Gitarre and Bass Magazine, December, 1996
Another new make of US professional quality instruments will enrich the range of basses available here: Lakland Musical Instruments.
The Chicago manufacturer boldly promises, in fact it guarantees, that its basses will be of unexcelled quality, easier to operate, and that its pickups and preamps will produce the most flexible sound ever.
Our test bass, a Deluxe 55 (USA Series 55-94) model, had a confident, sophisticated and elegant appearance. Its material and workmanship appear to be of flawless quality. Musicians looking for a futuristic Star Wars design will be disappointed with this basically traditional electric bass design, which clearly has some of that Leo Fender look. A similarity to Music Man basses is also apparent.
Design: It has been some time now since the bolt-on neck principle has worked its way up from the mid-price instruments into the top professional class. Spectacular technical advances are not behind this development. The truth of the matter is simply that customer perceptions have changed. In the past, the bolt-on neck was mainly used for somewhat less expensive models, which used correspondingly less expensive woods. But recently we have been seeing this principle used in the top price class as well. If such a bass is properly designed and constructed of good woods, its sustain will not be one bit less impressive than that produced by a neck-through instrument. Increasingly, bolt-on neck basses are gaining recognition for the enhanced fullness and definition of their sound.
“In short, it’s a terrific bass guitar, and by no means just for the cognoscenti.”
The Lakland neck consists of a single piece of maple. But in contrast to the Fender and Music Man design, the wood is quarter-sawn, which results in a more direct response and promises greater brilliance. In addition, the neck is reinforced with hidden graphite rods. These rods improve the sustain and tonal uniformity. The neck is attached to the body by mean of five bolts, and the underside of the neck has a matte finish and is tung oil sealed for better grip. Customers can choose from a birdseye maple, rosewood or ebony fingerboard. The bolt-on neck ends behind the 22nd fret in the traditional manner. The hand-crafted fretting is of very high quality, and rather thin wire is used for the frets to reduce undesirable noises when the instrument is being played.
Lakland generally uses swamp ash for the body. The surface of the deluxe model is maple (quilted maple or flamed maple) with an attractive pattern. The body is comprised of two pieces, and top quality high-gloss varnish is used. Customers can choose between five types of sunburst or five single-color transparent varnishes. This instrument is top-of-the-line in terms of craftsmanship and materials. In short, it’s a terrific bass guitar, and by no means just for the cognoscenti.
The headstock is not tilted back and is only slightly recessed, so the instrument needs a string retainer for all the strings. The retainer is chrome plated and well-rounded so as to reduce the frictional resistance of the strings against it. Thus there are no noticeable adverse effects of fine tuning. Hipshot’s Ultra Lites are used as the tuning mechanisms rather than the commonly used Gotoh tuners. With five-string bass guitars, it is best to use lightweight tuning mechanisms to avoid having an overly heavy head. The lightweight, semi-open-deisgn Hipshot tuners are a somewhat incongruous mix of the high tech and the traditional in terms of appearance, and may take some getting used to . Still, there are extremely precise and have very little free play. They should therefore satisfy even the most discerning players.
At first glance, the chrome plated bridge appears very simply constructed. Just like the Fender bridge, it consists of a metal base plate and five cylindrical bridge pieces. However, the base plate is slightly thicker than usual, and is grooved to prevent the bridge pieces from slipping laterally. The strings can either be pulled through the body from the rear or threaded through holes on the front side. The Dunlop dual function strap buttons can be used with strap locks or with a normal strap.
Pickups/electronics: The pickup provides a very broad range of sounds compared with conventional equipment. A Bartolini dual-coil MM Humbucker is located in the bridge position. A pan control integrates the MM pickups with a special J Humbucker (dual-coil J pickup) in the neck position, and a toggle switch allows the player to switch between three modes (neck coil, both, bridge coil). In principle this means that three pickup are available, in various combinations. The Lakland is completely free of hum when both MM coils are activated or when a single MM coil is combined with the J Humbucker. In fact, the instrument has extremely low sensitivity to feedback at any of the settings, so that all of the pickup combinations are virtually hum-free. The electronic components are very carefully shielded which also helps.
The Lakland can be played in either an active or passive mode by operating a pull switch (push/pull potentiometer) located on the main volume knob. In the main active mode, a Bartolini three-band equalizer is available for the bass, mid- and upper ranges. Lakland has obviously taken great pains to wire and shield the electronic components in a clean and conscientious manner.
How She Plays
Handling: If you’re at home with a Music Man, you’ll be able to master the Lakland in your sleep. That’s because it is conventional in shape, so it can be handled in the normal manner. It hangs from its strap in a stable, well balanced position, allowing the artist to assume a comfortable, all-round playing position. The fretboard’s nicely rounded edges make the wide neck seem narrower in your hand. So far, no surprises from the Lakland which is a good thing. However, the low action of the strings does come as a surprise. The instrument delivers full sound volume without fretting out: the kind of performance that is only possible with perfectly crafted fretting!
Sound: This is the area were the Lakland proves it’s more than just a beautifully crafted standard bass guitar, which is what one would assume from its straightforward appearance. The manufacturer definitely isn’t kidding when they guarantee that the Lakland can deliver the highest quality available anywhere. The Lakland 5-string is exceptionally well balanced all across the fretboard. Every note comes out sounding perfect and even, something one very rarely hears from a wood bass guitar. Even if one listens with a highly critical ear, it is impossible to detect any unevenness in tone color or sustain. The instrument does not have any of those awful dead sports either. The exquisite sustain retains its balanced, rich, full-spectrum sound even as the note trails off into silence, proof that a bolt-on neck guitar doesn’t have to be inferior to a neck-through, and can actually perform better. The low B plays cleanly right down to the very lowest notes, and is uncluttered and sonorous as well as sinuous and transparent at the same time, with no trace of rumbling.
The basic sound produced by this 5-string bass is extremely full and solid, but in a dry and well-defined way, which contrasts with its somewhat sinuous sound. The various pickup combinations can deliver subtly different timbres, which can be guttural, or open and bright, or sometimes somewhat nasal. These are sounds which you definitely can’t produced just by using electronic preamps.
The Lakland has a broad range of potential sounds which are rich in nuance. The controls of the new Bartolini three-band EQ’s, which are well laid out, broaden the range even further. The crucial sound spectra can be isolated and varied more clearly and precisely than is usually the case with Bartolini preamps. Here again, the manufacturer has kept its bold promises. There is no doubt about it: very effective precisely controllable sound variations can be achieved in all directions and in all the various combinations of EQ settings. The Lakland is certainly one of the most flexible instruments currently available in terms of sound. It delivers top quality sound for all musical styles.
Summary: At first glance, the Lakland five-string appears to be merely an especially lovingly crafted version of the traditional electric bass. However, the manufacturer has combined a tried-and-true shape with state-of-the-art know-how in bass guitar construction. So this outstanding five-stringer really amounts to a thoroughbred, high-end instrument in traditional garb. It is somewhat similar to Sadowsky basses in that it delivers top quality sounds, but its design is considerably more flexible. The price may seem high, but for your money you’re getting a flawless, perfectly balanced five-string instrument.