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Jason Lollar - Magnetic Attraction

Enamoured with the pickups ...

 

by Blake Wright - Gearphoria  (adapted by Team HC)

 

 

JASON LOLLAR wanted to build guitars. He attended and graduated from Roberto-Venn School for Luthiery in Phoenix, Arizona in 1979 and built several different styles, but gravitated towards arch tops. After dropping in dog-ear P90 pickups of his own recipe, he would take some of his handi- work around to regional guitar shows for feedback. Once folks heard one of the Lollar creations, they almost instantly became enamored... with the pickups. 

He wrote a book, Basic Pickup Winding, as a sort of calling card for his guitar builds, but in the end only drew more attention to his magnetic masterpieces. “Making those kind of guitars is way harder than that pickup,” he told Gearphoria. His focus soon shifted to pickup manufacturing and he has really been too busy to look back. Today, Lollar employs almost 20 people and occupies a three-story building near downtown Tacoma, Washington. 

 

— Jason shows off a J-Street single coil —

 

 

THE TOUR OF Lollar’s newest headquarters starts with an impressive floor inlay proudly announcing the company’s two-decades plus of bringing high quality guitar pickups to throngs of tone-starved players worldwide — both pro and hobbyist. The building on A Street once housed a candy manufacturer, a coffee roaster and at least one hair salon. The crew not-too-fondly remembers the renovation chore of digging out years of hair and coffee that had become impacted in the grooves of the plank wood floors, and that wasn’t the only job that needed doing ahead of moving into the new digs in 2014.

  “We had to have this place all completely rebuilt,” says Jason Lollar. “All new wiring. Refinished the floors and stuff. All new windows. Everything. Heat. I think it was built in 1911. It was the probably the first building on this street because there are windows that were bricked over from the building next to it.” 

  The ground floor of the shop houses offices, the customer service department, shipping, parts storage and perhaps the building’s most drool-worthy space — the test-drive lounge. This impressive space towards the back houses at least a couple of dozen guitars and a least a dozen top-flight amplifiers to give interested parties a place to put all that Lollar offers through its proper paces.

  Guitars from the likes of Collings, Agile, Teisco, Greg Bennett, Godin, Fender (and Squire) and more line the walls, all equipped with a variety of Lollar pickups. Classic Fender amps dominate the main wall, but other brands such as 65amps also make an appearance.

 

— Crock Pots are used in the wax potting process on Lollar's pickups —

 

 

  “A lot of the models of pickups we make are installed in these guitars so people can come in and check them out,” explained Lollar. “We do a lot of listening and comparing, with our own and other people’s pickups, while we’re developing new products. So all the amps here have different frequency responses so you can tell if a pickup sounds great with a Tweed, but not so great with a Super Reverb and so on. It gives us a good perspective.”

  One of the guitars housed a new set of an upcoming release — Lollar P90 staple pickups. The staple-shape of the magnets creates a different sound than the regular P90 with screws. According to Lollar, it has more ‘clarity and zing’ to it.

  “I’ve seen the R&D process for 17 years and it still fascinates me, when they sit down with three or four different pickups and figuring out their qualities,” says company co-owner Stephanie Lollar. “I’m not a guitar player. I’m a calculator player. A lot of times it comes down to not only sound, but feel… which I totally can’t understand. It just part of the process. They can hear things that I just can’t here.”

  Players themselves make such a huge difference, just by the way the attack the strings. Everyone strikes it a little different, according to Jason. It is in the voicing of the chords they play. He is a firm believer that if you hand a guitar to one guy and then to another, it is going to sound different. The R&D process stays true to the Lollar philosophy and identity the company has built up over almost 20 years. They make little attempt to please everyone in the room, and have often directed potential clients to other pickup manufacturers.

  “People appreciate that,” he says. “I mean, you don’t go to one doctor to get everything done.”

   Before a product hits the adjacent shipping area, where orders are filled and sent out the door, it is tested, and tested again. 

  “By the time they get down here they are ready to go,” says Jason Lollar. “We rarely get anything returned because something wasn’t functioning right. Maybe twice a year?”

  To put some perspective on that figure, Lollar estimates the company makes between 1,500 and 2,000 pickups per month, and they’ve been doing that type of volume for over a decade resulting in tens of thousands of Lollar-built pickups in circulation around the globe.

  With that kind of reputation it is important to the company that it align itself with like-minded suppliers. A recent deal with Emerson Custom now allows Lollar to offer additional parts to go along with its pickups including pre-wired sets as well as individual components.’

