Jason Lollar knew he was destined for a life revolving around music and sound. He just didn’t know how literal it would be.

When he was 19, Lollar — co-owner and head of research and design at Tacoma-based Lollar Pickups Inc. ­— went to school to learn electric guitar building. “I’ve been making guitars since 1977,” he said. “At that time, you couldn’t buy parts anywhere and had to make them.”

Lollar Pickups co-owners Jason and Stephanie Lollar. Photo by Rick Johnson

This gap led Jason and business partner Stephanie Lollar into proprietorship. “It wasn’t expected,” said Stephanie, the company’s co-founder, chief finance officer, and current president. “We’ve always been entrepreneurs with a million little pots going, but we both had good jobs.”

Jason, who had released his first book on building guitar parts in 1994, was dealing with a growing number of reader inquiries and guitar builders seeking his help. The two decided to set up shop in a room above a Vashon Island garage and begin crafting guitar pickups in bulk.

“We would do our day jobs, then work until 1 or 2 in the morning winding pickups,” Stephanie remembered.

A little stringed-instrument 101: A pickup is a device that captures the vibrations of a musical instrument and converts them into electronic signals for amplifiers to read and interpret into sound. “It’s a combination of wound copper coils and magnets,” Stephanie said. “It’s actually 1920s technology that started with the telephone.”

Lollar’s superior pickup sound quickly captured market interest, befuddling competitors. “We realized the Seymour Duncan guys were following us around at the shows,” Stephanie said.

However, the instant success also came with challenges. “We were grinding day and night, sometimes 20 hours a day,” Jason said. “That was the kind of hours it took to get this rolling.”

“We were driven to do it, and we starved even though we were making money,” Stephanie said. “We invested it all back in the business to avoid taking loans.”

The Lollars eventually purchased a vintage Tacoma building and moved their company there in 2014. They now employ 25 staff members and serve a mix of wholesale and retail customers around the world.

Hiring is unconventional. “You can’t put an ad in the paper for a pickup winder,” Stephanie said, adding, “We’re getting better at gauging who might want to do the repetitive work.”

Training such a worker takes four to six months. “There are many details a pickup winder has to get right every time,” Jason said.

Yet, quality and consistency are never compromised. “If it’s supposed to sound a certain way, it has to every single time,” Jason said, indicating that each pickup gets tested four to five times before reaching quality control.

Stephanie noted the supply chain also impacts quality. “We were getting our nickel covers overseas, but we had to finally make molds, and have them made domestically to our standard,” she said.

Most importantly, the Lollars are now careful when considering new accounts. “More than anything, we try not to grow faster than our capacity,” Stephanie concluded. “Twenty-five percent annual growth is extremely uncomfortable.”