Leather monogramming system

This post will share the process developed last week to make a better method of monogramming our guitar straps with LARGER LETTERS and the subsequent jigs i made to pull it off consistently.  The guitar straps we’ve been making have the benefit of being swiftly height adjusted as we have already explained at length on our website.  The aspect of these straps that we didn’t expect to take off was personalization through monogramming.

Personally i think a strap gets unique by being encrusted with fur or tassels.  imagine a strap made of cellophane or chainmaile, or one made of bones or telephone wires.  heck just make it bright pink lizard skin and i would consider that “personalized.”

that’s me, i think being on stage is a blast, and its a combination of having something to say mixed with shear entertainment/performance.  Theatre + Honesty.   so you can imagine some of my surprise to know happy people have been when they have ordered a strap with their name on it.   or perhaps with a quote, a poem, or some numbers of significance to them.  It’s so much easier to make someone happy that way than to make some metallic fire-breathing guitar strap that is ultra-show-offy.

we started making these a year ago and they have been a nice hit at music festivals, online, and direct calls to us, but recently we got a call for LARGER LETTERS.  This  might seem like a simple request but when you are using various leather types its very hard to get reliable letter impressions without the leather rejecting and “popping the letter back out” at you.  The clients strap was black chrome-tanned leather.

Previous to this method products were hand hammered with 3/16″ machinist letters. One benefit of these small letters is that they really bite the leather well.  this is important when trying to impress letters into chrome tanned leather like the back shown above.  Chrome tanning is a different chemical process than vegetable tanning (the others shown above).  quick note: the tanning process doesn’t determine the color options so don’t think, for instance, that tan-colored leathers must be vegetable tanned.  it only refers to the process of stabilizing the leather as it is changed from an animal hide to a stable (ph neutral) clothing material.

That said i took my chances and purchased some 1/2 inch letters and decided to strike some chrome tanned leather as hard as possible in hopes that the letters would not “pop out” afterward.  Unfortunately after two guitar straps later, the leather just kept rejecting the letters after a little bit of  manipulating and rubbing.

clearly this was not going to be the level of quality i want us to maintain.

so the next option was to pick up letters that i wanted to use (aesthetically) and then find a way to make them work!

stamping leather

I picked up a set of  1/2″ open face letters from Tandy Leather.  I’ve tried to avoid these higher-priced commercial letters in favor of higher quality handmade stamps from a the 19th century but this letter set was both readily available and i liked this style of font for the purposes of our guitar straps.

These letters took to damp vegetable leather perfectly, but of course the chrome tan wouldn’t have it.  An alternative was to use the letters as a guide on the chrome tanned black strap leather and attempt a few coloring options.

The test was a quick mark with white paint and a quick test of gold leaf.  i chose and oil size for the gold and dutch-metal leaf for the test.  i though both of these were too high-contrast and “regretsy.”

i moved onto some basic 101 hand-tooling of the leather to see if embossing the letter or submerging the letter would make it begin to work for me.

although seeing a strong impression on vege-leather was satisfying, the tooling was bound to clash with the rest of the black guitar strap after completion.  And i was going for a straightforward monogramming section on the strap as opposed to a more showing tooled leather panel.

so i tried another option to see if it would satisfy tstampinghe goal.

this one involved a quick test of hand coloring.  it is of course far more labor intensive, but the results are always more interesting.  with some careful looking might see the little errors in the hand-coloring process that make it harder to delegate; frankly it takes time and skill to produce clean repeatable results without errors.  its the type of thing that i would have to charge extra for the client that knew this was the look they were going for.  remember, my goal was to create a benchmark for lettering in style and consistency.

and that is why i had to begin a process of jig making.

selecting jatoba for the base strikepad and a old guitar neck for the prototype jig, i planned a simple system of removable lettering guides.

the purpose here is interchangeable templates that offer a rabbet (woodworking term) of different widths.  When these templates are pressed together to the base striking surface (the orange colored jatoba wood) they create slot or groove into which a piece of leather can slip underneath the upper template.

the strap section slips under this upper template and as you can see the lettering can be done in a perfectly straight line and at different locations up/down along the strap.  For instance, if i wanted the letters to be a quarter inch from the lower edge, i would replace the upper template with a 1/4″ template and so forth for text stamped at 3/8″ or 3/4″ and the like.  here’s the jig at work.

i really liked how straight the text could be and how simple it was.  traditionally the alternative was a system like that of a letter press machine.  it’s more setup intensive and more expensive to supply yourself with the many different size type stamp holders.  This option was clearly going to work.  The prototype was a success.  I began a far more thorough version of this jig and so too with more options for my upper templates; more widths and possible positions for text to be easily stamped into leather.

