Guitar Highlights: Sandy Coker’s Leather Wrapped 1959 Telecaster
In the early 1950s, a new fad emerged that still excites and awes us to this very day; the hand tooled leather wrapped guitar! Deeply rooted in Country and Western, the leather wrapped guitar style became a way for stars to promote their brand and style. It paired extremely well with cowboy boots, hats and nudie suits and completed the look a lot of musicians were going for at the time. It also happened to protect the instrument from the wear and rigors of touring throughout the country night after night. Several mega stars of the time, such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, were seen sporting guitars with leather wraps, and droves of other musicians soon followed. These wraps were often made by the artists themselves, like Buddy Holly who made a wrap for his J-45, or other local craftsman would perform the work.
In terms of construction, the leather wrap would just cover the body, with the front section of leather highly decorated with flowers, western themes and usually the musician’s name. This was done by moistening the leather, and pressing heated tools into the surface to permanently emboss a design. A long thin leather piece wrapped around the entire perimeter of the body, while the front and back pieces were stitched along the corners. Once installed, the wrap would be securely fastened and would require undoing the stitches to remove the wrap from the guitar body. We’re lucky to have a later 1970s leather wrapped guitar made for Roy Orbison, where the two halves are held together with velcro so the wrap could easily be removed! More often than not, electric guitars were the primary candidate to be leather wrapped, as covering an acoustic guitar would dampen the sound drastically.
We’re extremely lucky to have a few original examples from the era, and we’d like to highlight this particular example from 1959 that belonged to Western Swing guitar player Sandy Coker! Sandy came from a very musical family where his older sister Alvadean, and father Alvis Sr. were both professional musicians. By the time he turned 13, the trio had moved to Hollywood, and were signed with Abbott Records as “The Coker Family.” Sandy and his older sister performed together throughout the 1950s, and later he ventured into his own personal projects.
Looking at his guitar, right away we can see a beautiful contrast between the dark stained leather, and the white stitches and white raised design. Up close, you can see the sheer time and precision needed to work the leather to form the design, and running your hand over the wrap to feel the texture is unbelievable. The painted white flowers and “SANDY” have taken on a beautiful cream-like patina, and some of the black areas show traces of brown highlights. It also appears to protect the colors of the leather wrap, the whole shell has been clear coated for a slight sheen.
Underneath the wrap, we can see the untouched Blond finish poking through in some areas. The craftsman who performed this work for Mr. Coker signed his name on the back of the leather as Ron McCarn. This guitar must’ve went on to be Mr. Coker’s favorite, as evidenced by the wear throughout and that the back of the neck has been played to bare wood for an incredibly comfortable feel. Some other small modifications, such as the large screw string tree and wooden switch tip, really bring Mr. Coker’s personality to life; and they’re all perfectly preserved in this piece! On the back there seems to be two holes through the leather into the body, most likely from the “Go Around” Waist belt popular at the time. As if that all wasn’t enough, the matching tooled leather strap with “SANDY” in white is also included!
For more information and images of the guitar, check out the full listing here.
The Coker Family. “We’re Gonna Bop: The Complete Coker Family Recordings on Abbott and Decca: 1954-1957.”
McKee, David. “Sandy Coker – Meadowlark Melody / Toss over – London – …” 45cat.Com, www.45cat.com/record/hl8109. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.
Sandy Coker | Discography | Discogs, www.discogs.com/artist/2050038-Sandy-Coker. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.