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Introduction

Larrivee Guitars is a guitar manufacturer based in Vancouver, Canada. Founded by Jean Larrivee, a luthier, they produce high-quality acoustic guitars often compared to the likes of Martin and Taylor, but are usually substantially cheaper.

History

Adapted from the Larrivee website:

Jean Larrivée first became interested in the guitar as a teenager, trying to play Duane Eddy licks on an $18 guitar. At twenty, with no other musical training in his background, he made the decision to take up a serious study of classic guitar. Four years into this study, he was introduced to German classical guitar builder Edgar Mönch, who was then working in Toronto. Jean expressed interest in learning how to build, Mönch invited him to visit his shop, and so began an apprenticeship.

Jean built his first two guitars under Mönch's tutelage before setting up a workshop in his home, where he continued to build and study.

From 1968 to 1970, Jean continued building classic guitars in his home shop before moving into his first commercial space, the second floor of a theater. His work brought him into contact with many people involved with Toronto's thriving folk music community. At their urging, Jean built his first steel string guitar in 1971.

This was a period of much experimentation. Following the tradition of European classic guitar builders, Jean designed his own distinctive shape, bracing patterns, and structural specifications. The guitar had a strong, well-balanced sound. It was, as Jean says now, "success through ignorance." Twenty-five years later, a much-refined version of the bracing pattern is still the heart of all Larrivée steel-string guitars. The sound it produces is distinctive. The bass is solid and tight, with great projection. Mid-range is strong, and highs are crystal clear. Overall balance is excellent, with the body size and shape determining the "tilt" of the balance.

Best of all, twenty-five years and over twenty thousand steel string guitars have proven conclusively that this design has great structural integrity. Bulging of the top behind the bridge or sinking around the sound hole are not uncommon problems with traditionally braced guitars, particularly those with scalloped braces. With Larrivée symmetrical bracing, these types of problems are virtually non-existent.

From 1971 to 1977, Larrivée Guitars grew steadily, moving four times to ever larger spaces. In 1972 Jean and Wendy Jones were married. Wendy would make her own unique contribution, designing and engraving the exquisite picture inlays for which Larrivée guitars are famous.

In 1977, Jean and Wendy pulled up stakes and moved the company to Victoria, British Columbia. The wet coastal forests of Canada's Pacific Rim produce some of the finest spruce and cedar in the world, and Jean realized that future growth could hinge on access to these tone woods.

In Victoria, Jean began to concentrate on the problems of manufacturing instruments in larger quantities. Setting up shop for the first time in space that was purchased rather than rented made it practical to install a climate controlled construction room and an industrial paint booth. Jean designed and built specialized machines and tooling which made it possible to build more guitars, and to achieve a higher level of precision at the same time. Within a year of the move, fourteen people were producing four guitars a day.

While the company continued to grow and prosper in Victoria, eventually the problems inherent in being on an island became too much. In 1982, a decision was made to relocate to the mainland. It was the era of electronic keyboards and day-glow electric guitars, and a tough time for nearly all acoustic guitar builders. Rather than cut back on production and lay off employees, Jean decided to take the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" route. In 1983, he began to build solid body electrics.

While acoustic guitar production went on at reduced levels, for the next six years, most of the energy went into electric guitars. It proved to be a great challenge. Acoustic and electric guitars are very different animals, and knowing how to make one is only limited help in making the other. It was a learning experience. In the end, some twelve thousand electrics were built, almost all sold in Canada and Europe.

By 1989, the market for acoustic guitars had begun to improve. Jean once again turned his full attention to his first love. The knowledge gained from electric guitars proved invaluable as Jean reinvented his acoustic guitar production techniques. New tooling was built. Computer-controlled milling machines were brought into the process. New models were added.

In 1991, when the Acoustic market had made a full come back, Larrivée moved to a bigger building.

An the beginning of 1997, Larrivée introduced a model called the D-03. It was originally intended to be a limited run of 1000 but, as soon as people caught on to the fact that it was the only all solid wood guitar for under $800, the demand increased and it became a standard model.

In early March 1998, Larrivée Guitars moved to a new 33000 square foot facility in the heart of Vancouver, where 100 highly skilled people in the Guitar industry make 60 guitars a day.

Models

Larrivee guitars can be classified using their body style or their "level". Different body styles produce different sounds and are suitable for varying types of music; bluegrass musicians typically go for dreadnoughts, while a jazz fingerstyle player may prefer an OMV. A list of models is given below:

  • L-Body (Larrivee)
  • LV-Body (Cutaway)
  • J-Body (Jumbo)
  • LJ (Larrivee Jumbo)
  • D-Body (Dreadnaught)
  • DV-Body (Cutaway)
  • Parlor Body
  • LS (Larrivee Small)
  • OM-Body (Orchestra)
  • OMV-Body (Cutaway)
  • B-Body (Bass)
  • OO (Double 'O')
See the Larrivee website for pictures of the various styles.

Levels are used to indicate the "fanciness" of the guitar. Currently used levels are 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 09, 10, and 72. Generally, the higher the number, the more embellishments the instrument will have; a 10 will have a prettier rosette and inlays than a 03. Of course, this makes them more expensive.

The model name is derived by combining the body style with the level number. For example, my guitar is an OM-01; Orchestra Model, budget edition :P.

Larrivee also custom-makes guitars; again, see their website for spectacular pictures of some custom guitars.

Left-handed models are available at no extra cost.

Electronics

Most models have an "E" version (L-03E, DV-10E, etc), which indicate that they have electronics preinstalled. Fishman Matrix pickups and preamps are used; while these are reasonable-sounding, players more serious about their amplified sound would be better off buying the guitar without electronics, and then adding in an EMF B-Band or a Pick Up The World, or some other similar pickup system.

My last level 1 write-up! Yay! :P

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