I drilled out the old rivet from loop hanger on the clients guitar strap.

and ran back out to the shop to begin a completed version of the jig with templates made from spanish cedar wood.

these were then hand planned for consistency and perfect flat surfaces.

the handplane of choice was the Stanley Bedrock #8 from the late 1800’s.   the bottom of the plane was flattened using a machinists trick on a granite surface plate so that it is flat within 1,000,000 of an inch!

Remember, your wood is only as flat as your plane!   if a high quality final product is the goal, than all the prior stages that build up to it must also be done with the utmost care and quality.

that said it is fitting to refer again to the Tandy Leather Co letters i bought.  The quality was average.  and in several cases (no pun intended) a needed to retool the edge of the stamps.

here, you can see that the letter E (as well as several other of the letters in the set) were fashioned at a consistent height from the lower edge of their surround; the character was not centered on the guiding block.  that meant that certain letters were either too high or too low along a line of text.  a bit frustrating to see on a new letter set, but with a file i was able to correct the complete set to a consistent location on their arbor.

The good news:  the strap and its letters looked great.

the words for crisp and straight and ready for finishing.

i used a number of products to complete the look:

1) i beveled the edges

2) i burnished the edges

3) i applied neatsfoot oil to return the suppleness and flex into the leather

4) i used black dye for depth of color

5) i added acrylic for the smooth gloss of the edges and to blend any irregularities

6) i finished the strap with resolene for that luster.

the strap looks great.  all the feel that is ideal to the touch and the rivet and sewing along the added strap body give it a look that is a vast improvement from the prior monogrammed straps.  it is a real upgrade from the basic version offered before.

It’s now cleaner looking, repeatable and larger.

—matthew rogers

Thank you Tommy Ogle for the opportunity to give your strap this upgrade and to have the opportunity to perfect a little more of our methods here at Wallpusher Guitars.  I am genuinely happy to have the opportunity to offer this level of attention.  Thank you all for being a part of the Wallpusher family and the journey we are on.  We are so excited about our new ideas here.  til next time.

Jackie Ankeles Radio Show

Jackie: Hello and welcome.  I always admired people who could make things.  From the time I was a girl scout or went to camp, kids who had such a talent for art.  Now when I go to craft fairs and see so much handy work, from quilting to embroidery, jewelry making to woodworking.  I admire and am fascinated by what people can do, what they can create.  My guest today has a unique talent.  I bet he was one of those kids who really did well with arts and crafts projects.  He is Matthew Rogers of Gloucester.  He makes bass guitars from scratch.  Matthew, a very warm welcome to you, great to meet you.  Matthew, we’ll be talking about the creating project you go through to make your guitars.  First, let me ask you of your thought process, how did you come to this and when did you begin focusing on this art of bass guitar making?

Matthew: We are all made differently.  It wasn’t until recently that I recognized it was something I had talent for.  I have gifts in ways other people aren’t talented, just as they have gifts I don’t have.  It is natural for me to be adventurous with murals and venturing the thought to come up with ideas and invent things, imagine things and make them.  From murals, to garage, to leftovers.  Now being self-employed, you can buy your own materials and bring them to life.  Coming to know how you’re made…

Jackie:…how you’re made.  Was there a point where you made a decision to do this as a vacation and not a hobby?

Matthew: Being under the radar, it’s interesting.  Advertising, why you’re going word of mouth.  Time would come and it would bloom.  It’s been happening automatically.  Committed to making good work and doing everything you can to make instruments, the binding, painting, furniture and all the things I do for clients.  Knowing that these instruments have a synthesis.  From electrical to carving, to playing music– are the perfect length to all my talents.

