queens) NY where it landed five days ago. I could have walked from JFK to my house in that amount of time. Note the date and month are backwards – Euro style. Read from the bottom up.

Date/Time
Activity Location
10/03/2015 – Tuesday
21:21 Arrived at FedEx location NEWARK, NJ
16:41 In transit LATHAM, NY
09/03/2015 – Monday
05:23 Departed FedEx location MEMPHIS, TN
08/03/2015 – Sunday
18:18 In transit MEMPHIS, TN
13:33 International shipment release – Import MEMPHIS, TN
10:15 International shipment release – Import MEMPHIS, TN
07/03/2015 – Saturday
12:08 Arrived at FedEx location MEMPHIS, TN
10:39 In transit JAMAICA, NY
05/03/2015 – Thursday
16:17 In transit POYLE GB
14:29 International shipment release – Export POYLE GB
13:53 In transit POYLE GB
04/03/2015 – Wednesday
20:58 Picked up STOKE ON TRENT GB

So, here it is, eight days down the road and the guitar has been from the UK to JFK to Memphis, to Albany/Latham (also less than 2 hours away) and then to Newark (2 hours in the other direction). It is now Wednesday night and I have no idea if its still in Newark or on its way to Kuala Lumpur. I’m not sure where its going next but I hope it’s to CT where I live. The more a guitar gets handled, the more likely it is to get broken. That’s why I suggest that expensive guitars be sent next day or two day Fedex. I asked the folks at Fedex why this guitar has been routed this way and they didn’t know. They blamed the weather (which has been pretty nice since the guitar arrived in NY). They also kept going back to the fact that the guitar wasn’t due to be delivered until March 12th. I tried to explain that just because you have 8 days doesn’t mean you have to give the guitar a tour of the East Coast while you use up the allotted time. I suppose they could ship it to LA and back a few times given the timetable. I understand that shipping a lot of stuff is hard work and the logistics of containerized shipping must be a bitch but come on folks. You were so close (and yet so far). I think perhaps computers have been given too much power and human beings have been largely eliminated from the equation. The fact that four different Fedex agents gave me four different stories speaks volumes. Interestingly, all four kept going back to the scripted line “…delivery is on schedule…”

I would use a different shipper but I’ve used them all and while Fedex is pretty poor a lot of the time, they don’t lose stuff very often. That’s not true of some other shippers. I shipped a guitar to Australia using the Postal Service and it got lost. Twelve days later, they found it at a post office 8 miles away from where I dropped it off. I just wanted to make you aware that shipping sucks and nobody in the shipping business can play this game. I think the ’62 Mets would have figured out how to get the guitar from Queens to Connecticut.

9 Responses to “Can’t Anybody Here Play this Game?”

  1. Rob says:

    With a nod and a wink to Saint Patrick, Murphy’s Law predicts that this guitar will be sold to a collector who lives in a village very near to Stoke on Trent.

  2. Rod Allcock says:

    I think I can beat that one. I am in the UK and I bought from ebay a guitar from Phoenix Arizona. This was shipped by ebay’s ‘Priority Mailing System’ or somesuch other nonsense and was despatched on 17 December last year. I know we had Christmas and New Year in between but they delivered the item on 6 January and charged me $105.65 for the privilege. Other carriers charge a lot less. I will not use the ebay system again and would suggest that others should boycott it as well.

  3. RAB says:

    Charlie, a sobering story…this kind of experience makes one quiver with dread if/when a guitar or amp arrives and then peering inside the package hoping there is no damage as opposed to it being a happy occassion!

  4. cgelber says:

    Guitar arrived in fine shape. More luck than skill for sure. It was in a modern case which always makes me feel a little more secure.

  5. Kerry says:

    All’s well that ends well. Shame about the institutionalized “robbery” (accepting payment for non-existent insurance. But good to know the blonde arrived in one piece. Perhaps being well-traveled will contribute to sophisticated tone. . .
    I hate shipping ES guitars due to worries about (and experience with) lacquer checking. Too bad I couldn’t pay the bills providing courier service via Ferrari or Bentley. At least Charlie trusts me to pack guitars for him. . .

  6. Francois says:

    I had a similar experience with Fedex. They delayed the delivery of a Strat I had ordered for Xmas, then refused to deliver it if I would not pay astronomic customs fees. It resulted they had made a calculation based on a mistake from the supplier. To make a long story short, they held on to the guit for three months, as I refused to pay the wrong fees with the hope of being recredited afterwards. It took me a lot of time, patience and energy, but I finally got hold of my Strat, paying the corrected amount of taxes & fees.
    I have now a principle to refuse any shipment via Fedex. DHL gave me a hard time as well. My best experience so far is UPS.
    When it comes to vintage guitars, or costly stuff of any kind, my advice is to appoint a specialized shipping company, that will handle the instrument with care and insure it properly.
    Ask your insurance company for advice, or auction companies. They have addresses.

  7. Joe Campagna says:

    Charlie,Nice Blonde!How many Fox ear 63’s do you see compared to Mouse ears?
    Can you figure when the change took place?

  8. cgelber says:

    Seems like 65-35 in favor of the Mickey Mouse ears in 63 (sorry, had it backwards the first time). That suggests a mid Summer transition but my numbers are a bit thin. I’ve never taken a really close look to try to find the exact transition but I keep good records and once I get a few more 63’s (I’ve had perhaps a dozen or 15), I can make an educated guess. I’ve been trying to do the same thing for 58’s with the transition from unbound boards to bound. The problem is they make the transitions over varying periods of time, so each time I think I’ve got something pinned down, I find a later or earlier example that throws the hypothesis out of whack. 130xxx is pointy. 115xxx is MM.
    I need to see some in between those two numbers to nail it down better.

  9. Gary says:

    If memory serves me, FedEx has a processing centre in Memphis TN where all international inbound package has to go through…I have shipped into the US a few times and I had the (unfortunate) pleasure to do a case prep in FedEx in my grad school…that’s how I know.

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