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Larrivée Guitars Bakersfield Electric Guitar Review

December 20, 2011

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.

Bakersfield Heat
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.



I dialed back the bass on the amplifier and got the clarity necessary for strummed rhythms. Up and down the fretboard, string-to-string volume balance was excellent. With the volume and mids cranked on the Sportsman, the neck humbucker is great for chunky Cream-era Clapton rhythm tones, which I could easily juice back up to a smoky, thick lead tone with a quick twist of the guitar’s Volume knob. I loved the combination of Fender-like clarity and humbucker warmth and muscle at this medium-gain level. My only minor gripe with the mini humbucker was a slight thinness in the high E string, which did improve as I raised the pickup height on the treble side.

Middle-position clean tones drip with a funky, soulful, and open bottom end, yet also possess a biting toppiness. This blend of percussiveness and sweet vocal quality inspired me to run through my favorite Cornell Dupree licks.

Middle-position clean tones drip with a funky, soulful, and open bottom end, yet also possess a biting toppiness.

The flat pole piece “Real Broadcaster” bridge pickup packed major twang and awesome sustain on bluesy bends. The pickup’s energetic twang factor is reinforced by a boosted midrange that, in combination with the Bakersfield’s robust bass output, gives the bridge position a relatively hot and aggressive voice.

The bridge pickup is an excellent match for the mini humbucker, powerful in output and warm enough to make the pickups sound related. That is not to say it can’t provide bite—some of the most fun I had playing the Bakersfield was ripping through cutting lead lines and spanky pinch harmonics all over the fretboard. And low-string runs demonstrated how readily the pickup can move from snappy to lowmidrange grunt.

the Verdict
Tele-style purists may balk at the body contours or the Les Paul-style input jack, but it’s important to remember that the Bakersfield was built to acknowledge the earliest modded Teles, as well as the originals. In a sea of Tele-style guitars, Larrivée put together something significantly different in the Bakersfield, executed at a level that’s competitive with custom builders, yet more accessibly priced. It’s got all the sweetness and wicked twang you need to cover the traditional bases in a country application, but with added power and girth to handle the heavier ranges of your repertoire. If that expanded sonic range, a wide, flat fingerboard, and the meatier neck of a ’52 Telecaster is your thing, the Bakersfield should land high on your list of slightly twisted Teles.

Buy if...
you want a bigger neck on a nicely tweaked, well crafted T-style guitar.

Skip if...
you like a more radiused fretboard.

Rating...

Street $1798 - Larrivée Guitars - larrivee.com.com