This article appears in the January 2012 issue of LouisvilleMagazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
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Nick Boone, owner of The Leatherhead (1601 Bardstown Road), made his first leather creation when he was five years old. It was a harness that he used to hook a pet goat to a red wagon on his family’s farm in New Haven, Ky. “If we had to have something,” he says, “we had to make it because we couldn’t go to town and buy it.”
Decades later, he still abides by the do-it-yourself ethic. In his workshop in the back of the store, he estimates, he has between 200 and 300 pieces of leather rolled up and stacked around the perimeter. At a table in the middle of it all, he makes custom guitar straps, gun holsters, riding chaps, bridles. Boone does much of the work by hand and uses tools that he made himself — by forging and filing discarded chisels — to stamp the leather with intricate designs like roses and stars.
In 2005, he got a patent for what is perhaps his best-known creation: the Guitar Pro Strap ($150 and up). He designed it after musicians complained to him of neck pains from traditional straps. Boone spent months studying anatomy and testing prototypes himself by attaching them to cinderblocks. “Wore it till the guitar strap stopped hurting my neck,” he says.
He picks up a small statue of a woman playing a guitar and points to the trapezius muscle between the neck and shoulder. “The original straps cut into this muscle,” he says. “If it gets irritated, you have carpal tunnel, tendonitis, headache — you’ve just got a screwed-up night. You can’t enjoy yourself and the audience can’t enjoy what you’re doing.” Boone’s guitar strap is slightly curved instead of straight like a traditional strap, to bypass the trapezius.
Over the years, Boone’s work has gained a celebrity following. His handwritten ledger of customers who’ve bought guitar straps includes alt-country singer Ryan Adams, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and Darryl Jones, bassist for the current incarnation of the Rolling Stones. Other Leatherhead shoppers: the actor Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson.
Boone would rather focus on his work than on his well-known clientele, though. “Let’s face it: You have a certain amount of people that do make it in the music industry,” he says, “but there’s a lot of people that are good musicians that are not in the right place at the right time, and I want to cater to them the same as the famous people.”
Photo courtesy: John Nation