In January of 1994 Hugh McFarland and myself decided to create a product in the high end bass industry. The same time my wife had just given birth to our second child – Ellen.
We began by inspecting the competition. Carefully going over what we liked and – more importantly – what we did not like.
At the time my used bass business was in full swing. Not making enough money to quit my day job, but doing okay.
We had a P-Bass copy – not sure of the brand – with a Fender J neck. Hugh routed out the pickup area so we could position the pickups wherever we wanted to hear them.
Our first stop was Bartolini. Bill and Pat Bartolini worked closely with small manufacturers to create exactly what we had in mind pickup and preamp-wise. They were great and made us feel important from the start.
The first model – then called the 4-string – had a 22 fret neck with a smaller treble cutaway to facilitate the upper 2 frets. This worked well when in the standing position, but sitting was not good. About 1 year in we reshaped the treble cutaway. It was better, but still not great.
Hardware – Whatever we could get from Hipshot – tuners, string retainers, etc… Our bridge however, was a different story. Hugh showed me his idea for an oval bridge plate made from lightweight non-chromed aluminum. Not only did I hate the shape, but the aesthetics as well. We eventually settled on a smaller bridge made from brass, chrome finished. It turns out that this is the way one can tell if the bass player is using Lakland – the distinctive oval bridge! We had a company in Chicago put a bend in the brass. We then band sawed the oval shape – then polished it to a mirror like shine and had it plated. The design is very simple – a Fender bridge on steroids. Within the first year we moved bridge production to USA Hipshot! Thank God!
Finish – The first 20 or so were finished by Hugh in his shop – nitro old fashioned and hugely labor intensive. We found an ex-Washburn guy who finished out of his garage. He drove a motorcycle and would actually come drop off and pick up bodies on the bike! One day he came to us with a problem. He shot a bass in teal, but the edges were messed up. He decided to paint the edges black. A new color – Teal Sunburst – was born! It turned out to be one of our best selling colors. After a year or so we found Wilkins Guitar Finishes in LA. Great work, but costly. Lakland still uses him to this day. Hi Pat! (a great guy)
In July we drove down to Nashville for the Namm show. One bass in hand – Sunburst with a quilt top. I agreed to help Bill Bartolini with the booth in exchange for showing our bass.
I went in thinking we were really hot shit and that any Musicman players would switch to us in a second. Tony Levin was my main target. Looking for a bald guy became the motive of the show. I never did get Tony to stop by, but I did meet with another great bald bassist – Michael Rhodes. Someone at the show told me that he was a trendsetter and countless Nashville bassist look to him for equipment advice. I did meet him at the Bartolini booth. He wasn’t cold, but not real warm either. I only had a 4 string and he said he only plays 5 string. We eventually became close friends and I love spending time with him. He is an amazing resource for bass information! He turned me on to Tommy Cogbill, the late bassist who recorded countless classics – with my favorite being “Son of a Preacher Man”. Michael is also, hands down one the best players in the world!
In August we sent the prototype out to meet the public in Philadelphia. I had a couple of close “bass” friends there. One wrote for Vintage Guitar Magazine. He posted the first review – all glowing as expected.
Production was going very slowly. We endured a few setbacks. One was when one of the builders cut into the body with a drill order to make the string through body work. One slip and it was time to start over – no way to correct this on a metallic painted body! Another was using a special recipe to make face dots appear to be aged clay like old Fenders. On the way to our first Anaheim Namm show in January of 1995, the bass took the flight in cargo and the cold made the dots shatter. We put the bass at the Hipshot booth, back to he audience to show off the Hipshot Tuners.
In January of 1995 we moved from Hugh’s shop into the family’s factory on Dominick Street in Chicago.
In September of 1994 I showed the Lakland prototype at a vintage guitar show. Within 1 week we got a love letter from Fender saying our headstock was too close to theirs. Luckily we had only made 3, so we redesigned and got Fender to sign off!
Getting Sadowsky’s catalog and press stuff in the mail made my head spin! Hundreds of great players. I knew the importance of endorsers. It was critical to make a success in this business. A used bass friend down in Fort Lauderdale had a friend in Chicago – Greg Rzab. Rzab played with Buddy Guy. Buddy may be the most successful blues artist ever. Greg used live and on his records, includin Damn Right I Got The blues!
