The ad says that cotton is “the fabric of our lives.” It wasn’t the fabric of my youth, I can tell you that. There were the blue school uniforms, seemingly forged in a single piece from iron-strong polyester, hot in the summer and abrasive in the winter. There were suits and ties in rough wool to wear during the weekends, sweaters in soft Lacoste velour and miserable Brooks cable knit, and the instantly dirty, plasticized leather of the Nike “Burt Bruin” shoes on my feet. And, of course, there was M-B Tex, eternal and unchanging, perennially youthful even as the car surrounding it disintegrated into flakes of chromed rust.
You have to understand this: there was only really one acceptable Mercedes-Benz to own, and that was the W123-chassis 240D. The S-Class was for bounders, social climbers, and the irresponsible. I can still remember gagging with personal agitation as my father refused to even test-drive a W126 560SEL. “Not the message I’d want to send.” Instead, he bought an XJ6, which at least sent the message that its owner, stranded by the side of the road, waiting for the next tow truck, had a certain dash and/or panache. No, the one to have was the diesel taxi, in beige or red, perhaps with yellow foglights. It was staid, reliable, respectable, a twenty-year car. We understood, as children, that certain mommies and daddies had so much money that they simply could not contain it, that it burst from the seams of their Yves Saint Laurent flannel three-pieces, that this money resulted in acquisition of the slightly embarrassing but still acceptable 300D, with its rather brash “TURBODIESEL” script on the decklid. Still the 300D did not commit the sin of leather.
M-B Tex is the interior material of the gods. It does not wear, stain, or fatigue. It instantly adjusts to exterior temperature and/or sun load, freezing skin solid to its bolsters in winter and smoking the leg hair off the lazy women on the way to an August day at the pool. It comes in several colors, none of which are quite the color of any known leather dye. It was found in the 240D, the 300D, and even the daddy-knows-someone-who-knows-someone-who-takes-risks 230 and 280E. Every ride caught to school, to soccer practice, to the pool or playground was in one of these Tex-lined conveyances, crawling through the towns of Long Reach, Upper Arlington, Reisterstown, White Plans, and all the other little burgs where the train of my childhood came to a temporary halt.
M-B Tex is still around, but that’s like saying that Guns N’ Roses are still around. When you throw everything away that made your band, or your brand, great, it doesn’t matter if you’re slinging the same vinyl or have the same singer on the vinyl. I wouldn’t be surprised if the new M-B Tex suffered from the same lousy quality and ephemeral construction which is as much a part of the three-pointed-star’s image now as eternal, vegetable-oil-burning four-cylinder diesels used to be. I don’t like to think about it. I wouldn’t want a new Mercedes. The last one I owned, as opposed to leased, was a 190E 2.3-16. I suppose I’d consider a CL, but nowadays I tend to spend my car money on musical instruments.
No wonder, then, that when I heard about a company which made guitar straps and wallets from old “deadstock” M-B Tex, I immediately visited their website and dropped a couple hundred bucks on the stuff. The package arrived yesterday, and I could hardly wait to take some lousy pictures with my lousy camera so all of you could see this stuff. Couch Guitar Straps are made in the United States under “sweatshop-free” conditions, so I decided to pair the straps with another great American-made brand. The Heritage Guitar Company, located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, builds a very small number of guitars using the original Gibson tooling, in the original Gibson factory. Many of the employees are former Gibson people who were left behind when that firm moved to union-free Nashville thirty years ago. One of the founders, a fellow named Marv Lamb, started working at Gibson in 1957 and has been making guitars ever since. Some Heritage owners say that their guitars are “the real Gibsons”. I don’t know if that’s right. I do consider them the proper successors to those fabulous Les Pauls, Flying Vs, ES-335s, and L-5s made way back when.
I’ve uploaded these photos in 2400px size, so if you want to see the details, click away. The brown M-B Tex seen in the above photo is the basis for Couch’s most expensive strap. I’ve placed it here with two of my Heritage H-555 semi-hollowbodies. The strap has “cruelty-free” vinyl ends and Samsonite-style stitching; the guitars have inlays constructed of abalone and mother-of-pearl, ebony fretboards, gold-plated hardware, and Seymour Duncan pickups.
Quite a feast for the eyes. The wallet at the top of this article is made from the same material. Here’s the strap, pictured with my H-170 double cutaway. Marv Lamb himself “rolled” the neck on this one. The back is a single gorgeous piece of mahogany. plain-sawn near the center of a very big old tree.
Couch has a variety of different materials. Here’s another motif from my pre-teen years: the “8-bit” strap, shown on my H-535 “23rd Anniversary”. Seymour Duncan “Seth Lover” pickups and nickel hardware create a sound and feel very similar to an early Gibson ES-335.
They also have a variety of fabric straps, which can be made from more “deadstock” — in this case, fabric trunk lining originally destined for Pontiac and Ford automobiles. It’s worth checking out. Unfortunately, there’s no special TTAC deal, primarily because the company has no idea I’m reviewing the product. Maybe you can talk them into something.
I suspect these straps will last a long time. They aren’t cheap, so they had better last a long time. I’ll pass them down to my son, along with the guitars, his 911, and the other miscellany, but I suspect he won’t really be that interested. Perhaps he’ll want a sling for his sampler made from Chevrolet Volt interior fabric. More likely, I’ll have to tell him what a Chevrolet Volt was. Perhaps one of those old Benz diesels will wander by on the road while I’m explaining the difference between craft and junk.