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Most importers use container shipping due to the cost which is about $30 US per instrument versus $300 to $400 by air. This is done obviously to make a better profit. Finish damage, corrosion, and weakening of the structure is quite common. At the very best a sitar will have to be restrung and jawari resurfaced from corrosion which can eliminate the makers touch. Also a sitar, for instance, is made using hide glue which is basically food for microbes in the right conditions. This is why the life of a good sitar is 30 to 40 years, the glue disappears eventually. Add a few months of high temperatures and humidity and you can guess what that'll do to the longevity of your instrument. Tablas get moldy, electronic instruments get corroded, etc. Some instruments will make the journey relatively unscathed but not as compared to air shipping.
A container is a closed system with it’s own ”weather” inside. It differs from normal conditions in that the variation in temperature is much greater. It is not unusual to see containers where temperatures range from freezing to 60-70C (that's 158 degrees Fahrenheit!) during the course of a single voyage.
In a container a fast temperature change of 5-10C is often enough to cause problems. Water will condense on the coolest available surface, which is often the container ceiling or walls. From there it may drip down onto the cargo and cause damage – “container rain”. At other times it condenses on the cargo, say on the inside of the pallet wrap, – “cargo sweat”-, which is usually even more damaging.
Now with your container shipped instrument don't forget to add a large quantity of pesticide which is sprayed on all container shipments leaving India!
Container shipping is fine for mediocre mass imports but I personally cannot justify it due to the reasons listed above and also due to the fact that there aren't enough good instruments to fill a container at one time! We would rather make less and have your instrument in the best possible condition than save a few bucks and have to repair it before shipping.
A word of caution: A lot of instruments are being openly advertised as "air shipped" these days. I've personally seen these air shipments in India packed for ocean shipping. When in doubt, ask for a copy of the air bill!