Greg and I hit it off quite well. He’s smart and one hell of a bass player. He was not very happy working for Buddy. I would say he came into the office once a week while he was in town.
In 1996 we ran out of money. My father offered to bail us out. However, only on one condition – Hugh did not own Lakland in any way. He could still work there, but the ownership was gone. I told Hugh when my dad goes I would reinstate his ownership. He seemed to get it. We had no other choice.
I loved and still love Hugh. He is an amazing artist. I hope to work with him again someday.
When I started with Hugh he had a friend who came around on his day off from installing car stereos. His name was Carl Pedigo. A great guys with stores about just about everything. This guy has lived! He was learning how to be a luthier/repairman. When we moved in January of 1995 to our Dominick Street location he came too! He was our first – employee. Carl got good fast – real good. Whereas Hugh got board with production – same thing over and over again, Carl tried to do it better each time. What he was great at besides fretting was making an artist feel important – keeping records on how guys liked there set-ups , etc….Carl is the best fret man alive!
In the spring of 2001 we decided to make a bold move and offer a lower priced model made in Korea. Jack Westhiemer of the brand Cort (headquartered in Northbrook Il – just 20 miles away from us) was our man.
He came out and told me our factory was the highest quality of anything he had ever seen. This was good and bad. Goof that the quality was the best , but bad because it was over the top and too expensive to build!
We sent samples of our 55-94 to start the project. In June I got the call. I was nervous as hell ! I Went out to his office and opened the box and was shocked at what I saw. Instead of the MM and J Pickup configure there was just 2 soapbars – very generic looking. On the plus side the bass felt great – very solid and a high quality feel. Rather then scrap it, a Summer Namm show was just weeks away, we decided to add it as a new model the 55-01! I remember stuffing envelopes with product literature about the new series we called the “Skyline Series” on the morning of 9/11/2001.
We purposely made the Skyline Series different than the US series. A list of these features:
- Ash only bodies
- Maple not birdseye maple fingerboard
- No graphite in 4-strings
- Satin Lacquer back of neck –instead of oil
- Delrin – “plastic” nut. – instead of Bone
- Hardware made in Korea – Hipshot licensed.
We needed to have good reasons to make the USA Lakland’s stand out. And we did! USA manufacturing took a small hit then settles back down to a familiar clip.
In 2002 ESP , our Japanese distributor came to us with an offer. They would make a Lakland for the Japanese market only. Apparently Japan does not think of Korea as quality to say the least. They asked us to name the series and create a logo. We decided on the “Shoreline Series”. Sales are steady but not amazing.
In the summer of 2004 ESP invited John and I to go over to Japan for ESP’s 30th birthday party. We brought a great gift. A picture frame painted sunburst with pickguards from each of my signature artists autographed – Joe Osborn, Bob Glaub, Duck Dunn and Darryl Jones. They loved it! They treated me like celebrity! We did a Q&A with students of guitar building. ESP has not only stores but a guitar making school both in Japan and California. I have it on video somewhere… I almost sold them Lakland in 2008 but they pulled out in the last minute – I never heard why. I was ready to move to California . I love LA!
One of the goals of the Skyline Series was to get into Guitar Center. We thought it was a slam-dunk. We showed them the 55-01 at the 2001 summer Namm Show. They looked interested but the order never came. We did however open Sam Ash as a dealer. Sales to them and still are good not great. Every Namm show was spent looking for Guitar Center buyers and get us into those stores ! We did sell them a few USA made pieces and took special orders from them. About one per year ! We did reach out ot them but they always had a story why we couldn’t get in. On more than one occasion they told us that one of the lines in the stores would need to fail to make shelf space for us. Namm shows were almost always a disappointment. My father would ask me – How Many! The answer – not enough!
Around this time I started running a series of ad’s with Lakland’s put into classic works of art. I remember Roger Sadowsky asked me why. I said “you see we are talkingabout it It”! These were created by Richard Carpenter in GA.