The latest series of Special Edition Larrivées throw an intriguing new ingredient into the company’s usual recipe. That ingredient is timber – a selection of exotic hardwoods from founder Jean Larrivée’s personal stash, including zebrano, Peruvian or American walnut, silver oak and swamp ash.
The good news is these timbers result in very little upcharge over a standard mahogany/spruce model: just £80 more in the case of the parlor and £150 for the OM.
Larrivée’s parlor design is a right little charmer. Just 13.25 inches wide, with a 12th-fret neck-to-body join and a scale length of 24 inches, it’s very inviting to play. The `special’ wood (also available on the OM-03Z) is zebrano, a lovely timber with an olive or pale coffee hue and dark brown grain lines. Reputed to lie between rosewood and mahogany on the tonal spectrum, it’s a promising choice for the back and sides.
The top is solid Canadian sitka spruce, and with its strong, wide-spaced grain it looks like Adirondack. The binding is Canadian maple, the squared-off bridge is rosewood, and the teardrop tortie scratchplate and simple herringbone soundhole rosette add to the clean but nostalgic looks. The finish is satin all over, which suits the guitar’s simple appointments down to the ground.
The neck is one piece of mahogany and comes topped with an ebony fingerboard with 18 frets and small pearl dot markers, while the headstock carries a rosewood overlay and six super-smooth sealed tuners. The neck profile is `modern’ rather than `V-shaped vintage parlor’, measuring a bare 20mm deep at the first fret and thickening out to 24mm by the eighth. It’s a fast player and the nut width of 1.75 inches (45mm) will suit fingerpickers, although the 56mm string spacing at the bridge is a couple of millimetres shy of the 58mm of the OM on review here.
Many of today’s affordable parlor guitars look the part but sound nasal and thin – the price of putting looks and specs above what’s on the inside. This is where Larrivée’s experience and all-solid wood build come into play, because the sound properly billows out of this little guitar.
It’s old-timey but sustaining, delicate and responsive, with forward lower mids, a tight bottom end and sweet trebles. The amount of volume is impressive given the size of the soundbox; for lyrical fingerpicking or country and blues it’s a winner, and it’s a fine single-note lead player too.
We might try beefing up the string gauges: swapping from a .053″ to a .056″ on the bottom would give that string a touch more oomph and authority, as the 24-inch scale leaves it sounding a little light, without quite the impact of the A and D. Our review guitar could do with a touch more neck relief, as the neck is set up quite flat and the low E buzzes with more than a moderate right-hand attack.
Larrivée’s truss-rod design places the nut in the end block, tucked away behind the transverse brace above the soundhole, but it includes a special wrench in the case pocket so you can make adjustments without removing the strings. Overall, this is a lovely little guitar that delivers in very nearly big-guitar terms.
The OM-03WW All-American, to give it its full name, is a surprise. The presence of walnut is no great shock, but what raises eyebrows is Larrivée’s decision to use it for the top as well as the back and sides.
Though we don’t know how dense this medium-dark greyish-brown American walnut is, the chances are it’s slightly heavier than mahogany, and at nearly 4.5lbs this is not a lightweight guitar. Can Larrivée extract a sound from a hardwood top to compete with traditional spruce?
The short answer is yes, but in an unexpected way. We half-anticipated something quite trebly, perhaps edgy, but the OM-03W delivers natural, unforced highs and a bias towards the bassy end of the spectrum, sounding almost like a baritone. It’s very well balanced with almost no midrange kick, but rewards fingerpicking and controlled flat-pick playing rather than all-out attack.
Dropped tunings work well, with the full 25.5-inch scale coping fine down as far as C. With very little of that `hardwood hardness’, this is a rich and unusually full-sounding guitar. The fact that at 15.25 inches across the lower bout a Larrivée OM is a quarter of an inch wider than the `classic’ Martin OM – half an inch wider across the upper bout and half an inch deeper at the endpin block, too – helps the size of the sound.
The finish is a faultless satin, and the body and neck binding is contrasting maple; the bridge is a belly design, and the herringbone rosette has gained a couple of outside rings. The one-piece mahogany neck is 45mm wide at the nut, and although it’s a millimetre deeper at the nut than the P-03Z, it’s a slim, modern shape.
The only slight drawback is a little too much of a noticeable edge where the maple binding meets the mahogany. The neck is a little broader at the octave than the parlor’s, and by the time we get to the bridge the string spacing is a comfy 58mm. The frets are fitted and finished beautifully, the tuning is smooth and the intonation spot-on.
Larrivée delivers stylishly-designed, cleanly-built guitars. These two are no different, but the timber choices add character in a very welcome way. The all-walnut OM-03WW might not be the ideal strong-arm strummer, but for the fingerpicker it offers an appealing, and different, voice, while the P-03Z is a sweetie which genuinely out-performs its dimensions. All-solid wood guitars with a reputable name, made in California, at this price, with cases? It’s hard to say no.
• Price £1,079 inc. case
• Description Parlor-sized acoustic, made in California
• Build Solid African zebra wood back and sides, solid sitka top, maple binding on neck and body, one-piece mahogany neck with 17” to 21” compound radius ebony fingerboard, ebony bridge, ebony headplate, Tusq nut and saddle, herringbone rosette, sealed tuners
• Left-handers Yes, to order, at no extra cost
• Finish Satin all over
• Scale length 610mm/24”
• Neck width 45mm at nut, 54mm at 12th fret
• Neck depth 20mm at nut, 24mm at eighth fret
• String spacing 39mm at nut, 56mm at bridge
• Weight 1.75kg/3.85lbs
• Contact Sound Technology
• Price £1,249 inc. case
• Description OM-sized acoustic, made in California
• Build Solid American walnut back, sides and top with maple binding, one-piece mahogany neck with 17” to 21” compound radius ebony fingerboard, ebony bridge, ebony headplate, Tusq nut and saddle, herringbone rosette, sealed tuners
• Left-handers Yes, to order, no extra cost
• Finish Satin all over
• Scale length 25.5”/650mm
• Neck width 45mm at nut, 55mm at 12th fret
• Neck depth 21mm at nut, 23.5mm at ninth fret
• String spacing 39mm at nut, 58mm at bridge
• Weight 2kg/4.4lbs