I recently made the custom guitar straps Justin Timberlake uses on his Man Of The Woods tour.
Justin plays acoustic guitar throughout his show and he’s now performing with Heavy Leather NYC straps. I went to see him play at the Los Angeles Forum on Sunday evening and viewed the straps live on stage, got a tour of his below and backstage labyrinth and was introduced to his crew and performers.
Here’s the story:
Towards the end of 2017 I was contacted by Elliott Ives’ (guitar player for Timberlake) guitar tech for a custom Super Bowl half time show strap. He was looking for a white and gold leather design with his son’s initials engraved. I sent over a few illustrated strap concepts along with leather sample photos. He wears a wide strap which would give me extra room to boldly carve out the initials in the front. I offered to make a strap that was structured enough to hold shape but wouldn’t need breaking in, with light padding. He approved a design toward the end of January 2018 and I crafted it quickly enough to overnight ship in time for the Super Bowl. It arrived the Friday before the game.
Elliott played the half time show alongside Justin Timberlake and was the single player wearing a contrast color strap. It stood out brightly against the maroon suits the band wore and was highly visible on screen. To me, it was the most exciting part of the show- but then again I don’t follow football.
I’ve been told that right after the show Justin inquired about who made Elliott’s strap and requested a few for himself.
Elliott’s guitar tech put me in contact with Timberlake’s guitar tech and we discussed straps. I sent over a sheet of potential strap sketches- a teaser to spark interest. Fortunately he liked the designs on the first shot! He chose 3 straps to purchase for his Man Of The Woods tour.
Justin’s new album and tour theme bring us back to his southern Tennessee woodsy roots. He’s been wearing a ton of plaid, Shearling and camouflage. I designed his first strap using a Pendleton Wool print I picked off of a Google image search. I chose a red and black plaid insert for his second strap and a novelty brown leather for his third. The Pendleton print was meant to be a placeholder- turns out he loved that exact pattern. I contacted the fine people at Pendleton who told me it was an old pattern no longer for sale on current products. Initially I was terrified we’d never find a piece of the fabric I could use and I’d have to cancel the order. But the Pendleton staff were wonderfully kind and resourceful. They dug deep into their warehouse and found a single scarf left over with the chosen print. A few days later I received a package with the scarf sample and had to re-construct the pattern through quilting for it to match my original sketch. A technique which in the end worked out just fine.
I had a custom Man Of The Woods tour logo buckle made up in brass for each strap.
I’ve designed hardware and buckles in the past so this was a refreshing- and doable- challenge. I sketched the buckle in Illustrator and passed it on to my friend Rich who owns the accessory company Spragwerks. He created the master buckle and mold, which we passed on to a local caster. The buckles came out perfect. Vintage brass styling with a solid, heavy weight. They are prong style buckles so I added a safety screw between the front and back pieces of the strap for extra security. Just in case Justin decides to play with his teeth.
I had the Man Of The Woods lettering logo laser engraved on patches which I added to the front of each strap.
This is one of my favorite techniques to use on leather. It is subtle yet more pronounced than embossing. You can get a ton of detail with laser engraving. It really pops when hit with just the right light. I tested it on 8 different leathers, each with a unique result. Fortunately they all came out clear and I had plenty of options to choose from.
I took all of the ingredients and very, very slowly pieced the straps together. Each stitch had to be perfect. Sometimes leather can be forgiving, but often there is no way to cover up an out of place stitch. So I meditated on getting each one right. I put my phone away, pumped up some tunes and focused. Individually all of the materials can feel overwhelming but once the straps start to come together it gets truly exciting. There’s nothing better than holding a perfect, completed project in your hands. Sometimes it’s hard to let go.
I shipped the straps out to a hotel on their tour and it’s history from there. It was unbelievably exciting watching him use them live. He plays the guitar much more than I expected throughout his show. It’s incredible how flawlessly he transitions from a full dance routine into a full acoustic set. I watched the show from the standing floor section, inches away from the stage. Dead center between the projections and light show. I’d never been to a pop show before so this was a real treat, witnessing a top notch production in the middle of all the action. Watching the gear- my work- come to life during the performance is the most rewarding part of the business. For this type of job to come together you need everyone on board, and I lucked out to have worked with a group of professional, friendly and supportive people. Thanks guys and gals! ‘Till next time.
-Possibly one day soon you’ll see a Timberlake x Heavy Leather NYC signature strap. You can check out other signature strap collaboration stories, like Geezer Butler and Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein’s straps HERE. They are both available for purchase in the celebrity guitar strap section HERE.