All About Larrivee Guitars

Posted by Robinson Earle on Oct 9th 2020

Larrivee Guitars are known around the world for their uncompromising quality, beautiful, all solid wood bodies, and attention to detail. No matter which Larivee guitar model you choose, you can be sure that it was crafted with the finest materials possible. Their X-Brace and Scalloped Hybrid bracing systems offer unique tones, allowing you to choose the model that best suits your playstyle

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About Larrivee Guitars

Before Jean Larrivee came along, the steel-string acoustic guitar was a strictly American phenomena, and C.F. Martin was king. A former auto mechanic, Larrivee became interested in acoustic guitar-building in the late 1960s, gravitating towards the classical, nylon-string instruments of Spanish provenance that were popular in Canada at the time. He studied with the German luthier, Edgar Much Sr., and briefly in New York with Manuel Velasquez. It wasn’t long before Larrivee went out on his own, however, and being naturally inclined towards experimentation, he began drafting new designs.

The Birth of The Canadian Steel String Guitar

His first few guitars were classical, but at the insistence of local musicians and the Toronto Folklore Center, he built his first steel string in 1971. Though he used the Martin dreadnought as the template for his first steel string guitars, he favored smaller, more classically-inspired proportions. In an effort to further combine these traditions, he then developed a symmetrical X-bracing system that deviated from Martin’s asymmetric design. Whereas Martins had a comparatively scooped tone, with big bass response, the Larrivee acoustic guitars were exquisitely balanced across all registers. His fingerboard radiuses were also a bit flatter, likewise an homage to classical guitar luthier. Through fearless innovation and careful study, Larrivee had managed to produce a uniquely Canadian acoustic, steel-string guitar. 

As Larrivee’s new models began to assume their final shapes, he took on a series of apprentices who were eager to collaborate on the burgeoning national art-form. Some of the greatest acoustic guitar builders the world has ever known got their start with Larrivee on the second floor of Toronto’s Tarragon theater (the site of the first shop to produce Larrivee guitars for sale). Linda Manzer (builder of Pat Matheny’s 42-string Picasso guitar), Sergei De Jong, William “Grit” Laskin, Tony Duggan-Smith, and David Wren all learned from Larrivee. It was this openness with his craft that allowed the Canadian acoustic guitar scene to truly blossom. Rather than compete, the best luthiers chose to collaborate, and the instruments are better for it.

In addition to structural differences, Jean Larrivée guitars soon established their own visual aesthetics, thanks to the intricate inlay work of one Wendy Jones (who later married Jean and became Wendy Larrivee). Wendy’s fantastical, whimsical designs came to adorn Larrivee guitar fretboards and headstocks. Her subject matter and style drew from the European tradition, complimenting the classically balanced voicing of the instruments. Larrivee guitars soon earned a reputation for producing some of the most unique and beautiful acoustics available. 

In 1977, Larrivee moved his shop to Vancouver Island in Victoria British Columbia. Not only did this new location allow him to expand operations, but it also gave him access to some the finest tone-woods that the Canada’s rainforests had to offer. During this period, Jean Larrivee built new machinery to increase production (while still keeping his instruments largely handmade where it counted). Over time, Larrivee became known as one the world’s best purveyors of Sitka Spruce, which granted him deeper access to the international timber network. 

In addition to Larrivee’s philosophy of camaraderie amongst luthiers, he also felt compelled to make his guitars affordable. Although he enjoyed building the museum quality pieces that were featured prominently in magazines and trade shows, he felt that Larrivee should offer a professional quality model at a price that was still accessible to working class musicians. In 1997, he introduced the Dreadnought-inspired D-03 , which proved to be one of their most popular guitars, and the first North American built, high-end, solid-wood guitar that sold for $800. The success of the D-03 allowed Larrivee to further expand operations into the United States, where they opened up a shop in Oxnard, CA. 

Since 2013, Larrivee has been building exclusively at their shop in California. They continue delivering guitars with that classic Larrivee tone, as well as developing innovative designs. We are thrilled to be able to carry Larrivee guitars here at Midwood, and would like to tell you about some of our favorite Larrivee models! 

Acoustic Guitars by Larrivee 

For decades now, the “03” models have been some of Larrivee’s biggest sellers. These instruments combine exceptional built-quality with a manageable price-point in a way that most American builders can’t touch. The OM-03E is one of our favorites. This Mahogany back and sides, Sitka Spruce topped orchestra model is the epitome of versatility and elegance. With a voice that’s strong and direct enough for lead, and overtones that create the perfect sonic backdrop for rhythm playing, it’s hard to imagine anything that this guitar couldn’t do. The satin finish looks amazing and the Maple trim frames the tonewoods perfectly.

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The 00-40RE is a finger-pickers dream instrument. Larrivee guitars have always been praised for their exquisite balance, but the new bracing system that they developed for their “40” series guitars takes things to another level. The non-symmetrical scalloped lateral cross-bracing is blended with their signature balanced X-brace to achieve a tone that is free, clear, and awe-inspiring. The evenness between registers remains, but there is now an intense bass current and even more swirling overtones. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of a long (25.5) scale length with a 12-fret configuration is unique in a guitar this size. Though refined enough for the parlor, this small guitar is meant for much greater things.

There’s nothing like a big, bad dreadnought, and Larrivee makes one of the best ones out there for a price that will leave you with enough gas money to make the gig. The D-40E is likewise braced with their scalloped hybrid pattern, which really brings out the low end on an acoustic this size. It’s not just powerful, however, the overtones are so lush that you’ll catch yourself peeping in the sound-hole to see if there's a tiny piano in there, too. The tried and true combination of high-grade Indian Rosewood and Sitka Spruce make this a familiar, yet dazzling work of strum-able art. 

The mighty L-09E is the guitar Larrivee perfected in the 70s, and the recipe largely remains the same. The “L” (for Larrivee) body shape falls somewhere in between a dreadnought and an OM, and the bracing pattern is Jean’s original balanced X design. It hits the sweet spot on so many levels that there is simply no room for improvement. With a Sitka Spruce top, Indian Rosewood back and sides, a gloss finish, and a brilliant abalone rosette, it’s also one of the best looking acoustic guitars around.

Contact Midwood About a Larrivee Guitar Today! 

We are overjoyed to be one of Larrivee’s newest dealers. Their guitars offer such an original and desirable tone that they are an obvious choice for our inventory. In fact, our resident acoustic expert, Robinson Earle’s, first boutique guitar was a Larrivee. He had a particularly massive, swirling tone in mind that most acoustics he encountered couldn’t conjure. As it turns out, it took a Jumbo, J-09 Larrivee to do the trick. He still has that guitar, and we all look forward to helping our customers become Larrivee owners, too. 

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