He likes his work, but Kendall Johnson wouldn't make a hobby of the truck and motorcycle parts that have moved along his line at Lincoln Industries the past 13 years.

He doesn't drive an 18-wheeler, and hasn't owned a hog in decades. 

Music is his passion: Johnson built his own guitar and bass — flawed instruments, he says, but his — and his band, ProperGander, sometimes plays at company events.

So imagine his excitement when he learned Lincoln Industries was expanding from exhaust systems to Fenders.

That's Fenders, with a capital F.

The instrument manufacturer became the latest iconic American brand to join the fold at Lincoln Industries last March. By this fall, parts from the Capital City plant should grace about 80 percent of top-of-the-line, U.S.-made Stratocasters, Telecasters and Fender-brand bass guitars on the market.

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It's a new chord for Lincoln Industries, which calls itself North America's largest privately held metal-finishing operation.

"We'd never even looked into the music industry before," said marketing specialist Kayla Jacox.

Electroplating lines at the plant off South Folsom Street have long added a high shine to motorcycle parts, semitrailer exhaust stacks and automotive accessories.

The work for Fender guitars will eventually include hundreds of pre-made parts — pick protectors, neck plates and knobs — which Lincoln Industries finishes with nickel-chrome or gold for decoration, or functional zinc, copper or electroless nickel for function.

An executive for another iconic American brand — Harley-Davidson, a Lincoln Industries customer since 1991 — helped connect the local shop with the legendary maker of stringed instruments and amplifiers.

"It's not an uncommon story for us," said Bill Ellerbee, who spent eight years as vice president of operations at the company before being named president in 2016.

Or, as Jacox puts it: "Word of mouth works wonders in our world."

Founded in 1952 as a custom plating shop at Sixth and Garfield streets, the company invested in rapid expansion following the Clean Water Act of 1972, using environmental compliance to secure a competitive edge.

Now it has about 500 workers spread across five locations in Lincoln, plus a plant in Pine Island, Minnesota, with about 100 employees. Its main building in Lincoln has nearly doubled in size over the past decade. And the company says it shipped close to 70 million parts to almost 500 customers last year.

Its offerings have included plating original parts for the trucking, motorsports, agriculture, powersports, automotive and oil and gas industries. It also manufactures aftermarket chrome parts for semitrailers through its subsidiary Lincoln Chrome and for motorcycles through Khrome Werks in Minnesota.

Ellerbee views that as a major growth area.

"We're really interested in growing our branded products," he said.

Those items, much like Fender guitars, are statement pieces — sought for flash as much as function.

"That truck, just like a motorcycle or a car, is an extension of that trucker's identity," Ellerbee said. "It's a trucker's alter ego."

One thing separates the Fender parts from Lincoln Industries' other wares: The intricate guitar pieces require unprecedented attention to detail, raising the bar for employees.

"It's a good challenge," said Ahmed Al-Jayashi, a process manager who helps oversee the line where Fender parts are finished. "They have to be perfect parts."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com.


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