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This article was originally published in issue #44
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Despite their stellar reputation for high-quality tonewoods, flawless construction and superb play-ability, Larrivée guitars are possibly one of the best-kept open secrets going. The company’s founder Jean Larrivée has always sought out the best tonewoods available, as anyone who has ever owned a Larrivée guitar will testify. With the current and continuing pressures on the availability and sustainability of tonewoods, Larrivée has been looking for alternatives, one of which is the Peruvian walnut that has been used in this special edition of the highly-successful P-03 parlour guitar.
Walnut-bodied guitars are not particularly common, although smaller artisan builders in both Europe and the US have used their indigenous walnut woods very successfully over the years. Both my Alan Arnold Kingfisher parlour guitar and my Brook baritone feature English walnut back and sides, giving them (to my ears) a tonality that lies somewhere between mahogany and koa.
We’re well-used to all-mahogany guitars, with Martin’s 017 being perhaps the most familiar, but I’ve never come across an all-walnut guitar and certainly not one made from Peruvian walnut. Looking at the colour and grain pattern in the P-03W, you’ll see a more than passing resemblance to that of mahogany, which might be why Jean Larrivée was attracted to Peruvian walnut in the first place.
In addition to its Canadian maple bound, all-solid Peruvian walnut front, back and sides, the P-03WW also possesses a single-piece, solid mahogany neck. Its bridge and ivoroid-bound fingerboard are made from African ebony and an inlaid wooden herringbone rosette surrounds the soundhole.
Nut width is 1¾” (44.5mm), bridge spacing is 2¼” (69.9mm) and these, in combination with the shortish 24” (610mm) scale length, make the P-03 W very comfortable to play, especially for fingerpickers like myself.
The front is braced using Larrivée’s own symmetrical parabolic X-bracing and the neck to body joint is a hand-fitted dovetail. A satin finish, 18:1 ratio Ping tuners, microdot fret markers and a deluxe Larrivée guitar case complete the picture.
The first thing that you’ll notice about the Larrivée P-03 WW is just how comfortable it feels in your arms. The small body (13” lower bout, 8” waist and 9” upper bout) just feels right, the neck fits the hand like a glove and the low string tension (courtesy of the short scale length) gives the guitar a most beguiling, easy playability.
All-mahogany guitars can tend to be biased towards the midrange area with basses and trebles feeling a bit subdued, but this all-Peruvian walnut Larrivée has a deeper, darker, more even and more expansive response than I’d anticipated, delivering a tight bass and a clear singing treble that reminded me a lot of my X-braced 1930’s Kalamazoo KG-11 and other guitars of that ilk and era.
There’s a sense of age in this P-03 W’s voicing that just cries out to have Ragtime, Blues, old-time, slide and even early Jazz played on it. As the woods mature and the guitar opens up over the next couple of years or so, I’d expect the midrange to come more to the fore, at which point this P-03 W will have turned into a very fine, well-balanced guitar with its own, distinctive voice.
If you’re looking for a guitar that has an individual voice, especially if you play at the bluesier end of fingerstyle, then a Larrivée P-03WW could well be the one for you. It’s a very fine guitar with an attractive price tag that you don’t usually find attached to solid-wood, American-made acoustic steel-string guitars. Value for money and soundwise, it can’t be faulted, but you’ll need to get your hands on one to decide whether or not the sound that it delivers is the one that you want.