Lollar Pickups moving guitar part manufacturing business to Tacoma

Staff writerApril 11, 2014 

A company that makes specialized parts for electric guitars is relocating to downtown Tacoma, bringing 15 employees with plans to hire several more.

For the past several months, Jason Lollar and Stephanie Lollar have been overseeing the rehabilitation of a 102-year-old building on A Street just off South 24th.

After 15 years working on Vashon Island, the business partners soon will quadruple their space and be a 10-minute walk from the Tacoma Dome — and all the guitar technicians and players who perform there. The Lollars believe that proximity will make it easier to work with professional musicians.

“You can’t get a tour bus on the ferry boat,” said Stephanie Lollar, the company’s financial officer and business manager.

Lollar Pickups plans to move in to its new headquarters at 2312 A St. in May. The company is driven by the creative ideas and design of Jason Lollar, who started the business in the garage shop on Vashon after tinkering for years on his own guitars.

The relocation of this homegrown specialty manufacturer is the latest feather in downtown’s cap, in addition to major employer State Farm insurance, a new YMCA on the University of Washington Tacoma campus, and the Tacoma Art Museum’s new wing.

First, some definitions: A “pickup” is a key part of an electric guitar that affects the sound. Pickups are located under the strings, between the bridge and the neck. They capture, or pick up, string vibrations and convert them into an electronic signal that is sent to the amplifier.

Car lovers rebuild engines for fun. Guitar players tinker the same way.

“In pickups, hearing is believing,” said Steve Bild, an electric guitar specialist at Ted Brown Music Co. in Tacoma. “It’s like different flavors of vanilla ice cream. Which one is better?”

Players are particular.

“Lots of guitar guys make their own pickups,” said Denny Foreman, a South Sound-based jazz guitar player. “Lollar got in early and made a business of it.

“Guitars are enhanced by this cottage industry,” he said. “It’s a tool and it’s also your art. The electronics are the perfect place to start playing with it.”

In 1995, while working at a door and window manufacturing company, Jason Lollar wrote the pragmatically titled “Basic Pickup Winding and Complete Guide to Making Your Own Pickup Winder.”

The utilitarian tome became such a hit that he quit selling the book to end the dozens of phone calls each week from tinkerers full of questions. Recently he reissued the book with a caveat: You can’t buy it until you agree never to call and ask for advice.

Most professional pickup makers started in the past 15 years, Stephanie Lollar said, and all their names can be found on the mailing list for early sales of that book.

In 1999, Jason Lollar quit his day job and focused on pickups full time. Stephanie Lollar quit her day job in 2002.

“We used to play a game: How much money would we make if we sold 100 pickups a day? We stopped playing the game around 700 a day because we ran out of time to play it,” Stephanie Lollar said.

UPDATED April 17 to reflect a clarification from Stephanie Lollar that she was referring to making $100 worth of pickups a day, not making that many actual pickups. -- kc

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: The pair expanded the garage shop and added a second building. They added a company break room onto the house. Despite these additions, the administrative staff practically stands on top of one another as materials come in and orders go out all day long. The technicians building the pickups are almost elbow to elbow in a shop full of specialized equipment.

“We’ve always been amazed that we fit one more person in the shop,” Stephanie Lollar said.

About a year ago they got serious about relocating. They walked the streets of downtown Tacoma, and stumbled across the A Street building.

“We walked in and fell in love with that building, and it was a wreck,” she said.

The business partners wouldn’t disclose company financials, including what they paid for the building and are spending on its renovation. Stephanie Lollar said the company has seen 25 percent sales growth between 2000 and 2008. Even after the recession growth continued, though it was smaller.

She said about a third of their business is for guitar manufacturers, who buy Lollar pickups and install them in their products. Another third is to music dealers and distributors, and the last third is direct sales.

The A Street building dates to at least 1918, according to the research done by Lollar’s contractors. The Tacoma Public Library has its construction in 1911. Few details about the building are publicly available. It’s not on any historic registries, and it’s outside the city’s conservation districts. Lollar said it has been a candy company, a coffee roaster and a salon before sitting empty for years.

Public records indicate they bought the Tacoma building for $530,000 and took out a loan for about $300,000 beyond that.

Lollar employees are excited about the move. On Vashon, the eight or nine technicians share about 1,800 square feet. By comparison, the new three-story building has 2,650 square feet per floor.

On the personal front, most of the employees will see a significant reduction in commute time once they don’t have to take a ferry to and from work.

Will York has made pickups for Lollar since March 2012, when he moved from Florida in hopes of landing a job there. He’s played guitar since middle school, and loves the detail work.

“I get to make something from start to finish,” he said.

What’s York looking forward to most about leaving an island and working in a downtown?

“Not having to pack my lunch every single day,” he said. “I can go out to lunch.”

Kathleen Cooper: 253-597-8546

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