Looking for top-notch solid woods, a high quality of build, a nice, wide, comfy neck and
a sound that keeps on giving? A Larriv饠could do the trick. Review by Jerry Uwins
Larrivée‘s ‘L’ or ‘Larrivée Body’ acoustic dates back to 1971, and was Jean Larrivée‘s first steel-strung model. Prior to that he’d been building classical guitars, having trained in Toronto during the ’60s under the tutelage of German luthier Edgar Mönch.
The L-Body – 16" wide and fairly deep-sided – is an interesting and distinctive design. On the one hand it bears a passing resemblance in size and profile to a Gibson slope-shoulder dreadnought; on the other it has clearly influenced other manufacturers’ later non-cutaway grand auditorium designs, not least Taylor with its slightly larger GS grand symphonies. Into this pot-pourri you could add a hint of small jumbo and a soupçon of classical styling, which isn’t surprising given Jean Larrivée‘s nylon-strung apprenticeship.
Originally the L-Body was braced in the time-honoured Martin fashion with an elongated X-brace and small tone bars running off behind at approximately 45 degrees. However, drawing on his classical guitar experience, Jean soon changed this to a symmetrical pattern, with a 90-degree X brace plus long tone bars running laterally, parallel to the bridge. Larrivée‘s belief was that this arrangement would produce a stronger, more balanced tone as well as help prevent bellying of the top. The bracing system has been fine-tuned over the years, but it remains essentially the same in principle. The twin tone bars on our sample tie into the rearward legs of the X.
Larrivée still has a Canadian factory located in Vancouver, and that’s where they make the satin-finish 03 Series. However, the L-10 Rosewood Deluxe, like all gloss-lacquered models, hails from the company’s facility in Oxnard, California, which was opened in 2001. Larrivée currently produces around 60 guitars a day – plus an unspecified number of the recently launched solidbody electrics – making it one of the North America’s major manufacturers, and certainly one of the most respected. Aside from actually building the guitars, the company has its own sawmill operation in Canada, supplying many other makers as well as sourcing high-grade tonewoods for itself.
No surprise, then, to find the sitka spruce top on our L-10 looks absolutely first class – close and evenly grained, with a rich pattern of cross-silking. The rosewood for the back and sides is in fine fettle too, the whole body beautifully bound in coachlined rosewood, with abalone purfling around the front. Further abalone includes the soundhole rosette and swirly leaf patterns for the ebony fingerboard’s position markers and at either end of the ebony bridge. The fretboard carries ivoroid binding, while the ebony-overlaid headstock is edged with sterling silver, a Larrivée hallmark that graces all but the 03 and Traditional Series instruments.
Peering inside at the pristinely-fashioned strutting and kerfed linings reveals that the rims don’t carry the vertical reinforcing strips that most makers of all-solid-wood acoustics employ. Larrivée never has, claiming that their absence has never caused stability problems. One useful feature is a patch on the bass-side upper bout to provide strengthening in the event that a preamp is retrofitted. It also caters for L-10s that come factory-fitted with electro systems.
Like many Larrivées the L-10 has a semi-wide, fingerstyle-friendly neck, kicking off at 44.5mm/1.75" across the nut, with a 55mm string spacing at the bridge. It’s one-piece mahogany, secured by a traditional glued dovetail joint and satin finished, and fashioned to a shallow, quite flat-backed profile. It isn’t a bulky lump of wood; on the contrary it’s an easy and comfortable player that even the smaller-handed among us shouldn’t find offputting, though I’d be wanting to round off the front corners of the Tusq nut which are pointy and sharp, a minor irritation not uncommon on Larrivées.
Immaculately polished medium-thin fretting contributes to the slick feel, as does the modestly cambered compound-radius fingerboard which allows for a truly slinky action. Our sample’s action, with a treble-side string height at the octave of a mere 1.6mm and only just over 2.0mm on the bass, may be a little too fret-hugging for its own good, because there’s a hint of fret buzz on the second string around the third and fourth positions. A couple of low frets could be the culprits, but it’s much more likely that the guitar has simply been tweaked a shade too ambitiously by the distributor’s tech prior to review. From my experience of Larrivées over the years I very much doubt whether the ex-factory actions are set this low. Still, if it’s a lazy, effortless player you’re after, this is it.
This L-10 sounds pretty darn fab. We’re always cautious of makers’ own claims, but when Jean Larrivée says ‘the bass is solid and tight, with great projection; midrange is strong and highs are crystal clear’, he’s not overstating his case. Our example really does display those traits, along with supple, generous dynamics, and he could have added that the low end, apart from its firmness and power, has a richly-toned warmth that resonates through the whole instrument, but not at the expense of cross-string balance and definition, which remain excellent. A really responsive, rewardingly expressive player if ever I heard one.
Like most imported guitar brands, whether from America, mainland Europe or the Far East, Larriv饧s UK prices have risen recently due to the weakness of sterling, and the L-10 is 500 more expensive than it was a few months ago. That's the bad news. The good news is that it's still an instrument that more than earns its keep in terms of aesthetics, sheer quality, easy picking-cum-strum playability, and a highly enjoyable sound. The L-Body design might have been Jean Larriv饧s first foray into steel-strings, but it's proved enduring and it approaches the role of full-bodied all-rounder with great style and elan.