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This article was originally published in issue #8
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Though Larrivée may not be the best known acoustic guitar brand outside of North America (which takes around 70 per cent of everything the company makes in its Canadian and US plants) it has a strong reputation at home and a surprising one within the inner sanctum of guitar makers. Its founder, the French Canadian Jean Larrivée, isn't just one of the world's most respected production builders, he is also regarded as a guru to other manufacturers. Word has it that when an acoustic plant runs into trouble, Larrivée is the man they call on for advice on how to fix it. He is also (perhaps not surprisingly, considering where he hails from!) one of the authorities on guitar woods and is even the proud possessor of his own sawmill!
Larrivée also has strong principles. Though he has helped advise and troubleshoot factories in Asia, he refuses to make Larrivée acoustics there, shunning the route taken by so many guitar brands that have introduced 'subsidiary' lines. Larrivée just refuses to do it.
The guitar we were sent for review was, in some respects, an oddity in the Larrivée line-up. It's a 000 size (in Martin parlance - Auditorium elsewhere) sized model with 12 frets to the body, that sits in the company's Recording range and brings to it a model that, were it in Larrivée's Traditional series, would be priced a great deal higher. That said, no savings have been made in terms of the quality of the wood used in this stunningly simple, not to say puritanically beautiful, guitar, nor in its construction. It's just unadorned with decoration and flounces, comes with no pickup and represents the stripped-down classical essence of a true fingerpicker's recording guitar - the 000.
This particular model comes from Larrivée's Vancouver plant (the company also manufactures in Southern California) and is offered in two very limited edition versions. Both are constructed entirely from satin fished solid wood and are handmade instruments, featuring Sitka spruce soundboards, single piece mahogany necks, ebony fretboards and bridges. They also sport traditional dovetail glued necks, adjustable truss rods and Graphtec TUSQ nuts, saddles and bridges, plus high quality chrome tuners. The difference (and it is reflected in the price) is that one features a rosewood back and sides, while the other features the, more costly, walnut option. Naturally, we borrowed the more expensive version to hand to Mr Casswell!
Michael Casswellwrites: I have played a lot of acoustics in my time, and there is a definite point where a good, reasonably priced guitar that we would all love to own and play can be made to look and sound mundane when it is held up against the product of one of the true masters of acoustic guitar manufacture. Makers like Collins, Fylde and Taylor spring to mind as being in this sort of class! At this level, there really is a marked difference in the touch, response, sound and quality compared to what we usually think of as a good acoustic. This Larrivée 000 has it all in spades - it's a true player's guitar. True, it's not cheap, but it's also not as pricey as you might think, particularly when you consider that it is handmade by one of the world's most highly regarded makers. In fact, with any other of the 'major' names on the headstock, we reckon this would be great deal more expensive than it is.
It doesn't come with a pickup, but I have seen the LR Baggs system on these guitars and they work well. It wouldn't be difficult to get one fitted if you wanted but its primary purpose, as the name of the series it sits in suggests, is to be an acoustic instrument - a recording guitar - and this particular sample really delivered on that score, sounding so sweet that even with the most average of microphones, you couldn't fail to get a superb recorded tone.
You may have noticed on my jammed demo of the guitar, I have messed with the tuning a little. Nothing drastic. I just dropped the bottom E down to a C, and the top E down to a D. I did this for two reasons - firstly, to make me sound like I know what I'm doing! Secondly, to demonstrate the enormous even response of the guitar. The lows are fat but crisp, the mids are sweet and even, and the highs are full of life and don't just die on you as they do with many lesser acoustics.
Gi's Bassment specialist, Dan Veal, and the camera guys were listening to me play before the cameras rolled, and all commented how the sound of the Larrivée filled the room and had "girth" (Dan's word), which is a very good description on how this guitar sounds. I would like to think it was my playing, but actually it was all the guitar!
I did sneak this guitar home with me for a one night stand, and it was an inspiring instrument to spend time with. If you are remotely creative, then the simplest of ideas take on a life of their own, and make you pursue the complete song.
The satin finish on this guitar is so subtle that it almost feels like there's no finish at all. The effect is like touching silk every time you pick it up to play (which you would do a lot). It's very tactile. Plus it has a solid wood construction, which means no laminated top and sides, but real solid pieces of spruce on top, with walnut back and sides, in this case. Solid wood construction means as the years pass, the sound the guitar makes should simply get better and better. With laminates, generally how the guitar sounds new, is pretty much how it will sound as the years fly by (which they seem to be doing at alarming speed). It's a sobering thought that this Larrivée, all things being equal, is going to end-up in a few years time sounding even better than it does now!
Having spent time with this, and other Larivee guitars, I can say that in my opinion it's up there with the best you can get. If you are serious about your acoustic playing, then you are probably already aware how good this maker is. And if you are not serious about your acoustic playing, then you should be, because if you want to be a great electric guitar player, then starting on an acoustic is best for your playing, and best for your soul.
This guitar was superb - and at the price it is also fantastic value for money for a world-class instrument.