Artist Jodi Head Elevates the Humble Guitar Strap

Funky lady makes an oft-ignored accessory the main event

Guitar strap goddess Jodi Head hard at work on her craft in her Chrystie St. studio. (Photo: Bill Lexington)

One would be hard-pressed to think of a more fetishistic group than electric guitar players.

And yet, if you spend any amount of time looking at the greats on YouTube — and I’m a guy who’s watched over 100 episodes of Rick Beato’s What Makes This Song Great series—you notice that for all of the amazing and strange guitars out there, even the obsessive detail guys sometimes hold the thing with a plain or stupid-looking strap.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Jodi Head is a true artist. But she’s also an artisan. Her medium is guitar straps, and her objets d’art have actually been put to use on stages all around the world for 30 years now.

“I started making guitar straps about the late 90s or so,” Head told Rock and Roll Globe in an interview this week. Creating a combination of bespoke straps tailored to specific artists and ready-to-wear straps that guitarists can buy off the rack at Guitar Center and elsewhere, Head makes as many as 1000 per month.

“I started out as a hand beader during the early 90s,” she explains. “I created hand-bead bustiers for Bergdorf Goodman and Hanri Bendel. Once I perfected a style of bead work, I had offers from guitar player friends to make guitar straps. Through trial and error, I applied the bead work I knew how to do to guitar straps. There were a few kinks in the road with construction. The first leg of making guitar straps were my hand-beaded creations. With some direction, I realized I needed to have other straps in my collection that were less time-consuming.”

I’m guilty of having ignored this critical accessory for most of my rock n roll career. It’s such an obvious oversight — how do you put a $9 plain black Ibanez strap on a $5000 1978 sunburst Les Paul? But I’ve been making up for lost decades by buying a ton of straps from Jodi. And with Christmas right around the corner, you should do the same.

Head has made straps for some of the greats and tells the Globe that nearly all of these experiences have been positive. “Most of my artists are delightful. Buddy Guy. Emmylou. Patty Griffin. Buddy Miller. Warren Haynes (Govt. Mule).”

The author wearing a strap that Jodi Head created. (Photo: Brian Tegtmeyer)

I remember precisely what awakened me to this hole in my rock star apparel. I was mesmerized by Chris Isaak on some television appearance. As the camera pulled into Isaak’s almost comically good-looking face, his strap with his name spelled out in rhinestones just completes the great image he’s cultivated.

I got in touch with Jodi, who was my neighbor in the East Village, and asked her to make a few for me. She asked me how I wanted them to look, and I said, you’re the artist not me. My initials are KK, my nickname is Kurse, and my bands are called The Lilacs and Circles — you do you. As anyone can see from the photos, she pretty much killed it.

Manhattan has become a hostile place for the very artists who contributed so much to making it so desirable. Last year, even amid a record surge in guitar-playing by locked down American Dads, Jodi was forced to leave her longtime studio in the East Village. That’s such a shame, because when I went there, it was pretty much the coolest space I’ve ever seen. She works from Greenpoint, and it’s anybody’s guess how much longer fast gentrifying Brooklyn has before it follows precisely the same cycle that has ruined Manhattan.

“Moving from the East Village was heartbreaking, I loved being in the East Village, 20 years ago was a different vibe,” she laments. “The building my studio was in was full of artists, makers, painters, creators. David Byrne had a studio in the Chrystie Street building. I was forced to the basement due to the equipment  noise I use to make straps, one being a 4-ton hydraulic clicker. Think ‘big cookie cutter.’ I stayed at Chrystie, it was my neighborhood, it worked in my life and was affordable. Being in the basement wasn’t ideal but I was able to be in my east village and that was something I needed for my creating process—the energy and vibe of the time. I never imagined I would be lugging around a 4000-lb. piece of equipment, being pressured out and not having many options has had an effect on a small business. I keep coming to the table with all the adversities. New York should be more user friendly with all the manufacturing that created New York. New York doesn’t care. I take pride in the fact I can make straps in New York, but New York is eradicating its rich history of manufacturing with greedy developers. Where are makers supposed to go?”

It’s a good question.

Jodi Head strap (Image: Jodi Head)

Not to get all Wirecutter on ya, but just to fill out the product review portion of this report, I got to tell you that I did that although the clear reason to get these things is how damn cool they look, you should also know they feel really good on your shoulder because she’s inserted precisely the right amount of padding. And the holes for the pegs are pretty damn secure, though you might want to use that old trick of placing a clip from the top of a bread bag to prevent any on stage mishaps.

Meanwhile, Head is making a go of it in Brooklyn. “It’s pleasant, fresh air , nice view, but I miss my basement. I have had my Artists come visit in Greenpoint—Popa Chubby, Mike Merritt, Alice Cohen—well-known artists and enthusiastic players. All of this helps in creating a new vibe in my Greenpoint shop. Mentally, it’s exhausting for my craft to be uprooted, [but I’m] making the best of what I can.”

A collection of guitar straps Jodi Head has crafted for the author. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for Rock and Roll Globe)

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Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of the Globe suite of sites. He is also the founder of Green Magazine and and covered finance for Esquire magazine for almost 20 years. Ken is the author of several books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Leadership.

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