Since Dan Lakin created the Lakland Skyline series in 2001, the basses in that series have been among the top Fender-style bass guitars on the market.
The Lakland skyline models, like many other brands, have made their own take on Fender designs. However, they are far from being just “rebranded” versions of the original Fenders.
When comparing Lakland Skyline basses with American Fenders, bassists often rave about the Skylines. Even lovers of vintage-sounding Fender Jazz and P-bass tend to fall for a Lakland Skyline after trying one. They typically praise the Lakland’s construction, bridges, looks, and pickups.
Lakland Skyline basses are designed to “out-Fender” the Fenders, e.g. they thrive to augment and improve the essential traits of the original P and J bass designs.
Meanwhile, some people feel Fender is resting of their laurels and merely perpetuating their historical designs.
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The Lakland Skyline product line has models with varied scales, pickup options, and electronics. Their classic Jazz and Precision bass models, however, are vetted by a lot of bassists.
Some believe companies like Lakland force Fender to continuously improve their bass products.
Lakland is not the only company that makes Fender-like basses with their own takes. Sadowsky, Avella Coppolo, Lull, and many others also offer great alternatives to Fenders.
Fender never trademarked their guitar’s body designs (only the headstocks) so other bass makers are free to create instruments based on these designs, including with the exact same bodies.
Original Fender basses still offer the classic tones everyone loves, but companies like Lakland have earned recognition for making J or P-style basses with improved tones, more modern neck builds, and added wood options at affordable prices compared to high-end Fenders.
Lakland Skyline vs Fender American: overall comparison
Generally speaking, Lakland Skylines and American Fenders are both very good instruments and are quite comparable in terms of quality and overall feel. For many bassists, however, the edge goes to the Lakland. Oftentimes, it only takes owning one Lakland to switch completely from the Fenders.
The Lakland Skyline 55-02, for example, is often found to be comparable with an American Fender in quality while being more affordable. The Skyline 44-02 and the 44-64 (Duck Dunn) are commonly considered amazing basses to play.
Lakland Skyline flagship models like the Daryl Jones, the Joe Osborn, or the 55-01 are reputed for their high-quality build, comfortable feel, and precision. They offer a nice unified feel vs simply assembled parts.
Very few issues are generally reported on these basses, whether for live playing or recording, other than simple pickups or string adjustments. One of the reasons many bassists tend to favor the Lakland Skyline is value and quality control.
Few Skyline basses have qualìty issues, while quality seems to be much more variable with MIA Fenders – construction and setup issues are commonly found (including in pricey $1400 basses) which tends to result in lower value for the Fenders.
Skylines like the 44-02 or the 55-02 are considered among the most versatile Fender-style basses on the market. Even big fans of the American Standard Fender P-bass admit that the Lakland Skylines are as good or better basses at roughly comparable prices.
Lakland Skyline vs Fender U.S: construction & playability
The Lakland Skyline basses have ash bodies, plek’d frets, super straight necks, high-quality tuners, and are built with great attention to detail, making them at least as good basses as U.S Fenders.
The Lakland’s low action and playability are viewed as their main strengths. The workmanship on these basses is also largely on par with the Fenders.
The Skyline necks are very comfortable, typically a little thinner than a standard Fender Precision, and give you the option of putting the strings through the body or the bridge.
In music shops, the Skylines are generally found to be a lot more playable than the Fenders, though this is often due to the Fenders being badly set up.
People tend to prefer the body styles and contouring of the Lakland which they find a lot more accommodating than the Fender Standard.
Likewise, the Skyline Darryl Jones 5-string can be compared to the American Standard Jazz in terms of build quality and finish. The DJ-5 is very playable and can be set up with surprisingly low action. It’s very well-balanced with no neck dive, and has a great neck feel including for small handed-players.
The Skyline DJ-5 and the 55-02 have a 35″ scale – vs 34″ for the Fender American Standard – which adds stability to the B string. Many bassists view the DJ-5 (and DJ-4) as having the best J neck among basses under $1500.
Overall, while most bassists value both the MIA Fenders and Lakland Skylines, many would opt for the Skyline if they had to choose one bass.
