From old cars, straps for guitars

What's made from Mercedes-Benz MB-Tex vinyl, can support Annie Leibovitz's favourite Hasselblad and your cherished AAA-flame maple top Les Paul? Straps for guitars and cameras made from rolls of vintage auto upholstery, that’s what.

The Couch company of Long Beach, California is making straps and other gear that meld car culture, music culture, old forgotten materials and forever-hip design.

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Dan Perkins started Couch in 1999 because he wanted a distinctive guitar strap that spoke to his sense of design when gigging with his retro British Invasion cover band. His interest in the visuals of the 1950s-'70s led him to favour design and colour palettes of the period. And being in the heart of Southern California, Dan could hardly avoid the perennially cool street theatre of classic cars and hot rods. Dan is also a vegan, and he preferred to look for synthetic material rather than leather.

"It was hard to find good non-leather straps," says Dan. "I thought about it and then found myself in custom auto shops. California is highly car-focused, so auto-related businesses dominate the industrial sections of almost any town."

Dan soon found that seat coverings, distinctive trunk linings and even vinyl roof material, when stitched to a proper backing, made the perfect solution to his animal-friendly strap quest. "I began perusing old upholstery houses for their cast-off rolls of replacement vinyl."

Couch production has only used properly stored original or faithful reproduction upholstery, not reclaimed and aged upholstery pulled out of wrecks. Junkyard diving to harvest the old stuff out of formerly glorious Cadillacs, Camaros and Mercedes-Benzes would never have yielded enough usable material. Plus, junkyard neglect makes decades-old vinyl brittle. 

In 2004, Dan's e-commerce business took off with like-minded, animal-sensitive and vegan musicians. But a passionate crowd of car freaks that also happened to play instruments then discovered Couch. The snowball rolled along further when photographers started inquiring about straps for their cameras. Today, the company counts among its clients such artists as John Cale and Beck.

Couch began expanding, using identifiable trunk linings, like those from old Mustangs, GTOs and Firebirds. Then came wallets, belts and straps made from seat-belt nylon – real seat belt webbing – offering another unique aesthetic of car bits and solid function. If seat belt mesh nylon can hold back your 300lb uncle from careening through his windshield during an impact, you can safely hang your 13lb, solid-ash Music Man bass around your neck without fear of catastrophe.

Another guiding principle behind Couch's auto-sourced straps is cost. "We don't make these for the wealthy dabbler in guitars," says Dan. "Our straps are generally between $20 to $45. They're for the working musician and the weekend warrior who plays for the love of it and who can't afford, or doesn't want an ornate leather strap that costs $300. Those are out there – they're beautiful – but that's simply not us."

Today, Couch even makes old Volkswagen pattern straps that smell like a vintage Beetle. Couch also exports globally and the UK is now his third-largest market, behind the US and Canada.

"If we hadn't started the company here in Southern California where the car is king and where auto-related supplies are plentiful," says Dan, "I doubt we'd have found this niche using car culture as our design canvas."

Like tattoos and custom cars with hand-painted pinstripes, Dan's auto-themed guitar straps are another form of art for the common man.

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