I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Why Do You Need Strap Locks?
Strap locks are an inexpensive aftermarket item many guitar and bass players use to ensure the safety of their beloved instruments. They install easily, one piece in the place of the stock strap buttons and the other attached to the strap itself, and they create a solid connection between your instrument and the strap that keeps it slung around your body.
Most feature a ball-and-socket design that allows them to swivel a full 360 degrees, and the good ones are rated for up to several hundred pounds of weight.
It might seem like a no-brainer to install these things on a guitar or bass you care about, but for some unfathomable reason not everybody does. So, what are the advantages of strap locks and why should you use them?
Here's the issue: The leather ends of most guitar straps are fairly stiff when the strap is new. Depending on what kind of guitar you have, and what kind of strap buttons come stock on the thing, at this point you may be safe enough without strap locks.
However, if you are going to forgo them, I highly suggest changing your strap on a regular basis, and keeping an eye on the wear and tear of the ends. When the ends of your strap become supple and flimsy, that’s when your guitar will slip off easily.
So what happens next? Most likely, your instrument goes crashing to the ground. This only needs to happen once and your sweet guitar or bass is scarred for life, if not seriously damaged. Why take the chance where there is such a low-cost solution to this problem?
Strap locks protect your instrument, but they have other benefits as well. If you take your guitar on and off the strap regularly, installing strap locks is a great idea. In this situation, the ends of your strap will wear out particularly fast.
Using strap locks, you can pop the strap on and off quickly, and use the same strap for years. In fact, with most strap lock systems you can use different straps on different guitars. In other words, as long as you stick to the same brand on all of your instruments, you can interchange your straps at will.
This article takes a look at some of the best strap lock brands out there. Each design is a bit different, but they all serve the same purpose: protecting your guitar. No matter which kind of strap lock you choose, it is far better than leaving your instrument open to potential calamity!
Dunlop Dual-Design Straplok System
I use Dunlop Straploks on all of my guitars and basses, and for that reason I have to give them my number one recommendation. They’ve never let me down, and the oldest ones I have were installed well over a decade ago. They still work fine, and I’ve not lost an instrument yet.
The Dual Design means you can use a regular strap (without the pin end of the Straplok installed) if you wish. They come in a few different colors to match your hardware. Even though the installation process might seem a little confusing at first, once you get the hang of it it is pretty easy.
Dunlop says they’re tested up to 800 pounds, so unless you have a guitar made from a granite boulder you’ll never have a problem.
I've relied on the Dunlop Straploks for about a decade now. They've always come through for me. Overall they are simple to put together and totally secure. I also like that I can easily use the same strap with all of my guitars.
In fact, for the longest time that's exactly what I've been doing: moving my favorite strap (also Dunlop) around to different guitars. I'm sure I have more straps around here buried in cases or something, but doing it this way is just so easy!
Schaller Security Strap Locks
Along with Dunlop, Schaller Security Strap Locks are probably the most popular strap lock designs out there. Like Dunlops, Schaller Strap Locks are highly secure, swivel a full 360-degrees, and come in several finishes to match your guitar. They attach slightly differently, and slide on where the Dunlops kind of pop on, but the end results are the same.
Many musicians swear by Schallers over Dunlops (and vice versa). Schaller has definitely proven themselves over the years. Personally, I really like the Schaller strap locks but I like the Dunlops just a little bit better. Both are very good, and this is simply my preference. After doing a little research, you may decide differently.
Whether you decide on Dunlop or Schaller you will get a quality piece of gear that will protect your guitar or bass from certain doom. You may also notice some guitar companies including them as stock items on their instruments, which speaks to the quality of both.
Ernie Ball Super Locks
Schaller and Dunlop may be the most popular strap lock brands, but there is a new competitor in this race! Ernie Ball Super Locks are a cool product that has been around for a few years now. The basics of the system are pretty much the same as all strap lock-type products.
However, the release mechanism for the Ernie Ball Super Locks is a little different. The Super Locks feature a squeeze release, which some players feel makes them less likely to come loose. It is a cool design, and Ernie Ball always makes good stuff.