  “They do it the way we like it,” says Lollar of Emerson. “Their soldering is like what we do. It’s perfect. I see so many photos in (others) advertisements where they don’t even pull the wires all the way down. They’re all stuck up with blobs of solder coming off of them.” 

  Upstairs is the company’s nerve-center — production central. The completely open-air room is lined with rows of workbenches and winding stations, each home to a production specialist. While many of Lollar’s crew can build any pickup in the line, they do have their specialities. 

 

 

  The room is capped at one end by the wax potting area where the pickups get the tried-and-true Crock Pot dip, just after pre-heating for a more even penetration.

  “We time it from anywhere between five seconds, 45 seconds or a minute-thirty depending on what it is,” he explains. “Then we are really careful about wiping off the wax. A lot of companies aren’t. You can’t even tell by looking at it that there is any wax in it. We’re also careful with the fact that we want there to be some microphonics to it. So that is why we time it. You just don’t want it so microphonic that it is hard to control. The Crock Pots nowadays all have a drip channel. We have to buy used ones that don’t have that. We hook them up to a variac so we can control the temperature exactly. We’ve been doing it that way since we started.”

  There has been discussion about building a larger potter, but to date Lollar has stuck fast to the old idiom — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. When they need to upgrade they just add another Crock Pot, often times a garage sale or Craigslist find. 

  “Until there ends up being a major bog down here, I think we’re ok,” says Stephanie Lollar.

  A good portion of everything it takes to create a Lollar pickup happens in this building. One of the things that still happens off-site is the metal-working, which is done by a company in Nashville. The company owns its plastic injection molds, but those are also done offsite in nearby Poulsbo, Washington. There is a laser cutter nearby that produces the pickup bobbins. Of course, in order to bring in the equipment necessary to have much of this work done in-house, sacrifices were made.  

  “We ate beans and rice for years to make sure that every cent that we got was put back into the company so that we could grow it, buy the tools,” recalls Stephanie Lollar. “I remember when we bought the first laser. We were so nervous. Would we be able to pay for this thing?”

  One of the most striking pieces of equipment around might just be one of the most low-tech. Sitting precariously yet dominate towards the middle of the room is a large, foot-controlled industrial press. It seems to have been used in a previous life to bend steel, but now it is utilized by Lollar to press magnets into pickups. 

  “We used to insert magnets all by hand,” he reveals. “We’d have four or five guys going tap, tap, tap, tap, tap… all day long. We also used to cut all of our lead wires by hand. Someone would be doing that for four or five days out of the week. Just cutting wire. The press we got from Florida. It was like $200, but it cost us $500 to have it shipped.”

  Though they did participate in some ‘ghost’ building in the past,  Lollar has eschewed OEM work for the most part. The company does have agreements in place with select customers to supply exclusive builds. Bill Nash, who runs Nash Guitars, has a design that Lollar designed and builds for him. It does not get sold to other customers. Similarly, there are a couple of designs for Bill Collings at Collings Guitars in Texas that are exclusive to them. Lollar admits they are fairly selective about the companies they collaborate with.

 

— The company logo as inlaid in the floor of the entrance — 

 

  “We want to protect the customers we have,” explains Stephanie Lollar. “Collings, Nash, National Resophonic… we don’t want to do business with companies that will bring in a cheaper brand that compete with them. Most of these people are our friends.”

  The lower floor of the Lollar building is a work in progress. Mostly unfinished and used for select storage, the back half has a recently-started construction project underway that will give the company its own small sound studio. At the time of our visit, the walls had gone in forming both the soundboard area and the live room. 

  “We’ll do sound clips and video demos here,” says Jason Lollar. “It’s all built so it’s not attached to the floor above.”

  The A Street building is a far cry from Vashon. Prior to the move, the company was based on Lollar’s property on the large island north of Tacoma. Growth and logistics made moving inland necessary. 

— The companies impressive Jam Room —

 

  “We looked all over town for this,” says Jason Lollar of the building. “There are still a lot of open buildings for sale or for lease here. It is not really that happening here. We got a good deal on this. I don’t think a deal like that would exist today… just three years later.”

 

Republished with the expressed permission  - www.gearphoria.com

               

 

____________________________________________

 

Blake and Holly Wright are Gearphoria. They travel full-time in their 25 foot Airstream while writing about cool guitars and guitar accessories. Gearphoria is a bi-monthly free-to-read online publication. You can visit their website by going to www.gearphoria.com and while you are there, sign up for their free e-zine.

 

 

 

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