Tech Voices: Dan Lakin of D. Lakin Basses

Who in their right mind would think starting a bass company was a good idea?
By ED Friedland ,

WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD THINK starting a bass company was a good idea? In 1994, whether Dan Lakin was in his right mind or not, that’s exactly what he did, cofounding Lakland Basses with partner Hugh MacFarland. Lakin’s part-time used-instrument business specialized in older Fenders and Music Mans, but after seeing a BASS PLAYER review of a Warwick Dolphin with a J pickup in the neck position and a double- J at the bridge, he became fascinated with the idea of creating a workable hybrid between the StingRay and J-Bass platforms. The resulting Lakland 44-94 placed a split-coil J pickup in the neck position, with a quad-coil MM-style humbucker controlled by a 3-way toggle switch down by the bridge. The humbucker’s two phantom coils allowed for seven hum-free coil combinations, with some that closely resemble P, J, and StingRay tones. Its unparalleled versatility made the 44-94 popular with some of the world’s top players, and by 1997 it seemed every manufacturer was offering a bass with the “Lakland setup.”

Lakin took another important step when he introduced a line of signature models designed for his bass heroes—Joe Osborn, Bob Glaub, Jerry Scheff, Duck Dunn, and Darryl Jones. These artists all made their mark playing Fenders, and so the P- and J-Bass platforms came to figure heavily in the Lakland catalog. Lakin knew the originals had their shortcomings, and his company introduced small refinements that strengthened the breed, while establishing a base line of quality that gave the brand a boutique mystique. While Lakland’s popularity was soaring, the company pulled a bold move and expanded its offerings to include high-quality Asian-built versions of their U.S. models, the Skyline series. While many thought it would be the end of U.S. Lakland sales, it had proven to be a successful expansion.

While all things may have seemed rosy at Lakland, Dan admits to his strengths and weaknesses as a businessman. “At Lakland I did many things correct, like delivering a high quality product, making the world know about the product, and working with artists to get the word out. But I also did some things poorly, like accounting and managing production.” Sadly, things unraveled to the point where it became necessary for Dan to bow out of Lakland, selling it to his partners Bo and John Piruccello and a financial backer. “I would describe Lakland as my life’s work, my identity, my day job, my night job, my hobby,” says Lakin. “But I had no choice but to take the deal, in April 2010. I repaid my bank loan and started my life as an unemployed person.” Part of the deal was a three-year non-compete clause, a standard stipulation in these situations.

During this layoff period, Dan took a sales job in the family business (and continues to work there), but he couldn’t get the bass out of his blood. “I went to NAMM one summer to let people know I was still around, and my world changed for the better by meeting Hap Kuffner of Kuffner International. They’re a company that hooks up brands with factories around the world. We began a process that would evolve into my new company.” With his non-compete clause honored, Dan launched his new line of instruments, D. Lakin Basses. Back in the fold are his two original signature artists, Joe Osborn with his J-style model and Bob Glaub with a P, and soon to come is a Rick Rosas J model. Still, one has to ask, who in their right mind would try to sell Asian import P and J instruments in an already overcrowded market? Once again, in his right mind, that person would be Dan Lakin.

Lakin makes no attempt to change the basic framework of these classic instruments. Instead, he has focused on upgrading details that often hold back imported instruments. D. Lakin Basses feature U.S. Hipshot-supplied hardware, oil-finished necks, spoke-wheel trussrod adjusters, and 5mm-thick fingerboards that extend past the bone nut. “Kuffner introduced me to a pickup maker, but not just any pickup maker, the world’s largest. After four or five prototypes, I’ve finally got both J and P pickups I truly love. I was introduced to a factory in Korea called Mirr Music, basically a custom shop for hire. I sent them two samples and a video describing what I wanted. In a nutshell, I wanted a USA Lakland made in Korea!”

Dan’s prototypes received a positive response at Winter NAMM 2014, and the first production runs have hit the U.S. shores (see Soundroom, September ’14). “I look at D. Lakin Basses as my doover. I have the chance to change anything I didn’t like about my instruments at Lakland, and I’m looking forward to doing things correctly this time. My focus is on the everyday player, not necessarily the big-name endorsers. My mission this time is to make a top-quality product at a great price.” Lakin plans to expand the offerings to include an active MM/J-configured bass, a short-scale hollowbody, and a line of custom-wound strings (rounds and flats) from Germany’s Pyramid Strings.