Jackie: You’re a graduate of Gordon College.  Talk a little of you interests.  I know philosophy and theatre, book binding, furniture.  What are your passions?

Matthew: I think it narrows down to two.  I can list things but to live and be honest with what makes me care of love.  Those things you knew you need challenge them.  I am trying to live deliberately and seriously.  So paint one yourself….

Jackie: And you do it.

Matthew: You do it, it’s just stuff.

Jackie: I see you brought in one of your bass guitars.  That’s not just stuff; it’s a work of art.  A base guitar with the most beautiful wood.  Are there major differences between making guitars and bass guitars

Matthew: The difference is as a player, the guitar is limited by what it could do.

Jackie: Guitars or bass guitars?

Matthew: Guitars, I didn’t get my creative, artistic juices flowing.  Suddenly I was thinking:  What if we moved it around, put this over here, cut this off, shorten it a little.

Jackie: And that happened with the bass guitar.

Matthew: Oh my goodness, it got me flying, so I just started making them when I was 14 or 15.

Jackie:  Really?

Matthew: It its one of those things that gets you created.  If you change the tools, you change what you can do musically.

Jackie: Give me an example of that.

Matthew: My musical talent, whatever level it is at, there are people that area better than me of course.  We’re all different levels.  My musical talent can do what it can do.  And the instrument you buy, it can do things.  You’re limited by the tool and your talent.  Of course in a performance, excitement factors in.  But if you can alter the instrument, location of knobs and strings, it changes the dynamics of the instrument.  It changes the kind of residence.  Longer strings have different response than shorter strings.

Jackie: Those are really technical things, not just the aesthetics.

Matthew: Aesthetics matter; you want to hold it and squeeze it and enjoy doing.  It is the blend of art and utter freethinking, taken for granted.  Any store wall, you see the same instrument.  Take for granted, the Spanish guitar mixed with the Hawaiian guitar.  Recognize our assumptions, rethink those things.

Jackie: So you do things that would make a difference in the sound.  Handmade versus factory-made guitars, what is the most glaring difference; aesthetics and structurally?

Matthew: One of the most humorous distinctions knowing it was made or made just for you.  The size of your hand, length of your arm, type of music you play.  Those are fine tuning things you can’t get on the shelf.  When you take how you play and you’re raw and honest of what to say.  Custom is the area where you say what if and play higher stuff.

Length of neck affects the sound and width of fingers that spread.  I like playing a faster, more melodic.  I would prefer a shorter neck, narrower spaces so fingers can move faster.  I make 30” necks, it’s a scale length, makes for faster playing for me, makes the instrument explode.  If other people like a different length, that is what brings them out.

Jackie: Do you model your guitars after any factory made instrument?  Can you translate any particular aspect of guitars into your own process?

Matthew: I think we all learn to play instruments on instruments.  When we have existing conditions of these instruments, they’re there for very good reason; it has to be able to sit on your lap, be able to be close to you body.

Jackie: So you don’t change things just for the sake of doing things?

Matthew: There are reasons these things exist.  So I found as I was letting myself go.  You find people that are already doing that.   It comes out of a fresh part of you.  You have to except and enjoy it.  There are ideas I have for instruments that I need patens for.  I ran into a technical wall, needing those ideas to be protected.  I know some other companies are trying to develop the same idea.

Jackie: You do need to paten them.

Matthew: That’s a very different process from just making things and selling them.  You can have them stolen or copied.

Jackie: That’s the reality of art.  It’s not probably your favorite part.

Matthew: It’s enjoyable but it takes a lot of time.  Bought brand new building, empty space built all second floor, molding, to make an environment that is gorgeous.  I make all my own tools.

Jackie: You make own tools!!

Matthew: You start over, start fresh, make what want to use.

Jackie: Do you buy anything?

Matthew: I buy materials.

Jackie: What about wood for guitars?

Matthew: It can come from other people’s scrap lumber yards, trees taken down.  It’s just wood.  It’s just metal.  It takes longer to make some parts machines do well.  You don’t need to make some parts, the electrical magnetic pick up.  You can buy fine pickups.

