Review: Lakland 55-94
Australian Guitar Magazine
Sweet home Chicago-the windy city, home of the electric blues (and subsequently home of The Blues Brothers) and Lid's next stop, the city in which he 'put money down-let her roll'. Bozz Scaggs' boy needed to get his hands on some big money, whether it was to save the orphanage in which he grew up or buy one of Lakland's new top of the line 5-string bass guitars is not widely known.
Dan Lakin is a Chicago bass player and music retailer, specializing in secondhand instruments, (particularly Music Man Stingray basses) through his mail order company, Dan Lakin Basses, and he has most recently collaborated with luthier Hugh McFarland to create the Lakland range of bass guitars-a range of stellar four and five string bass guitars that borrow the best bits of the Music Man formula to create beautifully hand crafted variations on the theme and take the bolt-on concept to a whole new level. For your consideration this issue, we have the Lakland 55-94, the top of the range 5-string Lakland bass guitar and probably the coolest bass guitar I have ever had the pleasure to work with-and all this from a small-handed, short scale-playing, self confessed bass guitar nancy boy whose 5-string phobia is well documented.
GIVE ME THE EXTRA INCH!
I must admit that it had me feeling a little cocky when I found out that the 5-string monster I had so effortlessly been tearing shit up on is a 35" extra long scale length (as opposed to the standard 34" long scale or the 30" short scale of my Musicmaster bass). The extra length is the secret to the excellent response and sustain of the Lakland's B-string (more about that later), but the beautifully profiled neck and fatigue-free fingerboard meant that I soldiered on through two sessions before accompanying literature clued me into the Lakland's little (or should I say big) secret.
"The Lakland 55-94 is, without a doubt, the best realized bass guitar I have ever encountered."
The review model was equipped with a gorgeous birdseye maple fretboard (ebony or rosewood are also available) and the quartersawn one-piece maple neck is claimed to offer a more direct response and offers greater brilliance-I am not sure what they mean. I guess they are talking about the instrument's incredible tone (more about that later), but the Lakland bass generally 'promises greater brilliance' for the fact that you will be hard pressed to put this instrument down and we all know what extra time on the instrument will do for your playing!
DO THE B-STRING THING!
The 5-string instrument has been one of the most successful bass guitar innovations short of the bass guitar itself and the number of 5-string basses compared to the traditional style in music stores has increased exponentially over the past decade. It some forms of music, it is hard to find a bass guitar that doesn't take advantage of the low B string. Playing an instrument such as the Lakland, which allows you access to the lower register without the greater physical demands one usually associates with 5-string instruments, made me realize exactly why this is the case - when you are granted those extra two and a half tones (and the instrument is such that it allows you to effortlessly make use of them), it really does make your music better!
That may be an oversimplification, it is up to you to make your music better, but I found that the Lakland allowed me to utilize the extra string with next to no major adjustment in either technique or attitude. By making the B-string no more daunting than the E-string on a standard bass, by putting it right there in your hand rather than right up there at the top of the prohibitively wide neck, the Lakland actually encourages you to use those extra notes-and by extending your range (you won't believe how groovy you can make the key of D sound on a bass with a low B), it may well be responsible for re-igniting some of those tired old bass lines you no doubt have sitting around the attic.
So, once you have decided that you need a B-string (and believe me, you do) the Lakland B-string is the best in the business. The 35" extra long scale enjoys numerous advantages over the standard scale length-both in terms of tone and sustain, as well as the feel of the string under your finger, the added tension on the B-string makes it perform exceptionally, and it never seems like an adjunct.
DON'T HAVE A COW, SIGNORE!
The Lakland sounds incredible, all of its systems work to achieve a synergy that only the most expertly crafted instruments can attain, and the superior tone is the result of every element of its design and execution being spot on! That said, it is also very much due to the instrument's exceptional Bartolini humbucking pickups and active preamp. The MM Humbucker in the bridge position is a large device reminiscent of that to be found on a Music Man bass, while the neck position pickup is a J Humbucker-a dual coil J-bass style pickup. This is an incredibly versatile system that also utilizes a three-position toggle to switch between modes on the MM Humbucker (neck coil, both coils, bridge coil), while a pan control regulates the mix of the two pickups.
The preamp offers standard three-band EQ and a pull pot on the volume control allows you to bypass the active circuit. Engaging the active circuit makes you appreciate how incredibly naturalistic they have managed to make the voice of this instrument-the active preamp doesn't radically alter the passive tone of the Lakland, but rather it reinforces all the inherent strengths of the instruments tone.
This bass covers a wide range of sounds, but it is consistently a little tighter and richer in tone than the classic models from which it takes its lead. The active preamp allows you to make significant adjustments while maintaining a consistency in output and response that was quite remarkable, however it is the Lakland's tone that is the star of the show-and when systems are this well integrated, it is hard to credit any one element with being responsible for that!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Well done Dan Lakin-you da man! The Lakland 55-94 is, without a doubt, the best realized bass guitar (and quite possibly the best realized solid body electric instrument) I have ever encountered. I don't have even a quarter of the space it would take to tell you about all the features that contribute to make this such an extraordinary instrument, at every turn the Lakland offers you some system or design innovation that contributes to making this the ultimate bass playing experience.
For players who value the tradition of American bolt-on bass guitar construction but demand the innovative design and flawless craftsmanship more usually reserved for boutique, neck-thru funk machines, the Lakland is an absolute dream come true.
For more information about the Lakland 55 Series Bass, click here.