In 2013, an
American Canadian astronaut named Chris Hadfield floated through the International Space Station strumming the song Space Oddity on his parlor guitar. 25 million views later, the rest of the world was introduced to a guitar that Canada already knew to be great: Larrivée guitars.
If you’ve ever come across a Larrivée guitar, chances are you it made an impression on you. So much so that perhaps you’re looking to purchase one yourself – or at least find out what all the fuss is about surrounding this unique guitar.
In a market saturated by hundreds of tiny guitar-makers but dominated by only a handful, Larrivée has distinguished itself as a quality guitar that has been a workhorse of musicians across the globe for decades.
Introduction to Larrivée Guitars
Prior to 1960, the flat-top acoustic market was dominated by a single company: C.F. Martin. It was the best guitar available at the time and most any other acoustic guitar manufacturer just ended up copying the Martin signature style.
This was of no consequence to Canadian-born Jean Larrivée, who had begun to seriously study classical guitar instead of the popular steel-string guitar. His job as an auto mechanic provided an income but it wasn’t long before his passion for guitar turned into an interest to become a luthier.
Fortunately, a German luthier named Edgar Mönch had recently moved to Toronto and was willing to take on Jean as an apprentice to his classical guitar building. The apprentice relationship only lasted a short time but the impact has lasted decades.
As Jean began to test new shapes, bracings and construction methods, he found success by crossing elements of the popular Martin steel-string guitars with classical guitars methods he had learned from Mönch. To this day, the innovative symmetrical X bracing used on the soundboard is implemented on every Larrivée series except the “30.” It was an innovative process and a tradition that he would pass on for generations .
Larrivée guitars began in 1967 in the workshop of Jean’s small home and has grown to include manufacturing plants in Vancouver, Canada (now closed) and in Oxnard, California. While the company produces a limited number of mandolins and electric guitars, the bulk of its manufacturing is dedicated to its venerable acoustic guitars.
In 2013, the Canadian-born company was moved completely to the U.S. where all manufacture currently takes place.
The Larrivée Model Breakdown
Every guitar-maker has their own method of naming guitar models and each has its own quirks. Larrivée guitars are no different so before we dive into the pros and cons of the guitar, let’s take a look at the acoustic models they produce and how they designate them.
All Larrivée guitars begin with the body size indicated by a letter such as “D,” “L,” “LV,” “OM,” and is followed by a series number such as “03,” “04” and so on. Finally, a model can be modified with additional letters indicating electronics (“E”), different woods (i.e. “R” for Rosewood) or number of strings (“12” for a 12-string).
Examples of a Larrivée guitar model would be a “D-03,” an “L-03-12E” or an “OM-05” among others.
Below is a quick breakdown of the various body sizes and series models for reference:
For a more detailed look at what makes each model series different, see the Larrivee comparison chart here.
So with this as a reference, it’s easy to see that a Larrivée model “LV-10” is a Larrivee body guitar from the Rosewood Deluxe Series that includes a cutaway. The Larrivée “PV-09” is a Larrivée Parlor guitar body from the Rosewood Artist Series that includes a cutaway but no onboard electronics.
Larrivée Review | Pros & Cons
All it takes is a single strum on any Larrivée guitar to understand why so many people love Larrivée. I’m a huge fan of the guitar’s crisp tone complimented by its beautiful sustain. The solid wood construction of every Larrivée guitar makes itself known via the excellent projection that could fill a concert hall.
In addition to being clean and crisp, it’s worth noting that the Larrivée offers a very balanced tone, meaning that its highs and lows are treated in equal regard throughout the final tone. Those critical of Taylor guitars for its preference to higher register tones or those critical of Martin for its preference of the lower register tones will find this quality of Larrivée guitars to be appealing.
The solid wood used in the construction of a Larrivée guitar is also worth mentioning because not all wood is created equal. Jean Larrivée is known among luthier circles to have a keen eye for woods and he travels all over the world sourcing only the best. In fact, Larrivée has even become a major supplier of good Sitka spruce to other guitar manufacturers. The wood on a Larrivée guitar has a beautiful color in addition to an even grain that is a subtle reminder of the quality of the guitar.
In terms of playability, every Larrivée I’ve ever picked up easily compares with any Martin or Taylor I’ve played. Some people consider the neck to be a bit flat but I find the single-piece necks to be fun to play and easy to slide around. The standard 1 3/4″ nut width (for most Larrivee series guitars) is comfortable.
