NBD x 2 : Fender Flea Jazz vs Lakland Skyline DJ-4

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by 6AM, Jun 5, 2019.

  1. 6AM


    May 31, 2018
    Buffalo, NY
    Full disclosure. I'm not a real bass player. I'm a guitar player who plays bass.

    Full disclosure two, this is going to get long.

    Since they're about the same price (the Flea bass a little cheaper) and J type basses, I think it's fair to compare the two.

    I've been enamored with the Lakland Skyline series since they were first released, but at the time I had a Fender American Standard Jazz bass and I couldn't justify owning two JB's since, well, read above. Fast forward like 15 years and I've since sold my Fender because I quit playing bass all together. Then I bought a Squier PJ Affinity to fart around on, then started playing bass in a band and now I wanted something nicer and lighter. Enter the Lakland Skyline DJ-4.

    I bought it from Sweetwater since you can pick the weight you want. This guy is 8 pounds 4 ounces. I arrived safely. Upon opening the box, I was surprised to see it in a triangular form fit box that you'd see with ultra cheap guitars. This is not an "ultra cheap" guitar. At $1400, considering what you can buy for much less, it's a rather expensive guitar. Opening the box, the cheap feel continued. Included are some allen wrenches, which is nice, but then also a super cheap cable. Like the kind you'd get with a guitar you bought out of the Sears catalog or something. I'm not sure why that's even in there. Lakland, if you're reading this, ditch the AliExpress 99 cent cable.

    Of course, for $1400, you don't get a case or even a gig bag, which I was fine with since I presumed it was because money was spent elsewhere (other than the garbage cable). You know, like the fit and finish details? Not quite. The first thing that greeted me was the fret board. The inlays have an ugly brown glue line around them. I press on, determined to love this thing. I pull it out and play it a little. I immediately dislike the neck. It's way chunkier than I thought it would be. That's on me.

    As I'm sitting down and playing it I notice that there are two pickup screws that aren't screwed down at all way. I try to pull the pickup up a little, thinking the pickup got pushed down a little and didn't pop back up. Nope. Okay, I'll just screw them down. Looking closer, it's apparent the screws were screwed in on an angle. Now, I'm afraid to touch them because I might strip the heads. I flip it over and notice that one of the neck screws is almost flush with the body while the others are more recessed. I'm not about to try to screw that in more, either. I press on.

    As I'm playing the bass, I notice that the frets are very poorly polished. In fact, I'm not sure they were polished at all. They are gritty and you can feel them grid on the strings when you do string bends. At this point, I'm super perturbed. A $1400 guitar (with no case) should not have frets that need polishing. A $200 guitar sure, but not a $1400 one. I decide I'm going to replace it with something else.

    Here are the positives. The bridge and the tuners are quality. The pickups are also pretty decent. The action was low, but it's buzzy. I don't love the vintage frets. I already mentioned the neck. The positives are far outweighed by the poor general fit and finish quality. Honestly, it was as bad as low end Squiers. Higher end Squiers have better fit and finish than this. G&L Tribute guitars (also made in Indonesia), which are nearly $1k less, have better fit and finish. I'm really shocked and bummed out.

    I start looking at 44-60's, since the neck was the biggest deal breaker for me but I decide I'm not going to risk buying another Skyline. I start looking at Fenders Jazz basses online and driving all over town to find one. At one store I played a used Road Worn P bass and was somewhat blown away by how nice it felt. I end up not finding anything locally that fits that I like, and having been impressed with the Road Worn Fender, I order a Flea Jazz bass from Sweetwater (despite loathing the Red Hot Chili Peppers). I decide to keep the Lakland until I can side by side compare them.

    Opening the box, clearly the Fender is packaged much better. It comes with a gig bag and the square box has a bracing to hold the guitar upright. Upon taking the guitar out of the bag, the color isn't what I was hoping for. I was hoping it was going to be either more pink or more more gray than it is. It's sort of a pink silly putty color. Not a deal breaker or anything.

