/CMA/ By Jeff Walter
A guitar strap is more than a means to support a piece of musical equipment. It’s also a canvas for personal expression and for helping audiences see exactly who you are.
Take Marty Roe. When the Diamond Rio guitarist wanted a strap with a prisoner-of-war theme for the video of “In God We Still Trust,” he called on Jeri Hart, founder of the St. Louis-based jeri designs. She fashioned a one-of-a-kind strap: thick but supple belt leather, painted blue, airbrushed with the words “You are not forgotten” and adorned on the front with a hand-cut kidskin POW logo.
Hart, whose clients include Trace Adkins, Little Big Town, Brad Paisley and Keith Richards, noted that her challenge “is to create a gorgeous strap that’s really detailed, that will last a lifetime, that you can roll up and stick in your guitar case a million times, that has really personal meaning for the artist, that fits their style, personality and the way they feel about things. I want it to be one of their most treasured items.”
Straps can be made from a variety of materials, the cheapest and most widely used being nylon. But custom designers typically start with fine leather. Among the many choices are kidskin, elk skin, snakeskin and cabretta. Terry Misner of the Indianapolis-based Action Custom Straps makes his products from soft leather, largely for reasons of comfort.
“Some of the performers who use our straps play for hours at a time,” said Misner, who has outfitted Adkins, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert and Keith Urban, among others. “If the strap is comfortable and the performer doesn’t even notice it, then it has done its job.” (Misner and other top designers generally avoid working with suede because of its tendency to hold moisture and adhere to the performer’s shirt.)
There are numerous options for decorating leather, including embroidery, metal hardware such as conchos or spikes, gemstones, hand-sewn beads, crystals – even snake heads, a specialty of the Jodi Head Design Studio in New York City.
One priority is to protect the guitar itself. Hart positions whatever buckles and other hardware she uses so that they never touch the instrument. And Misner wants no embroidery backing or metal showing on the underside of his straps.
Customer input can vary a lot. Hart asks questions and does a lot of research on her customers, about their hobbies and passions and what’s important to them. She’ll use the information she gathers to incorporate birthstones, meaningful symbols, favorite colors and other expressions.
Starting out, Head often gave straps to her favorite artists, including Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, to get her name out there. She takes particular pride when she sees Williams wearing her skulls strap. “It’s beautiful, and every time I see it, I think, ‘I can’t believe I made that!’” the designer said.
And Misner gets a sense of fulfillment from the hula-girl strap he created in 2002 for Jimmy Buffett. Wife Dena hand-embroidered the girl and added beads to form her lei and grass skirt. “It’s nice to see it still at work each time Jimmy comes to town,” he said, with a smile.
© 2014 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.