Lakland Skyline vs U.S Fender: tone & pickups
To many bassists, the Bartolini Mk1s found on the 44-01 and 55-01 basses offer a lot more tonal versatility and power than any Fender single coil. The pickups on Skyline basses are either active or passive. DIP switches in the cavity let you adjust the mid frequencies.
While Fender Precisions and Fender Jazz both have a very distinctive and recognizable classic tone, the Laklands come in different tone flavors. You can choose a P-bass or J-bass tone, a Music Man tone, or some other unique tone resulting from the pickup config (e.g. P&J) and electronics.
The 44-01, although it’s the cheapest bass in the Skyline series, gets a lot of love for its great tone. Some players like the Bartolini’s dark and smooth sound, while others prefer the Lakland preamps and pickups for their more aggressive tones.
The Skyline J bass, while passive, has a more modern J tone than the Fender – some players actually choose to own both. The Skyline has a very clear and even sound without dead spots across all strings and throughout the neck. In contrast, Fenders tend to have from a few weak notes.
Bassists also praise the sound of the Skylines with neck pickup alone. They also love the super smooth tone control on these basses.
Lakland vs U.S Fender: Quality & value
The consensus is that Lakland Skyline (and U.S) basses are more reliable than the U.S Fenders in terms of quality control. Skylines are renowned for maintaining a consistent high-quality construction across models – which is not always the case for Fenders.
The fit & finish (performed in Chicago) and fretwork of the Skylines are generally considered superior to the Fenders. Lakland pays close attention to every single bass they make with great quality control. In contrast, Fender’s QC varies a lot more, including for U.S models.
Lakland’s customer service also gets a lot of praise among bassists, including in comparison to the Fender customer experience. This also contributes to adding value to Lakland Skyline basses.
As mentioned previously, some Fender 5-string basses tend to have a weak B string (which can be compensated through EQ). The Laklands fivers, in contrast, have a very steady B due to the 35″ scale.
While many bassists favor Lakland Skyline basses over Fenders, others still remain faithful to the original products, praising Fender’s small, well-contoured bodies, powerful preamps, and comfortable necks with rolled edges – something that can tip the scale in favor of Fender vs even a fast-action Skyline.
The U.S-made Geddy Lee and Marcus Miller are competitively priced and offer good value that rivals the Skylines. The Geddy Lee has a full size body and a classic design. While these two models are not considered as great as the Lakland Darryl Jones or Joe Osborne, they are more affordably priced.
Price wise, the Skylines are actually closer to a Fender American Deluxe than to a Standard. When comparing a Lakland 44-01 and a Fender American Deluxe, for example, most people agree the Fender wins in terms of quality (e.g. much more detailed fretwork), feel, sound, and style.
The Custom Shop models are often viewed as one of Fender main strengths. Another advantage of U.S Fenders is that they hold their value very well for resale – some old Fenders actually increase in price.
Some recent Standard Fender U.S basses are very well-built with quality parts and upgrades like the Custom Shop pickups, which makes getting a pricier Lakland a less attractive choice. American Deluxe P-bass and J-bass 5 string basses also have similar high-quality construction.
U.S Fender vs U.S Lakland
While this article’s focus is on comparing the U.S Fender basses with the Lakland Skylines, I’ll finish with a quick look at how the U.S.A Series Lakland basses compare with the Fenders.
While the American Lakland are a notch above the Skylines, bass players also generally agree they also surpass the U.S Fenders. The U.S Laklands are described as extraordinarily good and virtually flawless in terms of build.
The 55-94, for example, is extremely versatile and more playable than the American Deluxe Jazz 5 – although the latter also has a comfortable compound radius neck and very nice build quality.
Bassists commonly rave about U.S Lakland necks, often described as the best they ever played with amazing smoothness and fretwork. These basses play and sound great pretty much out of the box.
U.S Lakland basses come with more finish options compared to Fender American Standards.
U.S Fenders are more expensive than U.S Lakland basses. A new U.S Lakland may set you back $4000. An American Deluxe P-bass a few years old can generally be found for about $1000.
A used J-configured Lakland Bob Glaub can cost around $1800, while a 4-94 can often be found for $1500-$2500 (based on wood options).