While I'm not about to swap out my Dunlops, I may consider trying these out on my next new guitar or bass. Where the Dunlops and Schallers only require the push or pull of a button to disengage, the Ernie Balls system is a bit more complex.
Does this make them more secure? I supposes it’s theoretically possible to bump into something and have a single button disengage and send your guitar to the floor, but it seems highly unlikely. Nonetheless, the Super Locks are a cool, reliable design worth checking out.
Check Out the Ernie Ball Super Locks!
Strap Fail: It Can Happen to You!
Still think you don't need these little gadgets? I’ll admit it took me a long time to become a strap-lock believer. Sure, I saw the big stars using them, but they were playing arena shows and running around like maniacs with wireless systems. I was just a dude playing in local bands, lucky enough to be on any stage with enough room to turn around. What did I need strap locks for? Well, I found out the hard way.
A few years back I was playing bass in a cover band in a crowded club. I’d been in some pretty heavy bands before this, and never felt like I needed to secure my instrument. This band was laid-back and groovy, just something fun to make a few bucks on the side. There was nothing intense about it, and certainly nothing aggressive about my playing. Nonetheless, in the middle of a song, without warning, the right end of my strap gave way, and my Ibanez headed for the floor.
Had my bass hit the ground it may have been better. I could have stormed off the stage in front of a stunned crowd, doing my best spoiled rock star interpretation. But that’s not what happened. Instead, I ended up trying to control the falling bass with my left (fretting) hand. But stopping its downward plunge only sent it forward toward the crowd, which meant I had to take several steps forward myself to try to stay with it.
In retrospect, the smartest thing would have just been to grab the bass with two hands. But in the heat of the moment it seemed most logical to try to grab the flailing strap with my right hand, which just made it harder to control the flying bass with my left. Meanwhile, my 350-watt amp was ringing out some unknown, semi-muted chord, which didn’t work at all in the context of the song.
It all happened in a split second, but thanks to my acrobatics the bass was saved. Only my ego was damaged, though it could have ended up much worse. It seems funny now, and I took a tremendous ribbing from my band mates over the incident, but at the time it happened I was mortified. It’s hard to be cool for the rest of the gig when the audience is afraid you might fling your bass at them at any time.
From that day on I’ve installed strap locks on every one of my guitars and basses, even the cheap ones. It’s a little bit of extra insurance and peace of mind, and well worth the cost.
Strap Lock Tips and Warnings
Be careful to use a high-quality, well-fit screwdriver when you install strap locks. In most cases the installation is a piece of cake, but I’ve had cases where the screws stripped a bit. In each situation, choosing a better tool to do the job probably would have eliminated the issue.
It’s also important to be aware of the warranty on your instrument. In some cases, even installing strap locks will void the warranty. It sounds silly, but once you install an aftermarket part often that’s all it takes for your warranty to go out the window. Read the fine print if it is a big deal to you. Of course, many guitarists don’t care about this kind of thing.
Be aware of your guitar case when choosing your brand of strap lock. Some, such as the Dunlop Dual-Designs, may stick out slightly further than stock strap buttons. If you have a very solid, form-fitted case this may be an issue. Personally, I’ve never had any problem with the Dunlops in cases for Les Pauls, Strats, Carvins, Ibanez basses, Warwick basses, etc, but I could imagine possible minor issues with some designs. I think it’s a small thing, but it’s something to be aware of.
I hope you consider adding some kind of strap lock to you guitar or bass, and protecting your beloved instrument. Of course I can see how vintage guitar owners, or those who wish to keep their instruments in pristine stock condition would be against it, but the rest of us should give it some serious thought. Strap locks are smart, inexpensive, easy to install, and just might keep you from accidentally throwing your guitar at the audience at your next show.
Your Opinion: Which is the best strap lock brand?
Michael James (author) on December 10, 2013:
Thanks Kerry. I've not used the LOXX system but I'm aware of it, and in fact did a little research on them for this article. It seems to me they will certainly do the job. As for the washer trick, I think it's a cool idea if you don't feel like modding your guitar, but it would make me a little nervous!
Kerry on December 10, 2013:
Nice review! Have you used LOXX or the Grolsch washers as strap locks before?