In terms of action, I think that at this price point it should go without saying that all Larrivée guitars come with extremely low action, making them a dream to play. You won’t be disappointed in this regard.
The biggest “pro” for the Larrivée guitar is that all of the above-mentioned qualities – qualities which set these guitars among the likes of Martin and Taylor – are often priced well below comparable acoustic guitars. Aside from the “wow” factor of a Larrivée, the “value” factor is the most cited benefit among owners of the guitar.
Although it’s hard to find many “cons” with a Larrivée guitar, I’ll take a moment to mention the one thing I find lacking: the guitar pickup. While Taylor Guitars has continually innovated with their “ES” Expression System, Larrivée is stuck still using an undersaddle L.R. Baggs pickup. It’s a good pickup, don’t get me wrong, but not one I’m keen to work with on stage. Despite the name “Stagepro Element,” this L.R. Baggs pickup doesn’t reproduce the beautiful sound of the Larrivée as much as I would like it to.
This one critique aside, there’s no doubt that Larrivée Guitars are some of the best value guitars you’ll find no matter what you compare it to.
Larrivee Guitars vs Taylor Guitars
One of the most common questions I hear about Larrivée guitars is how they compare to a similarly-priced Taylor guitar. As the owner of a Taylor 310ce, I feel somewhat qualified to answer this question.
Both the Taylor and the Larrivée are constructed using some of the best woods available (both Bob Taylor and Jean Larrivée are sticklers for good wood) and the quality of construction is superb. Bob Taylor proved the value of quality construction when he produced the Taylor pallet guitar.
Whereas Taylor guitars are valued for their balanced midrange and gorgeous high notes, the Larrivée guitar finds a bit more balance in the lower register. Both guitars have crystal clear tone without the overpowering lower register of the Martin guitar.
The biggest difference between a Taylor acoustic guitar and a Larrivée acoustic guitar is in aesthetics and price. It’s hard to place my finger on exactly what makes the look of these guitars different, but each is recognizable in its own regard. I love the modern look of a Taylor guitar but fully appreciate the beauty of the Larrivée design. It’s all personal preference.
Once you find a comparable Larrivée and Taylor model – let’s say a Taylor guitars 300 series and a Larrivée 03 “Recording Series,” you’ll immediately notice that the Larrivée is hundreds of dollars cheaper than a Taylor. This is not an indication of lower quality, merely a recognition that the Taylor name is currently more valuable than Larrivée. So if brand isn’t an issue for you, Larrivée is certainly a better value for your money than Taylor.
Larrivée Parlor Guitar Review
Before I conclude this review of Larrivée, I’d like to make special mention of one of their most popular guitars: the Larrivée Parlor guitar.
The Larrivée Parlor guitar, which includes the P-03 Mahogany model, the P-09 Rosewood model and the PV-09 model with a cutaway, are a series of guitars that have effectively packed an amazing sound into a smaller-body. These parlor guitars have a somewhat elongated body, making them different in both tone and look from something like the Baby Taylor guitar.
Unlike most parlor guitars, the Larrivée Parlor guitars are American-made, all-solid wood guitars that boast a great Larrivée tone with a little less projection. The parlor has the same nut width (1 3/4″) as the full-size Larrivée guitars so the playability feels the same.
You won’t find any electronics on the Larrivée parlor guitar, although that’s a simple aftermarket addition if that’s a must-have feature.
Overall, this parlor guitar makes for an excellent songwriting guitar or even a beginner guitar, although the $1,000+ price tag might cause you to consider just purchasing a full-size guitar instead.
Larrivee P-03 Parlor Guitar
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Larrivee P-09 Parlor Guitar
–>Check pricing on the Larrivee P-09 Parlor Guitar<–
Larrivee PV-09 Parlor Guitar
Conclusion: Is a Larrivée Worth the Price?
I’d like to echo the sentiments of most every Larrivée guitar owner before I conclude my review: the Larrivée is one of the best value guitars in the above $1,000 range.
If you’re looking to upgrade your guitar and you haven’t yet pledged allegiance to the likes of Martin, Taylor, or any of the other major manufacturers, Larrivée is well-worth your consideration. You’ll get just as much guitar with an equally beautiful tone for a price that is much lower than its competitors.