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Since opening for business in 1967, Larrivée Guitars has become one of the major players in the acoustic flattop guitar market. Besides building cool guitars that are often great values, Larrivée also has a colorful history.
Founder Jean Larrivée got his start as an apprentice under renowned classical guitar builder Edgar Mönch in the mid-1960s, and when he opened his own shop in Toronto, Canada, in 1967, the first guitars he offered were classical models. With the folk boom in full swing, Larrivée developed a steel-string model as well, creating the blueprint for his L-model that is still in production. Larrivée moved around Canada several times, eventually setting up shop in Vancouver, where he still maintains a production facility. Along the way, the Larrivée shop became a training ground for several of today’s finest builders, including Linda Manzer, Grit Laskin, and David Wren.
But the biggest change came in 2001, when Larrivée opened a factory in Oxnard, California. Originally the smaller of the two facilities, this US location has now eclipsed the Vancouver shop in size and production, in effect turning Larrivée into a primarily American manufacturer. The company recently introduced a new line of guitars called the Legacy Series, and we checked out the D-40R dreadnought.Vintage Character
Larrivée guitars typically bear some mark of Jean Larrivée’s very individual design sense, but the D-40R is clearly influenced by Martin’s classic dreadnought designs. According to Matthew Larrivée (one of Jean’s sons, who runs the Oxnard facility), this is no accident: “We’ve been hearing from customers who want more traditional looks and that classic vintage American dreadnought boominess, and this new design is the response.” In the case of the D-40R, the “looks” part of the equation translates into a classic dreadnought shape, herringbone purfling, a squared-off headstock, and open-back Grover tuning machines.
But what’s happening under the hood is perhaps more important: Rather than being built with Larrivée’s original symmetrical and tapered X-bracing pattern, Legacy Series instruments feature what Larrivée calls “Scalloped Parabolic Hybrid” bracing. As the name suggests, this pattern combines a parabolic brace shape with some strategic scalloping. It also makes use of an angled pair of tone bars in the lower bout, rather than relying on the 90-degree to centerline approach used in other Larrivée guitars.
Jean Larrivée is as much a lumberjack as a luthier (he is also major supplier of Sitka spruce to other manufacturers), and he travels the world to source the woods used in his instruments. No surprise then that the materials in on our review D-40R are top-quality, good-looking stuff. The Sitka spruce top is beautifully colored, evenly grained, full of attractive silking and medullary rays, and would look at home on a much more expensive custom guitar. The Indian rosewood of the back and sides is of similar high quality—deep chocolate in color and straight-grained. Larrivée chose a satin finish for the Legacy Series, which reinforces a subdued elegance.
The D-40R has a genuine one-piece mahogany neck, attached to the body with a traditional dovetail joint and equipped with a double-action truss rod. The ebony fingerboard features simple diamond position markers and ivoroid binding. Ebony is also used for the guitar’s bridge, which is outfitted with a CNC-shaped bone saddle. The guitar’s craftsmanship is superb throughout, which attests to the 40 years Larrivée spent refining building techniques.Dreadnought Punch
Our D-40R came strung with medium gauge D’Addario EXP 17’s, and its setup struck a compromise between action high enough for digging in with a flatpick, but low enough to not require too much fretting effort, especially near the nut. The guitar’s neck measures 1 11/16" at the nut and is shaped with a shallow U-profile. It definitely feels more modern than vintage, and while it was comfortable, I noticed a slightly boxy feeling where the shoulders meet the fretboard.
Since dreadnoughts tend to be ideal for flatpicking, I got out my heavy Wegen pick and played some bluegrass runs around a first-position G chord. The D-40R is a punchy ax in these situations, with great bottom-end, volume, and dynamic range. And while the guitar has more vintage dreadnought “boom” than I typically associate with a Larrivée, it retains much of the clarity and balance that the company’s instruments are famous for. This quality is especially evident when strumming. Neither bass nor mid frequencies are overbearing under heavy pick attack. It’s the kind of guitar that would stay present within a larger band sound.
Even though dreadnoughts and flatpicks are commonly regarded as a match made in heaven, plenty of guitarists use this guitar type for fingerstyle as well. I tried playing John Renbourn’s “Judy,” a tune in A minor with a descending bass line and a melody played primarily on the first string. The Larrivée had no problem communicating the polyphonic intricacies of the piece. While a dedicated fingerstyle guitar might offer slightly quicker response and more volume with a soft attack, the D-40R held its own.The Verdict
The Larrivée D-40R is a very cool dreadnought. For a street price of less than $1,500, it offers high-quality solid woods, craftsmanship comparable to instruments costing much more, and a sound that can hang in the high-end league. Anyone looking for a great deal in a mid-price, traditionally styled flattop should check Larrivée’s Legacy Series D-40R. And anyone who thinks they know what to expect from a Larrivée dread should be ready for some very cool surprises.