Jackie: We’re talking about the fabrication of bass guitars.  Matthew, can you take us through the basic steps to begin and finish one of your base guitars, just so we get a sense of sequence of what you do?

Matthew: Think of what the instruments capable of or what it could be capable of.  Something you’d like to play, then think of an instrument that could pull it off.  Design work on paper, location of items.

Jackie: So before you pick up materials at all you have that all in your head and on paper.

Matthew: Then you begin with the aesthetics, the beauty of the wood, and the shape of the instrument, carved she’ll pattern in the top horn.   Website is Wallpusher.com

Jackie: So people can see the shape and wood.  They’re just beautiful.

Matthew: You start with aesthetics and blend those two.  You’re limited by shape of guitar, thickness of wood.  Fit into dimensions, the physical limitations inside this piece of wood.  Can you carve it? Fit into space you have?  Sometimes you have to rethink some things.  Everything is done by hand, unless I can avoid it.  Large machines good for getting work swiftly done.

Jackie: How do you get the wood?  Many different shades, meshed perfectly together?

Matthew: When lay out wood, find something beautiful.

Jackie: Then start with hardware

Matthew: We glue it together, have rough shape.  Rest if shaping it by hand, treat like carving work of art.

Jackie: What can’t you do by hand?

Matthew: Things like ban saw, cuts straight down like laser cutting down very versatile; cuts curves, if not; use hand saw.  Larger saws still achieve work, but saw is time saver.

Jackie: Talking about time, what is the time frame for making a guitar?

Matthew: I can make them very quickly, in 1 week; give self month or more depending on parameters.   Fun and simple process for me to carve, easy like breathing.  Difficult in cerebral process where really trying to invent new things and answer questions.  That can take a lot longer.  That can take years to explore an idea.  In terms of actually fabricating a piece, you’re only limited by time.

Jackie: Do you work by yourself?

Matthew: No, I delight in community.  Trying to hire people is difficult.  People have woodworking experience but not in etching, metal, lapidary

Jackie: Have facilities to do anything?

Matthew: Why don’t you look for retirees?  Skills not commonplace.  That’s what I would love to hire.

Jackie: Materials you use…woods generally use.  Reason prefer one to another, or matter of taste?

Matthew: Denser woods reflect sound differently.  Reasons why newer spruce is inferior to older denser, higher grain.  Hard to get stuff.  Instrument makers look for wood

Jackie: Do you use same wood for body and neck of instrument?

Matthew: Debate over neck should be solid.  When a string is played, is vibration, movement of air, electrical current down the wire, pushes another magnet, pushes air, ear pick up, ea r is another speaker.

Do you want body to vibrate? Hollow is hard to vibrate.  Solid absorbs some.  Different vibrations.

Jackie: These are kinds of questions you ask to get preferences.

Matthew: Total virginity to type of sound coming out.

Jackie: How does size affect guitar?  What’s normal?

Matthew: Bass guitars have 12 strings, concept that has audible range from low to high. Reason for stopping arms length; is it audible useful notes (play but no hear, only feel).  Decimal can make house vibrate, but don’t hear sound.

Jackie: Can go to extremes.

Matthew: Yes, still want to hear.

Jackie: Who do you most admire?

Matthew: I love music, things that make jump, has exuberance for life, first to run and climb.  Can criticize music all want but for me, best to be allowed to be me, things that potentially only I can do.

Jackie: How relate?

Matthew: Can see his influences immediately, for him, music was fresh, rhythmic, punchy, and very creative.  Whole experience is what can do with item.

Jackie: You are talented guy.  Terrific to hear of specialized field.  Must feel incredibly good when completed instrument.

Matthew: When I finish something, I can get on to next thing, move on, and let myself sleep.

In fine arts, when make something, can edit self to death.  My job is to make something and let others tell what means.

Jackie: …and judge.

