Bob Schell is a man who values his independence. “I do not have any schedules, any employees. The work usually comes in waves.” Then Bob spends up to 14 hours a day in his workshop. On other days he sets out in his kayak and paddles along the Morattico Creek river running past his house until he suddenly changes course and heads directly into his workshop located on the ground floor: “I need inspiration in order to work.” The results of his kayak tours are definitely worth seeing: Bob Schell manufactures ornate guitar straps out of leather.
Who would have thought, that the 62-year-old has spent the majority of his life selling Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Bob became a car enthusiast apprenticing at Prestige Motors in Paramus, N.J., where the Hungarian master mechanic Apard Ketesz, took him unter his wing. “He was a mentor and a friend. Arpad was challenging and demanding, patient and taught me to love the work.” When Bob Schell’s mother needed full-time help 10 years ago, Bob searched for a job which would enable him to stay home and take care of his mother while also earning money. Bob has always been a passionate guitarist and took part in a leather workshop when he was still at school. That is how he came up with the idea of making guitar straps. Brookwood Leather workshop was founded on the ground floor of his home.
What is the greatest challenge of his profession? “There are no challenges for me”, says Bob. “But there are opportunities. Every project offers me an opportunity to learn something new, to do something better.” Bob sees the art of his job as bringing out the beauty of the leather. “You have to work with the leather every single day.” Bob rolls and twists the heavy leather to develop the structure of the patina. At the same time the admitted news junkie watches television and gets angry about the government. The finished and usually intricately detailed guitar straps are now bought by customers throughout the world. Bob does not have to worry about a lack of inspiration because he has the river right before his door.
Bob began working with leather in 1971. At this time he sold his guitar straps, belts, bags and hats throughout New Hampshire. He also spent a summer in an old French Quarter in Montréal where he manufactured handmade, tailored sandals at an art and craft market. Today he produces guitar straps for customers from all over the world. His customers include Yuriy Shishkov from Fender, who is regarded as one of the world’s best luthiers. Bob’s most important tools? His hands. But a few other tools are still essential for its job.