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It’s not puzzling that the Telecaster continues to inspire guitar builders. Elegant—arguably perfect—but dead simple, the Tele practically beckons luthiers to reinterpret its iconic design. Jean Larrivée knows a thing or two about tackling classics. His first instruments were inspired by the great classical builders of Spain and Germany, and his beautiful interpretations of mid-century American flattops have been one of the cornerstones of his company’s business since it was born in Toronto in the late ’60s. So it’s little surprise that the Canadian-turned- Californian luthier would be compelled to try his own take on a Tele-style in the form of the Bakersfield.
While many players may think acoustics when they think Larrivée, the company has a long history of dabbling in solidbody electrics, from pointy metal machines in the ’80s to the more recent RS series. Larrivée also had a big hand in making the Seymour Duncan 35, a recent limited-run clone of Seymour’s own customized Tele—the TeleGib—that the pickup wizard built 35 years ago. The sum of that experience adds up to a Tele-style that’s both unique and exceptionally playable.
Kern County Via Ventura
Our Bakersfield arrived dressed in a combination of visual elements borrowed from Fenders of the ’50s and ’60s. The single-ply Bakelite pickguard and brass saddles (which are compensated to add modern functionality) on the Callaham bridge hearken to the ’50s, while the swamp ash body’s custom sea foam finish and the thin rosewood fretboard look and feel distinctly ’60s. Elsewhere, however, the guitar is distinguished by contemporary nods to improved playability. No doubt such features as the forearm contour and tummy-cut are nods to the TeleGib.
Our test guitar came with a Seymour Duncan SM1 mini humbucker in the neck position, though a traditional Telestyle single-coil wound specifically for the Bakersfield by the Duncan Custom Shop is also available in the neck position. At the bridge, you’ll find a hand-wound Real Broadcaster single-coil, another Duncan Custom Shop design. Aside from the classic 3-way switch, the control plate is home to Duncan’s Ultra-Smooth Tone pot and a Liberator Volume pot that enables solderless pickup swapping.
The most striking feature of the Bakersfield might well be the neck, which has a nice beefy profile lifted directly from a ’52 blackguard Telecaster, and an ample 1 3/4" nut width that’s a string-bender’s dream. The compound fretboard radius goes from a flat, Gibson-like 12" to an even flatter 16" after the 12th fret. Compared to a typical vintage 7.25" radius and 1 5/8" nut width, the difference is significant, feeling a bit like a comfortable acoustic guitar neck—little surprise given the name on the headstock.
Warming up with some scales, I discovered the Bakersfield’s smooth, low action felt great. At times, the neck felt a bit too new, and some rounding of the fretboard edges and fret ends would have gone a long way to make the Larrivée feel a little more broken-in. But that minor gripe failed to distract me from the pleasing resonance in both the body and neck. The guitar felt warm and bassy unplugged, which, I suspected, would translate into some thicker than average Tele tones.
And indeed, once I plugged into the Carr Sportsman used for this review, the bass signal coming out of the neck humbucker was impressive. A quick tone tweak on the amp summoned just enough highend definition for a gorgeous scooped jazz tone. And this tone combined with the fingerstyle-friendly 1 3/4" nut width put me in chord-melody heaven. Thumbed bass notes had excellent articulation and sustain. Sustain further up the ’board was impressive as well, even at the highest registers.