Next: Part 3: 1994 – 2005
I graduated college in the spring of 1988. I moved back to Chicago and began working for our family business – A. Lakin & Sons. A. Lakin recycled tires – making die cut parts out of tire strips. It was a good business, but not too exciting. I didn’t aspire to work there, but after meeting my future wife, I was ready to settle down and start a family. I met Cheryl at my favorite SIU Bar – The Hangar 9. We decided rather quickly that we wanted to settle down together. Our main attraction to each other was music. We both loved the Beatles – and beside a few artists – we were on the same musical page.
Around 1990 a few important things happened. First Bass Player Magazine was introduced. Finally, a mag for bass players only. In the past bassists would get 2 to 3 pages per 100 from a Guitar Player Magazine. Bass Player was well written and much fun. In Vintage Guitar Mag I saw a store that specialized in guitars used by The Beatles. They only carried models that were used by the Fab Four. What a great niche they made for themselves. I decided to get into the game with a specialization of bass guitars only.
Pre – Internet, I started sending out monthly mailers listing my stock of used and vintage basses. I didn’t have much inventory so I also began listing basses for stores that I was friendly with – Music & More in Florida and Guitar & Bass Center in New Jersey to name a few. I specialized in post-Fender Leo Fender designs (i.e. Musicman and G&L). Aside from being great basses they were less trouble to sell. With Fender there are so many replacement parts available we basically have to do a forensic inspection to see if they are all original. This is not the case with Musicman and G&L. 99% are all original.
By 1993 I was sending out about 1000 mailers per month. I even bought a paper-folding machine to help with the task. It was fun and I got to see almost everything on the market though various trades and consignments, etc.
In 1992 I met Hugh McFarland. Hugh was recommended as a great Luthier (or guitar builder/repair tech). I was getting my stock ready for a vintage guitar show, and I had a J bass with a neck PU that was not working. I called Hugh in a panic and told him or the problem. His reply will stay with me forever. He said, “How’s that my problem?”
We actually became close friends. As my business grew I needed him to help me with everything from electronics repair to refrets. When he would refret a bass it was magic. He made any instrument feel like a high-end hand made product. In 1993 we began talking about collaborating on a bass together.
The origin of the PU configuration – 1 MM and 1 J is a point of contention. I read a review on a Warwick Dolphin in Bass Player Magazine. It showed the MM and J config and discussed dropping (or tapping a coil on the MM pickup so then you had a J bass. Soloing both coils of the bridge (MM) pickup gave you a Stingray and soling the neck j-pickup (hum cancleed type) gave you P-Bass. Basically the greatest hits of Leo Fender in one bass! It turns out that Hugh’s mentor – Ed Reynolds did a number of basses with this config back in the 80’s. I really don’t care who should get credit but I will say, getting the public to recognize the config is a great feat, as great or greater than actually inventing it. The problem with the Dolphin in my estmation was that it was a strange unfanilier shape. I wanted all the electronics features but on a Fender Style bass. Add a great hand done fret job out of the gates and you have the formula for Lakland USA series basses.