(Transcribed by Chrissy Bongiorni)

Tune in to Guitars

Keep up with the latest guitar news on playing, vintage collecting, and innovative new guitars like Wallpusher. The art of guitars today is “tuned” to several publications. Here are the best places to go for info. Acoustic Guitar is a magazine

founded in 1990.  Consisting of magazines, e-newsletters, digital services and books, it made the leap to an online companion in 1995 (acousticguitar.com).  This site hosts sheet music, song transcripts, reviews and interviews. Guitar World (guitarworld.com) is a magazine located in New York, NY; offering tuning advice and products.  This magazine prints articles on artists/guitarists, rock albums and videos; also blogging on different brands.

Finger Style Guitar (fingerstyleguitar.com) covers all styles and music types of guitars.  Located out of Bedminster, NJ; this magazine is in fact connected with Facebook and Twitter.  While covering all musical genres, Finger Style Guitar features a style of playing that consists of plucking strings with fingers. Vintage Guitar Magazine (vguitar.com) has been published monthly since 1986.  It consists of information/history on instruments, entertainment, interviews and famous players.  Connecting with maintenance, it contains descriptive articles on instruments, gear, music and artists.

Prime and bass acoustic guitars
Image via Wikipedia

TC Guitar Magazine (tcguitar.com) connects musicians to types of playing, tuning, accessories and tips to left handed players.  This publication gives links to buying guitars and guitar lessons. Canadian Musician (canadianmusician.com) has covered Canadian artists, technique, gear and new releases/products since 1979. This publication covers guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion, brass woodwinds; also featuring vocal, song writing, recording, artists, blog and schedule of events.

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New Cow Guitar Straps for Spring!

Welcoming Spring with Whimsical Cow Pattern Straps! Find out more at our Etsy page!

This guitar strap is like no other in that it can be adjusted during play. The design offers one handed adjustments for the player to raise or lower the guitar in seconds. This guitar strap is so simple, so basic – yet so perfect. The price is perfect too. Musicians everywhere love the ability to effortlessly adjust the guitar or bass higher to solo and then drop down easily on stage. Light, beautiful, easy to clean, easy to store, not big and bulky. Handmade by artisans from 100% organic leather.
Sometime you just have to get back to the basics. Sometimes, it’s the simplest design that works the best.

Interns at Wallpusher

Wallpusher interns

Wallpusher interns

Have you heard about the Wallpusher Intern Program?

Wallpusher is a private business offering solutions for musicians. Our interns come to us from multiple sources,  from Art Schools such as Montserrat, the MFA and MassArt, traditional colleges such as Gordon College and Endicott, and the occasional highly motivated highschool student. Many other professionals take time out of their week to learn the skills that are offered at Wallpusher. All of our interns are motivated,  enthusiastic, and work hard. So far in the Wallpusher Intern to Learn Program, we have been focusing on the ancient woodworking and guitar working techniques of making guitars and guitar straps. We are interested in branching out in other directions, and seeking  individuals with basic electrical guitar wiring skills who would like to experiment in creating new possibilities for wiring and tone options. Email info@wallpusher.com if you or someone you know is interested in this opportunity

If you are interested in attaining the skills to create things you think should exist, then Wallpusher is the place to look.

The interns assist in several tasks at Wallpusher that will teach them the more refined elements of wood and leather working including preparation of the wood or leather, basic cutting and sanding, shaping with dies, etc. On-site, interns work with the master woodworker or leatherworker on prototypes, assist with the setup

and dismantle of projects; create designs, and complete tasks as assigned. The purpose of this leather working internship is to acquaint the individual with the coordination and implementation of certain aspects of leather working and through experience with a professional leather worker at Wallpusher in Ipswich, MA. M

Woodworking Interns

Woodworking Interns

atthew Rogers has taught at the MFA, MassArt, and Gordon College. His guitar making classes are of the highest quality. Matthew has collaborated with world-renowned designers and tailors on innovative designs. Alongside the creative so

Wallpusher leather interns

Wallpusher leather interns

lutions that Rogers has introduced in his design company are prototypes for leather products that unleash its potential. For more information visit interntolearn.wordpress.com.

Emaiil info@wallpusher.com with your resume and cover letter if you are interested, please be sure to put “Wallpusher Internship”.

Here are a few more photos of the interns hard at work. Enjoy!