    This guy is 8 pounds 10 ounces. Comparing fit and finish, for the most part, is difficult since one is made to look like it was drug behind an F-150 for a few miles. I will say the frets are actually polished properly. The action is a just a little higher out of the box, but doesn't buzz like the Lakland. It has the class Jazz neck profile I prefer, but that's subjective.

    The one thing I notice is that there's a tiny dot of something in the finish on the neck. I couldn't free it with my fingernail, but a little light sand should remove it. I might end up light sanding the neck and putting a coat or two of Tru Oil on it since I prefer that feel to the poly feel it currently has.

    The bridge on the Flea is the typical vintage style bent metal bridge, but it seems pretty solid. The Lakland's bridge is extremely nice. The bridge might be the nicest part of the Lakland. Even still, the Flea bass seems more resonant than the Lakland. I'm not sure how Fender does it, but the guitar almost has an "old wood" feel to it.

    The pickups sound very full. They might be too full for some players. The Lakland's sound is less full, but more articulate. Both guitars sound very musical, plugged in.

    It's really rather impressive for being a production guitar. I know a lot of people scoff at the idea of playing this kind of money for a MIM Fender but honestly, out of the box, it plays better than my MIA Standard did. Interestingly enough, I don't hear that as much about the made in Asian Skyline series. All the MIM's I'd played locally played good to great and none had the finish issues I had with the Lakland. The higher end Squiers I tried played okay to good and didn't seem to have the finish issues, either. All of those were VERY heavy, though. They also said Squier on them.

    In summary, based on the Skyline I have, I really think they're over priced. A lot over priced. Even with the nice hardware and Pleking (even the sub $1k Gibson that are made in America are Pleked, too). Even if the finishing was done properly, considering what else is out there, $1400 is just too much for this guitar. Shame on Lakland for letting this quality leave their shop and shame on Sweetwater for shipping it. The 55 point inspection leaves a bit to be desired. The Flea bass is pretty cool and, at least to me, is worth the money. I wish it wasn't a Flea signature model (I'll probably replace the Flea neck plate), I wish the color was a little more grey or white, I was it was reliced more like the Fiesta Red one, but it's cool. It sounds great and it plays great.

    For those who are wondering, yes, I contacted Lakland. Their response was they could replace or fix the guitar. While, I appreciate their willingness to make it right, I idea I should buy a $1400 guitar then have to immediately ship it back to the company for repairs just doesn't sit right with me. And like I said, I feel that even properly finished, this bass (with no case [incase you missed me mentioning that multiple times before]) at $1400 is overpriced. Which isn't to say that those who own them can't disagree with me. That's fine. Maybe I got a lemon, who knows.

    TL;DR - Lakland Skylines aren't finished as nicely as MIM Fenders.
    b15fliptop likes this.
  2. mmbongo

    mmbongo I have too many basses. Supporting Member

    Last year I bought a new Lakland ChiSonic 4 AND a Fender Flea. Both of them went back.

    The Lakland was much like you say yours was...screws crooked and halfway screwed in, frets gooped up, finish flaws all over the body. Plus the dang thing weighed ELEVEN pounds! It went right back.

    I liked the Flea better, but didn't have it long. There was nothing really wrong with it but I just didn't like the overall feel. Every fret had sharp edges. The bridge saddles and screws were sharp. The pickup edges were sharp. Everything on this bass had a sharp edge which gave it a cold feel and made it hard to play without slicing a finger.

    In the end, my Jazz bass GAS was cured by a used Roscoe which cost just a few hundred more than the new Flea. Best Jazz bass I've ever laid hands on.
  3. 6AM


    May 31, 2018
    Buffalo, NY
    Interesting. All of the fret edges on mine are smooth and have a "played for 40 years" feel. There isn't anything, including the bridge I'd call sharp, even the screws seem pretty mellow. Maybe they've made some changes since then.
  4. 6AM


    May 31, 2018
    Buffalo, NY
    Well, Sweetwater made it worth my while to keep the Lakland. Now it's off the Lakland to see what they can do with it.