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This article was originally published in issue #42
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This review covers two firsts for me. First number 1 is that this is the first time I've played a guitar built by Jean Larrivee. First number 2 is that it's the first acoustic guitar I've played built from a beautiful wood called zebrano.
This OM-03Z Larrivee is built in California and classed as a special edition because every now and then Jean Larrivee will discover a great batch off tonewood and build a limited run of guitars, sometimes to celebrate an event of some kind, or just to shake up and enhance his already beautifully built guitars with something special. The something special in this case is this Orchestra sized spruce and zebrano OM-03Z in a natural finish. Very striking it is too.
The all-solid back and sides are this great looking wood zebrano, which has a fine looking grain that almost looks like it's been custom painted on. Both at a distance and close up, the grain looks amazing. To offset the back and sides we have the more traditional solid Canadian Sitka spruce with maple binding. The neck is a single piece of mahogany with a compound radius ebony fretboard. All this wood is made to look all the better due to a very thin satin natural finish that is fantastic to the touch. I don't know what the weight of this guitar is, but it feels like it would float away if you let it. The OM body shape is probably my favourite acoustic guitar which gives a full bodied tone but is much sweeter sounding than a dreadnought sized body.
All this good looks and superb craftsmanship would mean nothing if the guitar played and sounded average. Fortunately the guitar rings and resonates like it's alive and playability is superb and effortless. There are no dead spots, and our sample was set up with a lovely action and string tension, with excellent intonation in all positions and a very sweet and rich sound that will only get better as the years go by. There is a nice feel to the whole thing and the 1.75" nut width makes the string spacing feel perfect.
There is no onboard pre-amp or pickup, though it's an option if you want one. This helps keeps the cost down but this is no bad thing, because it leaves you to install the onboard electronics of your choice. I do know that in acoustic guitar circles, lack of onboard electronics can often be preferred because the real acoustic players all have their opinions and preferred makes of pre-amp brands, so Jean Larrivee has left you the choice. Just acoustically the guitar sound fabulous anyway.
So I am glad to say my first encounter with a Larrivee has been a really good one and it's easy to say nice things about an instrument when it's fully justified, because this really is a lovely guitar, probably made even more desirable by the limited run with zebrano. I am also very confident that Larrivee guitars are very consistent in their quality, so even one that isn't any kind of special edition would deserve our attention just as much something a bit special. And this Larrivee OM-03Z zebrano is definitely a bit special! It also sells at a silly price for a US-made guitar and just to rub salt in Larrivee's rival's wounds, it even comes with a deluxe hard case! If you're looking for a really top class acoustic at an affordable price, you really must check out one of these.