Getting to First Bass: Dan Lakin

Australian Guitar Magazine
Bass Player Magazine, January, 2000 - "Perspectives" by Jim Roberts

Welcome to the first installment of my series about bass makers. I'll be asking well-known builders about their earliest basses, to learn what inspired them to begin making musical instruments out of assorted chunks of wood, plastic, and metal.

My first victim is Dan Lakin (LAY-kin), a Chicago bassist who's a relative newcomer to the business. Dan's first music-business venture involved buying and selling used basses. "In 1990 or '91 I started looking for basses in the trading papers," Dan recounts. "I would buy them and then resell them, more as a hobby than as a business. Because of that, I got to see just about everything on the market. There were aspects of certain instruments I liked, but nothing seemed to have it all in one package. I liked Fender basses, and I also liked Music Man and some other top brands, but I thought the ultimate instrument was not on the market."

"I thought the ultimate instrument was not on the market."

Dan LakinDan would sometimes buy an instrument that needed to be repaired, and he often turned to luthier Hugh McFarland. "Anytime Hugh refretted something, it would play amazingly well. Eventually, I talked with him about putting together an instrument. He had production experience at Dean Guitars, so he knew what to do. We began designing the instrument in January '94. We put together a prototype and took it to the NAMM show that July. I brought the players point of view to the project, and Hugh brought the builder's point of view."

Dan says the first Lakland (Lakin + McFarland) was "sort of Leo Fender's greatest hits - a J-Bass and an early Music Man Stingray put together." The body shape was similar to the Stingray's, but the treble side featured a deeper cutaway for better upper-fret access. It was made of light-weight ash with a quilted maple top, a recipe like Roger Sadowsky was using for his respected Fender-style instruments. Quartersawn rock maple was the choice for the neck, which was capped with a birdseye maple fingerboard. A stickler for playability, Lakin worked with McFarland to come up with a slim, easy-to-play neck shape. McFarland's excellent fret work was the finishing touch.

The prototype's neck did not have the graphite reinforcement found in current Laklands. It also didn't have the current headstock design; the configuration was quite a bit more like the trademark Fender shape. ("Yeah, we got a phone call about that," Dan laughs.) Lakland soon devised a new design.

A BP Product Profile inspired the prototype's flexible electronics. "The coils in the Music Man-style bridge pickup are splittable," Dan explains. "I got that idea from a review of the Warwick Dolphin [Jan/Feb '92]. I remember reading that the Dolphin's rear pickup was splittable, so you could have one or both coils on, and I thought, 'Wow, that's a really good idea!'" Lakin selected the pickups and preamp from the vast Bartolini catalog. "The preamp was an NTMB model. After we got it in, we asked Bill Bartolini to make some minor changes to the EQ points. So that became our preamp, the NTMB-L. We also changed the pickups after we had made the first 20 basses, because I wasn't happy with my first choice."

The prototype had a clunky looking oval bridge plate based on the early Stingray design. McFarland had decided to use aluminum, believing it offered a better sound, but it proved hard to work with. "And we couldn't find anyone who would chrome plate it," Dan says, "so it looked like hell." The bridge plate was eventually streamlined, and chrome plated steel took the place of the aluminum.

American BassesIn addition to attending trade shows, the first Lakland bass spent a fair amount of time on the bandstand. "I was playing in a Grateful Dead cover band," notes Dan, "and we were gigging fairly often. Right from the start I was pleased with the wide range of useable sounds. It could get close to both a Jazz Bass and a Stingray, but it also had a sound of its own." The prototype is retired now, but it has a place of honor in Dan's office.

Lakland basses went into production in 1995, and the company's annual output has risen steadily to the current 500 instruments a year. The latest Lakland bass is a thinline hollowbody co-designed by Michael Tobias. It's scheduled to debut in the February NAMM show in Los Angeles.

NOTE: Jim Roberts later used this article and others like it in his book American Basses, published by Backbeat Books. For more on the book, which includes a Lakland bass on the cover, click here .

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