MSRP: Depends on options; typically $60.00
By Phil O'Keefe
What can you say about guitar straps? Most of us are going to need one sooner or later, and many of us are going to need several. Finding a strap that works can be as simple as walking into a store and grabbing the first thing you see, or as complex as you want to make it. After all, a strap isn't just a utility item to hold up your instrument, but a fashion statement and visual accessory too, so having a cool looking strap that fits your style and image is important to many players, whether or not we want to openly admit it or not.
The nearly ubiquitous straps from my early years as a player in the 1970s were primarily made by two companies - Ace and Bobby Lee. Sometimes referred to as hippie-era or hootenanny straps, they were as closely associated with rock stars of the era as bling is with modern rappers. Everyone wore them; from rock stars like Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Jimmy Page, Bob Dylan, and Elvis, to beginning guitarists and rock-star wannabes. You could find Ace straps in practically any music store. The designs slowly dropped out of favor with many players in the 80s, and they quietly disappeared - only to reappear in more recent years as high-price collector's items on Ebay, where vintage straps with the most desirable patterns can command hefty prices. Fortunately some modern strap makers are revisiting those old designs. Chicago USA based Souldier Straps is one of the leaders in retro straps, and I've been putting two of their handmade in the USA vintage inspired straps to the test for the last few months.
MATERIALS, CONSTRUCTION AND CUSTOMIZATION
There's not a ton of components to a Souldier strap. The actual "strap" itself is made from two layers of material; the strap's nylon backing and a decorative woven cloth top layer. The rest of the materials include the two strap ends and a couple of pieces of metal hardware, and that's pretty much it.
Souldier has a wide range of available fabric categories - Geometric, Vintage, Retro, Plain, Mod, Misfit, Deco, Stripes, Tapestry, Tribal, Zen, Grateful Dead, etc. The number of designs that they offer is impressive -- there's really something for everyone. Since I was looking for a strap similar to the ones I remembered from my teen years, I focused in on their vintage designs. Many of the vintage fabrics that Souldier uses are actually leftover / new-old-stock fabrics as originally used by Ace, which Souldier purchased in bulk. This vintage material was woven with a process called jacquard weaving into very intricate multicolored patterns that repeat down the length of the strap. Some of these strap patterns are quite distinctive, and several of the designs were used by famous musicians throughout the Sixties and Seventies, and appear in many classic photos and in iconic films of these players, making the fabric patterns instantly familiar to many musicians. One of the most recognizable of these is the example shown in Figure 1, which is Souldier refers to as 0295 - Woodstock Red. This is the same material as that used on the strap that Jimi Hendrix used during his performance at Woodstock in 1969.
Figure 1: What's old is new again - a brand new handmade Souldier strap featuring the same vintage woven fabric as used on the strap Hendrix wore at Woodstock in 1969.
In addition to selling pre-manufactured straps at select retail outlets, you can also order customized straps online direct from Souldier. You can select the color of the nylon backing material, the cloth pattern, the buckle and hardware color, and the material type and color for the end pieces. The price remains the same, and there is no upcharge for most custom options. And there are a LOT of options.
Hardware is available in chrome, brass or black. The recycled nylon seatbelt backing fabric options are more extensive, with a total of twenty-six different colors to choose from. You can also pick from leather or vinyl for the end tabs, with twenty different leather end tab colors available to pick from, and sixteen different colors of vinyl. Of course, in terms of the top fabric, your options are vast, with literally hundreds of options to choose from, including about 140 in the "Vintage" fabric category alone!
The straps are both quite comfortable. I love how the nylon backing slides easily over the shoulder when you reposition the guitar, but it doesn't slip too easily either. I did notice that the adjustment buckle tends to sit right on top of my shoulder when I have my guitars set to my preferred height, which I found a bit uncomfortable. Reversing the strap so that the ends are attached to the "opposite" ends of the guitar quickly fixes this if you encounter a similar problem. Compared to my vintage Ace "Aztec Green Stained Glass" strap, which maxes out at about 50", the two Souldier straps are longer, and measure about 58" from end to end when fully extended. I'm 5'8", and I normally like my guitars to hang at a middle height, with the top of the guitar a couple inches below my ribcage. With the straps attached to a Fender Mustang and adjusted to where I feel comfortable with the height, I still have over a foot of adjustment left before the strap length is at the limit, so there should be plenty of adjustment range for most players with the standard Souldier strap length. For guitarists who are really tall or who like the instrument to hang ultra-low, Souldier also offers their straps in a even longer version with about 8" of additional length for six dollars extra.
In terms of the quality, I have zero complaints. The plating on the metal parts looks heavy duty, and the stitching seems to be expertly done and of high quality. In fact, when I compared the Souldier straps to my 70s era Ace strap (Figure 2), the stitching and materials on the Souldier seem more robust overall. The leather ends are not only larger (with Souldier's own distinctive end-tab shape) and thicker, but the stitching is done with four passes across the strap ends instead of only two as you see on the Ace. I've also seen somewhat similar looking straps that use rivets instead of stitching. While this may hold fast over time, I always worried about the risk of scratches to the guitar from having metal that close to the ends that strap to the instrument, and for that reason I prefer Souldier's heavy duty stitching approach. The recycled nylon seatbelt material that is used by Souldier for the strap backing seems extremely tough and durable, and won't break down or damage delicate guitar finishes if left in contact with them for too long like some of the vintage strap backings could, plus it's ecologically friendly too. For vegan players who would rather not have leather ends, Souldier offers vinyl end tabs as an option at no additional cost.
Figure 2: A Souldier strap (left) next to a vintage Ace strap. The apparent difference in width is an illusion; both straps are exactly 2" wide. Note the heavier leather ends and stitching on the Souldier. The Souldier strap is their pattern #0178 - Stained Glass Red | Duane Allman
The strap button slots in the ends are well cut, and both straps were easy to attach, yet held fast; I never came even remotely close to droping a guitar while using either strap, even when using them as-is on vintage guitars, and without any locks. I also tried them out with a couple of different strap lock designs, including Schaller Straplocks, Dunlop Dual-Design and Ergo locks and the ever popular Grolsch rubber washers, and all work fine with the Souldier straps. Souldier offers to cut strap lock holes in any new custom strap at no additional charge, and offers rubber washer style strap locks for $1.50 extra.
VINTAGE LOOKS, GREAT QUALITY
I have to say that I'm seriously impressed with Souldier's straps overall. The woven NOS materials are authentic, and as cool and detailed as I remember. The rest of the materials are first-rate and more than up to their intended tasks, and the construction and assembly is obviously done with care - the whole product not only screams "quality", but vintage cool, and at a price that makes purchasing two or three brand new straps an attractive alternative to getting one overpriced, old and worn-out vintage strap second-hand. If you crave vintage strap looks but want to avoid vintage strap prices, definitely check out Souldier's offerings. Chances are very good that they'll have something you'll absolutely dig. Who knows? In thirty years, these might become collectable too. Even if they do, you might not want to give yours up - they're really nice straps!
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.