Fender, Gibson, Martin (in no order of preference, people...sheesh), £100, a £1000 or £10,000, it doesn't matter, if you parted with your hard earned cash, and it sings a sweet song, you love your guitars. As you can imagine that's not lost on us. We make guitar straps that are responsible for holding thousands of pound’s worth of guitar and they're not just our customer’s possessions, they're their passions and in some cases livelihoods. Best make sure we use some strong leather then...
Most people don't realise that in the leather industry we have different cuts of leather. Some cuts are strong and highly durable, while others are slouchy and prone to stretch. While a slouchy cut might be great for a jacket, it's not so great for a leather guitar strap.
Let's assume we're using top grade leather from a historic tannery (we are), we still want to use the strongest cut for guitar straps. The most durable cut from cowhide is the ‘bend'.
The bend is a wide strip either side of the spine of the hide, running from below the shoulders to the rump. Essentially the bend is the back of the animal and it's the part of the leather that isn't subjected to stretch throughout the lifetime of the cow, unlike the belly and neck. Each cowhide yields two bends, one from either side of the spine. When the bends are left attached together the cut is called a ‘double butt’, but because the structure of the leather can change when moving across the spine, we prefer the consistency of using separated bends. This super strong and durable cut accounts for approximately 50-60% of the surface of a hide and it's generally the most expensive cowhide cut to source.
Typical uses of the bend are belts, horse saddlery and various heavy duty strapping applications. The use of the bend on saddlery, the stirrups and reins, really shows the natural strength of the bend where the leather is responsible for holding the weight of the rider on the horse. So, if a bend is capable of holding significantly more than human weight, is it overkill for a guitar? Definitely yes and definitely no…..
A guitar strap cut from a quality bend is anywhere from x40-x100 overkill in terms of weight rating for a guitar, even if its King Kong’s Gibson Les Paul it's not going to be a problem, but that's only half the story. The real reason you should use bends for a guitar strap is because of the feel and the way it gives the guitarist a concrete confidence in its strength. As we've said, guitars are worth more to the player than the cash value of the instrument and it's impossible for reassurance to be high enough when it comes to protecting your pride and joy against the evil forces of gravity.
The reassurance of the bend is down to the fibre structure of the leather. Bend leather has density and weight to it. That fibre density gives a strap a rock solid feel and gives a correct perception of extreme quality. Besides, if you have a premium guitar, you want to feel like you've matched it with a premium leather guitar strap. Strength aside, the unique, tight fibres in a bend also mean that it has absolutely lifelong durability.
A good guitar strap from bends will need to be broken in over the first couple of uses, but after the strap is mellowed in it'll be like butter for the rest of its, and your, life. While cheaper cuts of leather arrive instantly soft, the looser grain structure will gradually distort over time to require resizing. You want a leather guitar strap to get better over time, developing a character and patina without the sacrifice of strength and shape, not peak on day one of ownership and eventually stretch out.
Non-bend leather is typical of a manufacturer going with the cheaper option for materials. If they are sourcing the cheaper cuts, they're probably sourcing quicker and cheaper tannage (sometimes less than 48hrs tannage time). Not to mention the cheaper leather often comes from tanneries sourcing skins from farms that don't adhere to animal welfare standards, but that's a story for another day. Ultimately, the mentality for a maker to cut costs eventually shows in the product over time which is not what we're about.
One of our raw bends by Thomas Ware & Sons of Bristol (est. 1840)
Of course, a good bend is entirely reliant on the quality of the tannage. A bad tannage makes for a terrible bend and having handled well in excess of a hundred different leather tannage recipes, we can tell you the quality levels vary incredibly. Our Pro Line straps use Thomas Ware bends, incredibly strong Cornish cowhide leather made from a 366 day oak bark pit tannage (366 days minimum, not maximum). We do think that a Thomas Ware bend is the best in the business for durability (see how durable here) and we're thankful to have access to leather that allows us to make a guitar strap that will outlast the person making it. How many people get to make something every day from a natural material that'll still be around when they're gone? Not many. A Bison Boa bench is a lucky place to be.
Check out our Pro Line guitar straps, made entirely with leather by Thomas Ware & Sons.