How to Buy Adequate Instrument Insurance

What a special music policy costs, what it covers, when it makes sense for you by Erin Shrader

“You have to buy insurance when you don’t need it,” says Peter Anderson, president of the Anderson Group, one of a handful of companies specializing in musical-instrument insurance. That is, before disaster strikes.

At what value should you start considering purchasing a policy? “About $5,000,” says Ellis Hershman of Heritage Insurance. Even if your instrument isn’t quite that expensive, by the time you add a couple of decent bows to the list, plus a case, accessories, maybe a good microphone, even your sheet-music collection, the total value adds up surprisingly fast. At that value, insurance starts looking like a good idea, especially if you depend on your gear and can’t afford to repair or replace it.

There are a few things you’ll want to know before buying a policy. Each of the handful of companies handling musical-instrument policies offers similar services, but with a slightly different focus. For example Heritage specializes in professional-quality wooden instruments, dealers, and a unique workbench policy for makers and restorers. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Music Agency focuses on insuring school-aged children, schools, and rental fleets, and offers policies beginning at $9.60 a year with a $15 deductible.

Merz-Huber, insuring musicians since 1937, covers a lot of orchestras and develops group programs with such associations as the American String Teachers Association, where the risk is shared by a pool of members. Belonging to an association may also get you a break on an individual policy with Clarion Insurance. “If you belong to a group, you’re out there learning to play and take care of your instrument, [and you understand] how to be professional,” says Dan Schoenfeld, president of Clarion.

That makes you less of a risk, he adds.

Where to Start

Research these companies on the Web to get a sense of their specialties and services. Then follow up with phone calls to the company that you feel most comfortable with to discuss your particular requirements. “Our competitors are very good at what they do,” says Bill Calter of Merz-Huber. “I don’t know any you wouldn’t be happy with.”

Perils & Premiums

The details of minimum premiums and deductibles vary among companies. For example, Heritage has a minimum annual premium of $250, but no deductible. This insures instruments and bows up to $20,000 or possibly $35,000, depending on exactly what is being insured and the risks involved. There is no one-size-fits-all policy with Heritage, Hershman says.

Anderson Group’s $125 minimum premium is half that of Heritage, but there is also a $250 deductible. By and large, deductibles serve more as an incentive for the insured to be careful than as a money-maker for the insurer.


Peril-prone instruments, such as cellos and double basses, are more expensive to insure. Bows, with their fragile heads, are high-risk items, too. Want to be covered for leaving your gear in an unlocked, unattended vehicle? That will cost more than insurance that covers you only if there’s a sign of forced entry at the time of a loss—at least with Heritage. At Clarion, it’s included, “fortunately and unfortunately,” says Clarion president Schoenfeld ruefully.

Merz-Huber won’t charge higher premiums for that, either. But as Calter explains, their policy basically dictates that you will be careful with your instrument. Circumstances count. “If you don’t care, we don’t care,” Calter says.

That may sounds harsh, but he adds, “Most folks are real, true caretakers.”

What’s Covered in the Policy

Musical instrument coverage is designed to cover the circumstances typically encountered by musicians. Musicians travel, so coverage is “worldwide.”

Check with your insurer about situations like checking your cello as baggage or shipping instruments and bows. Instruments and bows are often lent or taken on trial, so coverage can include similar items placed in your care.

Your music-related gear is covered, including “electrical, recording, accessories, amplifiers, sound equipment,” says Hershman, rattling off the list. “Two things we don’t insure: laptops and iPods.”

Property is insured against the typical threats—fire, flood, theft, and damage. “It’s easier to say what’s not covered,” Hershman says. Exclusions start with nuclear threat, but also include the mundane, such as wear and tear, mold, vermin, and government action. Did a customs official confiscate your bow? Sorry. Not covered.


An important aspect of musical-instrument insurance, especially for bowed string players, is devaluation. With bowed stringed instruments, condition is a major determinant of value. A soundpost crack in the back can reduce the value by 50 percent. A bow with a broken head is devalued by 70 to 80 percent. Devaluation coverage will pay for the repair plus the difference between the insured value and the value in repaired condition.

One advantage of a specialist policy is dealing with agents and claims adjusters who are familiar with musicians, instruments, and the circumstances in which disaster strikes. As C
It is possible to get insurance without an appraisal, and insurance companies typically offer a 30-day grace period if they require one. If you have an appraisal, review it at renewal time and update it at least every three years.

If you have an appraisal and the insurance company accepts it, your property will be covered for the “agreed value.” This is preferable because, with the amount agreed to by both parties in advance, the insurer cannot question the value of the instrument. In case of a loss, claims can be paid quickly and the insured is guaranteed t

The other method of valuing property is “actual cash value.” No appraisal is necessary. You provide a list with the value of each item, which must be within reasonable market range. When a loss occurs, the company will ask you to justify the amount or it will research the market itself.

In Hershman’s experience, the same results are usually arrived at by either method, but actual cash value takes longer and there’s opportunity for disagreement.


When to File a Claim

In the event of loss, damage, or theft, contact your insurance agent right away. Discuss the nature of the loss, try to discern whether the item is repairable or totaled, and receive instructions about what to do next. “Be accurate in describing what happened and listen to what you’re told,” Calter says.

Follow any and all instructions that your insurance representative offers regarding where to send the item and what to do with the repair estimate.

That can help lead to efficient settlement of your claim.

Lost or stolen items recovered after the claim has been paid are offered back to the insured for the price of the claim, minus necessary repairs.

The good news is, sometimes lost instruments turn up. One of Hershman’s favorite stories is about how a cello, a year after it was lost, was found by an ambulance driver “with a minor in trash picking” who spotted the case in between calls. The driver loaded the cello into his ambulance, found the owner’s phone number inside, and the two were reunited.